Paleolithic and Jomon Obsidian Production

Obsidian exhibit at Togariishi Museum of Jomon Archaeology.

Upper Paleolithic Blade Technology

This is a continuation of our previous post on Jomon obsidian. The first blade technology emerged in the Upper Paleolithic, around 36,000 years ago. The Upper Paleolithic was from around 38,000 to 16,000 years ago; the Jomon period was from around 16,000 to 2,800 years ago.

“The Japanese Paleolithic is unique in that it incorporates one of the earliest known sets of ground stone and polished stone tools in the world, although older ground stone tools have been discovered in Australia. The tools, which have been dated to around 30,000 BC, are a technology associated in the rest of the world with the beginning of the Neolithic around 10,000 BC. It is not known why such tools were created so early in Japan.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_Paleolithic

“Prehistoric Human Activities Around Obsidian Sources in Central Japan”

This journal publication by Kazutaka Shimada contains a great deal of information about prehistoric obsidian sources in Central Japan. His Figure 2 is a detailed map of obsidian mining sites in the Central Highlands. Many Jomon sites have been found near obsidian mines in the mountains of the Central Highlands at altitudes between 1,200 to 2,000 m. We may think that the Jomon were hunter-gatherers, but they lived a semi-sedentary existence with lithic technology higher than we may have imagined.

Obsidian is distributed along volcanic zones, and sources of obsidian in the Japanese archipelago are therefore limited. Around 200 obsidian sources have been identified in Japan, the three main regions being northeastern Hokkaido island, central Japan of Honshu island, and northern Kyushu island.

During the Upper Paleolithic, the technique for the production of obsidian blades were done in lithic workshops. Early on, obsidian was gathered from the surface, and by the Jomon period, the people mined underground deposits by digging pits. The Central Highlands served as a “hub” of the Jomon residential areas, and its obsidian was widely distributed.

“The Jomon exchange networks reflect both the establishment of the local group(s) who exclusively managed the source areas and controlled obsidian circulation, and the emergence of highly sophisticated social relations among the regional Jomon societies of central Japan.”

This thoroughly documented paper offers a window into the lifestyle of the Jomon. We recommend you study it if you have any interest in the obsidian industry of Jomon Japan.

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Happy New Year!

Winter solstice sunrise at the Higashinoyama Megaliths in Central Japan, December 2019. Photo by Chika.

Winter Solstice at the Kanayama Megaliths

The Kanayama Megaliths from the Jomon period have been following the path of the sun in the sky for thousands of years. Thirty observations are made per year to determine the super-accurate solar calendar, an astronomical calendar. One of the most important observations is shown above. The photo was taken by Chika-san at Higashinoyama on December 22, 2019 when the sun rose above the neighboring mountains, and appeared directly ahead of the 9-meter long megalith.

Civil and Astronomical New Years

In many countries, the new year begins on the first day of January. Why? It is a civil calendar created for Western society beginning with the Roman calendar for the running of society. Astronomical calendars are based on major astronomical events such as solstices and equinoxes or risings of important stars and asterisms.

Astronomical New Year

In ancient societies in Europe and in Asia, indigenous people eagerly awaited the the return of the sun to their hemisphere after winter. They used an astronomical calendar. They carefully determined winter solstice day, the shortest day of the year and the day when the sun is lowest in the sky. They celebrated, for the sun is returning!

There are revival ceremonies in Japan to welcome back the sun. One of them is the Asadori Winter Solstice ritual that has continued for thousands of years in Central Japan.

Bonfire before and after being lit on winter solstice morning at Asadori shrine. Photo by Chika.

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Obsidian in the Central Highlands

Obsidian pendant from Togariishi Museum in Nagano.

Jomon Obsidian

When we were in Nagano last year, we visited the Togariishi Jomon Archaeological Museum in the city of Chino. There I bought a black obsidian pendant. Ever since then, I have been curious to learn more about obsidian. Why was the museum selling obsidian pendants? What has obsidian to do with the Jomon of prehistoric Japan? We answer these questions in a two-part post.

What is Obsidian?

Obsidian is a volcanic glass, predominantly glossy black, that forms as igneous rock through the rapid cooling of magma. It has been used for cutting tools with sharp edges such as arrowheads and knives, and also as jewelry. Because it is shiny, it is like a mirror and is thought to expose hidden truths. Allowing negativities to be cleansed, obsidian is known for physical, emotional, and spiritual healing.

Obsidian in Japan

Obsidian has a long history in Japan and is found in many places throughout the archipelago. It is called kokuyo-seki (黒曜石; koku is black and seki is stone). Obsidian has been mined from many sites in the Central Highlands since Jomon times. What are the Central Highlands? They cover the prefectures of Nagano, Yamanashi, and Gifu.

