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20 stone tools dated to 120,000 years ago may write Japan’s Palaeolithic history

Update: The date of the Sunabara stone tools has been revised downwards to earlier than 70,000 years BP on account of the discovery of a “70,000-year-old stratum of volcanic ash right above the find”.


20 tool artifacts were reported by both The Asahi Shimbun, Yomiuri Shimbun and Japan Times (scroll down page to read the report) to have been unearthed at Sunabara in Izumo, Shimane Prefecture — are said to be Japan’s oldest stone tools used in Japan … dating back 120,000 years. If this news is verified to be true, it would re-write Japanese history for the Palaeolithic Period. Historians and experts are cautious right now … understandably so … recalling the huge archaeological hoaxes at the end of the 20th century surrounding supposed Palaeolithic Period finds dated back to 500,000 years ago.  Even if the finds are established to be authentic, they raise further questions … were the prehistoric people who wielded those tools merely passing through, or did they stay and start the first tribes to populate Japan?


TAKAHARU YAGI/The Asahi Shimbun

Some of the stone tools deemed to be the oldest yet uncovered in Japan (Photo: TAKAHARU YAGI/The Asahi Shimbun)

Stone tools may be the oldest found in Japan by Ichiro Nonaka

MATSUE–Archaeologists say 20 stone artifacts uncovered near here in a geological layer from 120,000 years ago are likely the oldest paleolithic tools to be found in Japan.

The discovery was announced Tuesday by Kazuto Matsufuji, a professor of paleolithic archaeology at Doshisha University in Kyoto, who led the team of researchers.

The site, called the Sunabara remains, is in Izumo, Shimane Prefecture. It dates from the Middle Paleolithic period (130,000 years to 35,000 years ago). Excavation work began Sept. 16.

The artifacts may have been crafted 30,000 years earlier than stone tools found at the Kanedori site in Tono, Iwate Prefecture, which previously were regarded as Japan’s oldest, from about 90,000 years ago.

Researchers said the latest discovery could shed valuable light on human settlement in prehistoric times.

The group started the survey after a topographer in Izumo found a stone with a sharpened edge in a cliff with exposed layers in August.

Researchers said the stone tools were found in a layer between a stratum of volcanic ash spewed out by Mount Sanbesan about 110,000 years ago and a sand gravel stratum dating back 128,000 years.

The artifacts range in length from 1.5 centimeters to 5 cm.

“The stone tools each show traces of people having worked on them,” Matsufuji said.

“Furthermore, rocks from the layer from which they were dug out are mostly andesitic, quite different from quartzite and rhyolite used for the tools.

“For this reason, we think the tools may have been brought in from somewhere else,” he said.

Other archaelogists had mixed reactions to the new finds.

Fumiaki Takehiro, an associate professor at Hiroshima University’s graduate school, agreed the stone tools were likely fashioned by humans and welcomed the discovery as helping to enlighten researchers on this period of history.

But Takashi Inada, a professor emeritus at Okayama University, said more research is needed before concluding the finds are indeed tools crafted by humans.

Research into Japan’s paleolithic era has been stalled since 2000, when Shinichi Fujimura, an amateur archaeologist deemed preeminent in the field, was exposed for having faked important discoveries.(IHT/Asahi: October 1,2009)


Tools may rewrite Paleolithic Japan Thursday, Oct. 1, 2009 Japan Times

MATSUE, Shimane Pref. (Kyodo) A team of archaeologists and researchers said Tuesday that they have likely unearthed the oldest stone tools used in Japan — 20 artifacts dating back some 120,000 years — at the Sunabara remains in Izumo, Shimane Prefecture.

The basic assumption among researchers has been that the first human ancestors landed in Japan about 40,000 years ago. The new findings might pave the way for a review of mankind’s history in Japan and give impetus to research on the Paleolithic Period.

The excavation team, led by Doshisha University professor Kazuto Matsufuji, discovered stone tools measuring between 1.5 cm and 5.2 cm long at a depth of about 2 meters. They were found in soil sandwiched between layers from around 127,000 years ago and 110,000 years ago.

One of the implements has a sharp edge, a characteristic that Matsufuji said would make it a likely candidate for a thrusting object.

In August, Toshiro Naruse, a professor emeritus at Hyogo University of Teacher Education, discovered the first of the 20 stone tools on a slope.


‘Nation’s oldest stone tools found’

The Yomiuri Shimbun

MATSUE–Twenty stone tools believed to be the oldest discovered in the nation have been excavated from a mid-Paleolithic period geological layer, dating back 120,000 years, at an archeological site in Izumo, Shimane Prefecture, researchers said Tuesday.

According to a team of experts, led by Prof. Kazuto Matsufuji of Doshisha University, that has researched the Sunabara remains, the tools are tens of thousands years older than any previously discovered.

The existence of stone tools dating back to the early and mid-Paleolithic period in this country was thrown into question in 2000, when a former deputy director of the disbanded Tohoku Paleolithic Institute buried stone tools and later recovered them, claiming they were unearthed from 700,000-year-old archeological remains in Kurihara, Miyagi Prefecture, and other sites.

Archeologists say the latest discovery could change the way the era is studied.

The tools are between 5.2 centimeters and 1.5 centimeters long and made of quartz or rhyolite. Their surfaces indicate that they were chipped into shape.

The excavation site is located on a slope in a hilly area.

In August, Toshiro Naruse, a professor emeritus of Hyogo University of Teacher Education and a physical geography expert, discovered a knife-shaped stone tool at the site. Naruse asked Matsufuji and other researchers to research the area, leading to 19 other stone tools being discovered there.

The age of the tools was determined by examining the volcanic ash layer just above the layer from which these tools were excavated.

(Sep. 30, 2009 Daily Yomiuri)

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