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Project Jomon

Online Jomon Matsuri

The year 2022 marks 145 years since archaeologist Edward Sylvester Morse named the pottery sherds he found at the Omori shell mound between Tokyo and Yokohama as ‘Jōmon’, or ‘cord-marked’. These distinctive decorations impressed upon the pottery came to define a near 10,000 year span of prehistoric human settlement across the Japanese archipelago. The inscription of 17 archaeological sites in southern Hokkaido and northern Tohoku region as UNESCO World Heritage in 2021 proves the enduring importance of the Jomon into the twenty-first century.

Following the impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic, this online festival will showcase some of the latest research on the Jomon, and introduce some of the best objects, ideas, sites and museums. Through this website and on social media, we invite you to engage with a range of online articles and activities, letting you develop a comprehensive knowledge of the Jomon world. We will collaborate with other online Jomon voices and do all we can to bring you the best in Jomon archaeology.

The Online Jomon Matsuri is brought to you by the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures and the Cambridge Heritage Research Centre at the University of Cambridge, in partnership with English Heritage, the Wiltshire Museum, the Niigata Prefectural Museum of History, the Nagaoka Municipal Science Museum, the International Jomon Culture Conference, the Jomonism Art Collective, the Encounters Project, the Committee for the Promotion of the Jomon Sites of Northern Japan World Heritage Nomination, the Japanese Journal of Archaeology and many other individuals and organisations.

Dogu: Spirits of Clay

Dogu are ceramic figures made during the prehistoric Jomon period, from c. 14,500- c. 500 BC. Over 20,000 dogu and fragments of dogu have been discovered.

Two exhibitions, The Power of Dogu: ceramic figures from ancient Japan, at the British Museum in 2009, and unearthed, at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in 2010 were coordinated by the Sainsbury Institute funded through the Arts and Humanities Research Council Museums and Galleries Scheme. The project, with an extensive programme of publications, conferences and workshops, formed the basis for a highly evaluated Impact Case Study for the 2014 REF (Research Excellence Framework) is now featured on the research pages of the UEA website (link).

In 2014 a further exhibition, Dogu: a Cosmos, was held at the Miho Museum in Shiga prefecture.
Miho Museum

Following the exhibitions of prehistoric Jomon dogu (The Power of Dogu: Ceramic Figures from Ancient Japan at the British Museum in autumn 2009 [the catalogue from the British Museum Press is once again available] andunearthed at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in summer 2010 (the book accompanying the exhibition by Douglass Bailey, Andrew Cochrane and Jean Zambelli is available from Oxbow Books), the Sainsbury Institute continues to work on dogu. In autumn 2012 there was a major new exhibition at the Miho Museum in Japan, Dogu Cosmos, which brought together many of the famous dogu assembled for the first time at the British Museum, along with many other important examples.

Miho Museum

Early pottery

Some of the earliest dated pottery containers in the world were created by prehistoric inhabitants of the Japanese archipelago as early as 16,500 years ago.

Some of these vessels were most likely used to make the oldest known fish stews, as suggested by cutting-edge scientific analyses undertaken at the University of York. Simon Kaner, is Co-Investigator on a project led by Oliver Craig at the University of York investigating food residues on ancient Japanese pottery, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Flame pots

Flame style pots are some of the most enigmatic and evocative objects made by people in ancient Japan. They inspired the artist Okamoto Taro to take an interest in Jomon art and the best examples, from Sasayama in Tokamachi city, are designated as National Treasures. Dating to around 5000 BC they are found mainly along the Shinano River in Niigata Prefecture.

The Sainsbury Institute has worked with specialists on Flame pots since 2001 when we curated the exhibition Flaming Pots: art and landscape in Jomon Japan at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, as part of Japan2001, a year-long celebration of Japan in the UK. In 2012-13 we helped with the exhibition Flame and Water Pots at the British Museum, which featured some fine examples of Flame pots.

From autumn 2016 a set of Flame pots on special long-term from Nagaoka will be on display at the British Museum after a short exhibition at the Embassy of Japan in London. They will join an example from the site of Dodaira in Tsunan-machi, which was placed on long-term loan just prior to the London Olympics in 2012. We are supporting the bid to have Flame pots feature in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

A good example of a Flame pot, probably also originally from Nagaoka, can be seen at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts at the University of East Anglia.

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