“It is believed that there are more than 100 obsidian mining sites in the Japanese islands, extending from Hokkaido in the north to Kyushu in the south. Among these, much of the obsidian from sites in Nagano Prefecture is of high quality, features sharp fracture intersections, and is easy to work and shape. For this reason, Nagano obsidian was the preferred material for making arrowheads, knives, and other stone tools and was widely used by the people of that period….Over a period of several tens of thousands of years from the Paleolithic to the Yayoi period, Nagano obsidian—obsidian only produced in Nagano Prefecture—was distributed in large quantities across a wide area.” https://jomon.co/en/story/

“30,000 years ago, obsidian was transported as raw stone, but 20,000 years ago, stone tools were made at the place of origin and transported to various places. In archeological sites such as Takayama and Mangakukura in Nagawa-cho, Nagano Prefecture, materials and fragments that are traces of stoneware processing have been found. ” https://www.asahi.com/articles/ASL9H46V9L9HUOOB003.html

Obsidian in Shinshu

Shinano Province or Shinshū (信州) is the traditional name for Nagano Prefecture. Located in central Honshu—the primary island of Japan—Shinshu flourished in ancient times as a cultural crossroads between Eastern and Western Japan. With the easy access from Tokyo and the fame the 1998 Winter Olympics brought to Nagano, Shinshu is today a popular tourist draw for people from both within and outside Japan. Bordered on the west by the Japanese Alps, a range of 3,000-meter class mountains, Shinshu provides excellent opportunities for such activities as skiing at Hakuba and hiking in Kamikochi (the Upper Highlands) as well as beautiful mountain views and other natural scenery.  https://www.jreast.co.jp/e/shinshu/

“A historic ruins from the mid-Jomon period, located on the plateau on the west foot of Mt. Yatsugatake at an elevation of 1,070 meters. An archeological survey was carried out in 1930 by a local researcher, Fusakazu Miyasaka, which resulted in the excavation of numerous pit dwellings and hearth remnants, along with earthenware and stoneware revealing mid-Jomon culture and settlements that flourished in the Chubu Highlands. It was designated as a National Historic Site in 1942, and as the first Special Historic Site from the Jomon period in 1952. Moreover, north of the Togariishi Ruins and across a shallow valley with flowing natural spring water, the Yosukeone Historic Ruins were also added to the designation in 1993.” https://www.city.chino.lg.jp/site/togariishi/

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Hopi Teachings of Grandfather Martin

Preface: This article is a rendering of the wisdom of Grandfather Martin Gashweseoma who presented the teachings of the Hopi at the Living Wisdom Gathering on April 27, 2002. Grandfather Martin passed away in 2015. His words are herein paraphrased or verbatim, as translated by Emory Holmes. I am grateful to Grandfather Martin for sharing his wisdom with us. 

Introduction 

These are teachings from long ago. It took me a long time to understand it. The words are from elders speaking into the future, about what is happening around us and where this is taking us. They foretold that volcanoes asleep will awaken, and fissures like fingers will extend north, south, east, and west. Polar caps will melt and build up the waters. Mother Earth will get angry. Such events have taken place before. 

I am afraid for people who have disrespect for Mother Earth, nature, and one another. These earth changes will take many lives, and we will see around us wars, starvation, sickness. All these events were foretold to happen all at once. But to me, I think that there will be a chain of events. All these things are connected to our beliefs and teachings which we have ignored. This will happen. 

Teachings 

We are now waiting for the time of purification, a time of endless wars. I am asking you to watch yourselves, to care for one another. It will be everywhere, and it will reach us here also. Be careful with your lives. 

These are some of the things taught. We should watch our food; we should watch for ourselves, with planting of fruits and vegetables. Weather is uncertain and there will be sudden changes. We don’t know if corn will grow, and then freeze. 

These are teachings for us, our beliefs. We’re not pushing you to step on the path. It’s a choice we must all make for ourselves. We talked for so long to so many people everywhere. It’s a choice from your heart. If you follow my path and if it’s not the right path for you, arguments will begin. I’m trying to avoid this. Arguments will arise, and arguments are not the answer 

We should unite as one. Our teachings differ. When it is right and proper they will be one 

This is a critical time. Choices should have been made much earlier. It’s already too late. Spirit must believe in your heart. It does not happen over night – it takes a long time. 

Food becomes scarce. We cannot eat money. Money will become obsolete. Starvation comes again. From teachings and beliefs, we once knew how to take care of that. But we tbrgot, we ignored how and what ceremony to remedy it. 

The teachings also concern economical things such as running water and electricity, things that are being controlled. They will also destroy us. Electrical storms will burn down our houses, and the water system and sewer system will be destroyed. A lot of things are yet to happen, still waiting to happen. A lot of things are not being done right 

One Person 

We are part of a group that is working toward helping so that things will not be so horrible. We are searching for a special someone strong to stand up against these things. The age or race doesn’t matter. It may well be a child. Our elders said that one person is enough. If we find two, that’s a lot. Three is too much. 

