Japan: Jōmon period (about 10,000 BC - 300 BC)

Jōmon means 'cord pattern'. The Jōmon period was named after the characteristic surface patterns made with twisted cords on the pottery of the period. The development of production techniques and decoration of this low-fired, unglazed pottery over this long period suggests that the country was stable and enjoyed a continuity of social organization. The people lived by hunting, fishing and gathering with possibly some crop cultivation. Stone arrowheads and other tools for preparing food also showed increasing skill.

The Jōmon period is divided into five phase based on developments in pottery. They are: Incipient, Initial, Early, Middle and Late. During the Incipient phase (about 10,000-7,500 BC) deep flat-bottomed coil pots with some fingernail mark decoration were produced. Later, conical shapes were made for setting in the earth. The appearance of the true 'cord pattern' marks the transition from the Incipient to the Initial phase. A greater variety of pots along with well-polished stone tools marks the Early phase. Bone needles and thimbles from this period prove the introduction of textiles. The Middle phase that emerged in the mountains of central Japan is characterized by highly ornamental ceramics which were probably intended for religious ceremonies. Some have human masks in roundels - the beginnings of a characteristic marked Japanese interest in masks. Female pottery figurines and stone phalli suggest a communal emphasis on fertility. During Late Jōmon phase (about 2,500-1,000 BC) climate cooling brought population moves to the coast. Huge shell-mounds suggest new trends in diet, and bone and shell were made into tools and adornments. From about 1,000-300 BC agriculture was more widely introduced, and practical shallow bowls were made.

Society changed markedly in the succeeding Yayoi period (about 300 BC - AD 300), but a Neo-Jōmon culture continued, especially in Hokkaidō where Jōmon style pottery was made well into historic times.

Related galleries