Circles of Stone: Stonehenge and Prehistoric Japan

Co-curated by Professor Simon Kaner, Executive Director of the Sainsbury Institute

Circles of Stone: Stonehenge and Prehistoric Japan, on display at the Stonehenge Visitor Centre 30 September 2022 – 3 September 2023, celebrates the rich culture of prehistoric Japan. Through a number of exquisite objects, some seen for the first time outside of Japan, the exhibition tells the story of Japanese settlements and stone circles of the middle and late Jomon periods, roughly the same time when Stonehenge was built and used.

Although there was no contact between Japan and Britain in prehistory, there are surprising parallels between them. In both areas, people built stone circles, made elaborate pots and used flaked stone tools.

The astonishing Japanese stone circles at Oyu, recently inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, bear striking similarities with stone circles and the practices of Neolithic people in Britain. The 8,500 river cobbles used to build the stone circles at Oyu, each weighing between 20 and 200 kg, were carried about 7 km from the bed nearby River Akuya. Although not quite the same engineering feat as bringing the bluestones all the way from south-west Wales to form part of Stonehenge, this was still an incredible communal effort showing a desire to use particular types of stones and construct the circles at a specific location. These cobbles were arranged in clusters, sometimes arranged in small rings or other arrangements. Each cluster is likely to have originally covered a burial, with the circuits emerging slowly over time as more burials with their stone arrangements were added. At Stonehenge, the cremated remains of the dead were placed in and around the monuments. Finally, there is some evidence that the ‘sundial’ standing stones at the two stone circles at Oyu were aligned towards the midsummer solstice sunset and the midwinter solstice sunrise, much like the timber and stone circles in the Stonehenge landscape.

Related Press:

Stonehenge exhibition explores parallels with Japanese stone circles – The Guardian, 04 May 2022

‘Circles of Stone’ links astonishing prehistoric parallels of Japan and Britain – UEA, 29 September 2022

‘Circles of Stone’: A report for the Sainsbury Institute

Stonehenge’s twin – 6,000 miles away – The Telegraph, 29 September 2022

Ambassador & Madame Hayashi’s attendance at the opening of the exhibition “Circles of Stone: Stonehenge and Prehistoric Japan” – Embassy of Japan in the UK, 29 September 2022

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