We’re still in search of that person or persons. That person will receive all the strength and knowledge that we have. all our power. That person will become our leader. 

The same is true of countries. Countries are coming together to help one another. We are working on this, for everything will come to one at the end. Wars taking place are part of the purification, depleting the population. Whoever is left will come together and become one. Teachings, understanding, and language become one. 

Prayers 

Every morning we pray. It will be our prayers that will make a difference. I encourage you to make prayers each day. When you make prayers, when your prayers are strong enough, your own homeland will remain standing, like a mesa. 

We know there are spirits watching over us, everywhere and in certain areas. There are sacred areas, where spirits live. So l’m asking you to keep your prayers up. 

Even with prayers you many not be able to see what’s happening. Your dreams can tell you many things, the truth. Reality happens later. Not losing faith in that part of yourself will keep us going forward. If you run into a wall, back up, and continue. 

We are told that, at the Time of Emergence, writings were left behind, writings that tell of our history. These areas are sacred, with spirits. Desecration of sacred areas will turn on you. Maybe Hopi will stand up for you, maybe not. Don’t point fingers or judge. 

Summary 

All the teachings that have been handed down must be taken seriously. At the end will be a world court, judgment day. Listen. Take it seriously. 

This is a lot to be talked about. Keep your prayers up. The outcome depends on our hearts, our souls. I hope that these words spoken today, this message. is taken into your hearts and souls. 

Take this wisdom home. 

Hopi katchina male and female shalako Mother Earth by Roanna Jackson, First Mesa, AZ.

Recommended reading: Meditations with the Hopi by Robert Boissiere, Bear & Company, 1986.

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FOREST BATHING

If you have been out on a nature walk through woods, you will remember the relaxed and happy feeling for a long time. Forest bathing, or forest therapy, is a loose translation of the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku. Shinrin means forest, and yoku (equivalently abiru) means to bathe or bask in. In this case, one basks in the pleasant and healing atmosphere of a forest. The Japanese have known this for decades, centuries, or longer. It is only recently that it has become popular as scientific research has proven its effectiveness. 

Here are two of the many news articles on forest bathing.

https://www.webmd.com/balance/news/20190611/forest-bathing-nature-time-hot-health-advice

https://time.com/5259602/japanese-forest-bathing/

In the second article, a link to “phytoncides” explains:  

Some research suggests that when people are in nature, they inhale aromatic compounds from plants called phytoncides. These can increase their number of natural killer cells, a type of white blood cell that supports the immune system and is linked with a lower risk of cancer. These cells are also believed to be important in fighting infections and inflammation, a common marker of disease. https://time.com/4718318/spring-exercise-workout-outside/

Here is a long survey paper by the author of one of the first books on forest bathing, a medical doctor at Tokyo’s Nippon Medical School:  

Qing Li, “Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function”.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2793341/. Dr. Li’s popular book is Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, April 2018.

Quite a few books have appeared by other authors and they are easily found by a search on a book site. Also published in 2018 is the book by Professor Yoshifumi Miyazaki:

Shinrin Yoku: The Japanese Art of Forest Bathing by Yoshifumi Miyazaki in June 2018.

Prof. Miyazaki was among the first to study forest therapy. He is professor at Chiba University’s Center for Environment, Health and Field Sciences. An online interview with Prof. Miyazaki tells how he started. https://www.nippon.com/en/people/e00140/miyazaki-yoshifumi-explores-the-healing-power-of-the-forest.html.

INTERVIEWER   What is shinrin-yoku?

MIYAZAKI YOSHIFUMI   It’s an activity where people relax by synchronizing, or harmonizing, with the forest. The term was coined in 1982 by Akiyama Tomohide, director of the Japan Forestry Agency. The agency wanted people to visit Japan’s forests and relax. It was a way to increase the value of these lands.

INTERVIEWER   How did scientific research into shinrin-yoku begin?

MIYAZAKI   I led the first experiments to study the effects of the practice on the island of Yakushima in 1990. At the time, I was 35 and had no research funds of my own, but I was approached by NHK, which funded the experiments as part of a TV program. A new technique had just been developed to detect the levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone, in saliva. We used that to measure stress and relaxation. “Forest therapy,” meanwhile, refers to shinrin-yoku backed by scientific data, and is a term that I coined myself in 2003.

These are some of Dr. Miyazaki’s earlier books in Japanese.

自然セラピーの科学 Shizen Serapii no Kagaku (Nature Therapy Science), October 2016

森林医学 Shinrin Igaku (Forest Medicine), June 2006, coauthor

森林浴はなぜ体にいいか Shinrin yoku wa naze karada ni iika (Why is Forest Bathing Good for the Body?), July 2003

Let us close with Dr. Miyazaki’s words:

MIYAZAKI   In Japan, various shinrin-yoku programs have been developed. These involve various activities: basic ones, such as slow walking and sitting, but also deep breathing, Nordic walking, embracing trees, yoga, meditation, stretching, and even picnics. There are also possibilities like night-sky viewing, cloud watching, playing in water, waterfall viewing, and enjoying music concerts in the forest.

Photos by Okunomichi

The idea of forest bathing is not far from the practice of nature-based Shinto. Okunomichi reported on an interview with Shinto priest and professor Minoru Sonoda. Dr. Sonoda has promoted sacred forests which are often found behind Shinto shrines as well as in wilderness areas. His description helps to explain why forest bathing reduces stress. It is no wonder that the recent forest bathing activity emerged out of the forests of Japan.

Dr. Sonoda is proactive in the chinju no mori sacred forest movement. What is chinju no moriMori means forest. Chinju is written 鎮守. The first character 鎮 is read as shizumeru, to calm the spirit; the second character 守 is mamoru which means to protect. Thus, we may say chinju no mori is a forest whose tranquility is protected. In other words, let’s protect the peace and serenity provided us by forests.

Revised 2019.09.30

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Science Comics: Trees: Kings of the Forest by Andy Hirsch

Science Comics: Trees: Kings of the Forest by Andy Hirsch, 2018.

This is an excellent addition to the Science Comics series, written for children 9-13, yet also suitable for adults as well. Andy Hirsch has done an outstanding job of explaining in easy-to-understand and entertaining comic format the detailed information contained in the book by Peter Wohlleben (which is cited as one of the references, and reviewed in our previous post).

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THE HIDDEN LIFE OF TREES by Peter Wohlleben

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate. Discoveries from a Secret World, 2016. 

Peter Wohlleben is a forester in Germany, where he runs an environmentally friendly woodland and works for the return of primeval forests. He is the author of numerous books about trees. The following are excerpts from this stunning book, stunning because of its revelations about the amazing abilities of trees to send messages to other trees, to provide food and other support to neighboring trees, develop smart defense mechanisms and to share them. It’s almost as if trees have minds and feelings!

As we know during this critical time of climate change, one of the most effective means of survival is through the enormous capabilities of trees and forests to sustain life on this planet. We must learn all we can about these abilities and harness them in sustainable ways for a healthy planet.

Excerpts

A tree is not a forest. On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment, trees can live to be very old. 

Every tree, therefore, is valuable to the community and worth keeping around for as long as possible. And that is why even sick individuals are supported and nourished until they recover. 

p 4

Trees, it turns out, have a completely different way of communicating: they use scent. … The acadia trees that were beig eaten gave off a warning gas that signaled to neighboring trees of the same species that a crisis was at hand. Right away, all the forewarned trees also pumped toxins into their leaves to prepare themselves.

pp 6-7

Trees don’t rely exclusively on dispersal in the air, for if they did, some neighbors would not get wind of the danger. Dr. Suzanne Simard of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver has discovered that they also warn each other using chemical signals sent through the fungal network around their root tips, which operate no matter what the weather. …

The fungal connections transmit signals from one tree to the next, helping the trees exchange news about insects, drought, and other dangers. Science has adopted a term first coined by the journal Nature for Dr. Simard’s discovery of the “wood wide web” pervading our forests.  [S.W. Simard et al, “Net Transfer of Carbon between Tree Species with Shared Ectomycorrhizal Fungi,” Nature 388 (1997): 579-82.

pp 9-11

A tree can only be as strong as the forest that surrounds it.

p 17

The forest is really a giant carbon dioxide vacuum that continually filters out and stores this component of the air.

p 93

If we want to use forests as a weapon in the fight against climate change, then we must allow them to grow old, which is exactly what large conservation groups are asking us to do.

p 98

Forest air is the epitome of healthy air. …The air truly is considerably cleaner under the trees, because the trees act as huge air filters. Their leaves and needles hang in a study breeze, catching large and small particles as they float by. 

p 221

Forests differ a great deal from one another depending on the species of trees they contain. Coniferous forests noticeably reduce the number of germs in the air, which feels particularly good to people who suffer from allergies. 

p 222

The real question is whether we help ourselves only to what we need from the forest ecosystem, and — analogous to our treatment of animals — whether we spare the trees unnecessary suffering when we do this. 

That means it is okay to use wood as long as trees are allowed to live in a way that is appropriate to their species. And that means that they should be allowed to fulfill their social needs, to grow in a true forest environment on undisturbed ground, and to pass their knowledge on to the next generation. And at least some of them should be allowed to grow old with dignity and finally die a natural death.

pp 242-243

We encourage you to learn about trees and forests by reading this book. Another book, in comic-book style for young and not-so-young readers, is discussed in our next post.

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