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UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site “Jomon Prehistoric Sites in Northern Japan”

About the Jomon Prehistoric Sites in Northern Japan

On July, 2021, the Jomon Prehistoric Sites in Northern Japan were inscribed on the list as an exceptional testimony to pre-agricultural lifeways and the spiritual culture of prehistoric people. The Jomon Prehistoric Site in Northern Japan consist of 17 archaeological sites: six in Hokkaido, eight in Aomori Prefecture, one in Iwate Prefecture, and two Akita Prefecture. There are two associate sites, one in Hokkaido and the other in Aomori Prefecture, that help promote the public understanding of the Jomon prehistoric sites.

Six Stages of Settlement

the Jomon Prehistoric Sites in Northern Japan the six stages of the “initiation, development, and maturation of settlement” process.

Stage Ⅰ. Emergence of Sedentism

Ⅰa. Settlements emerge.

Ca. 13,000 BCE, Earth’s climate warmed, causing significant changes in the natural environment. Around that time, people started using pottery. The emergence of pottery allowed people to store and cook food, thereby improving their diet by increasing their edible food supplies. The emergence of pottery, which is unsuitable for a mobile lifestyle because of its weight and fragility, is considered an indicator of the inception of sedentism by human beings.

Ⅰb. Settlement facilities are divided.

Ca. 9,000 BCE, deciduous broadleaved forests spread to plains and coastal areas. People started living in pit dwellings in settlements they built in waterfront areas. Before long, an area of pit dwellings would be set apart from the burial area to distinguish between everyday space and special space. The emergence of burial areas is thought to have strengthened the bonds among people living in the settlement and laid the foundation for ancestor worship.

the Jomon Prehistoric Sites in Northern Japan

Components and related assets in Hokkaido

Kakinoshima Site

Kakinoshima Site (Historic Site)

The Kakinoshima Site is a settlement site located on a terrace overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It has an area of pit dwellings separated from a burial area consisting of pit graves, indicating a distinction between everyday space and special space.
The emergence of the burial area is thought to have helped strengthen bonds among people living at the settlement and laid the foundation for ancestor worship.

Kitakogane Site

Kitakogane Site (Historic Site)

The Kitakogane Site is a settlement site located on a hill overlooking Uchiura Bay. The shell mounds here have yielded large numbers of shells, fish bones, and bone and antler tools. These finds attest to the fishing-oriented livelihood pursued by people at that time while they adapted to environmental changes such as marine transgressions and regressions. From the remains of a watering place found in a lowland area, Large numbers of stone tools, including grinding stones and milling basins, have been unearthed. Since many of these were deliberately broken, the place is thought to have been used as a ritual ground for the disposal of stone tools.

Ofune Site

Ofune Site (Historic Site)

The Ofune Site is hub settlement site on a terrace overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It includes pit dwellings (some deeper than two meters), storage pits, graves, and artificial earthen mounds. These mounds have yielded accumulations of huge numbers of pots and stone tools, as well as scorched earth. These finds illustrate the continual performance of rituals and ceremonies over a long period of time. The bones of marine mammals (whales, etc.) and the bones of fishes (tuna, etc.) have also been unearthed, as have nuts (chestnuts, walnuts, etc.) These finds attest to the livelihood and spiritual culture of a coastal area.

Irie Site

Irie Site (Historic Site)

The Irie Site is a settlement site accompanied by shell mounds on a terrace overlooking Uchiura Bay. The shell mounds here have yielded bone and antler objects, such as fishhook and harpoons, along with shells, fish bones, and marine mammal bones. These finds attest to the fishing-oriented livelihood that was pursued in the region. A grave has yielded the bones of an adult affected by muscular atrophy during childhood, indicating that this person managed to live long with paralyzed limbs, probably with the help of others in the settlement.

Takasago Burial Site

Takasago Burial Site (Historic Site)

The Takasago Burial Site is a cemetery site on lowlands facing Uchiura Bay. The site includes shell mounds and a burial area that consists of pit raves and stone arrangements. The pit graves have yielded burial goods such as pots, stone tools, and other stone objects, and powdered red pigment (an iron oxide known as Bengala) was sprinkled in the pit graves. Human bones have also been unearthed, including those showing traces of tooth extraction and those of a woman with an unborn baby. These finds demonstrate the funeral practices of those days.

Kiusu Earthwork Burial Circles

Kiusu Earthwork Burial Circles (Historic Site)

The Kiusu Earthwork Burial Circles is a large cemetery site on a gentle slope overlooking the Ishikari Depression. Earthwork burial circles were created by digging a circular pit and poling the excavated earth around the pit in a ring, with several pit graves inside. The site has a concentration of nine earthwork burial circles, the largest measuring 83 meters in outer diameter and 4.7 meters in height. These circles attest to unique local burial customs, a high degree of spirituality, and the increasingly complex society of those days.

Washinoki Stone Circle

[Associated Site] Washinoki Stone Circle (Historic Site)

The Washinoki Stone Circle is a ritual site accompanied by one of the largest stone circles in Hokkaido. The circle consists of double outer rings with an oval stone arrangement at the center. It is approximately 37 meters in diameter. Near the stone circle are a pit burial area and the remains of stone arrangements, which illustrate the spiritual culture of that time.

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History of Efforts toward Inscription on the World Heritage List

Hokkaido and the northern Tohoku region boast natural splendor and verdure, including in the Shirakami-Sanchi and Shiretoko World Heritage areas.
Blessed with this rich natural environment, our forerunners developed and matured sedentary ways of life based on hunting, fishing, and gathering over a period of more than 10,000 years while nurturing a complex spiritual culture.
Numerous archaeological sites of the Jomon period remain in Hokkaido and northern Tohoku, including the Sannai Maruyama Site (designated a Special National Historic Site) in Aomori City, one of Japan’s largest Jomon period settlement sites, and the Oyu Stone Circles (also a Special National Historic Site) in Kazuno City, which are large-scale monuments.
These serve as important cultural heritage sites that attest to the history and culture of Japan from the Jomon period.
To ensure that these heritage sites will be passed on to the future as a common treasure of humanity, the governments of four prefectures (Hokkaido, Aomori, Iwate, and Akita) and 14 municipalities (Hakodate City, Chitose City, Date City, Mori Town, Toyako Town, Aomori City, Hirosaki City, Hachinohe City, Tsugaru City, Sotogahama Town, Shichinohe Town, Ichinohe Town, Kazuno City, and Kitaakita City) promoted activities toward the inscription of the sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
On July 27, 2021, the Jomon Prehistoric Sites in Northern Japan were inscribed on the list as an exceptional testimony to pre-agricultural lifeways and the spiritual culture of prehistoric people.

The Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the Jomon Prehistoric Sites in Northern Japan

The Jomon Prehistoric Sites in Northern Japan consist of 17 archaeological sites that represent the pre-agricultural lifeways and complex spirituality of prehistoric people.
The serial property has Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) as an exceptional testimony to the emergence, development, and maturation of a d\sedentary hunter-fisher-gatherer society that thrived in Northeast Asia from around 13,000 BCE to 400 BCE.

Criteria under which Inscription was Proposed

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee decided to inscribe the serial property on the World Heritage List under the proposed criteria (ⅲ) and (ⅴ) below.

Criterion (ⅲ)
Bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which as disappeared;

This serial property bears exceptional testimony to a globally rare sedentary hunter-fisher-gatherer society that thrived over a period of more than 10,000 years, and to a complex spiritual culture that was nurtured there, as shown by such archaeological finds as clay tablets with footprints and famous goggle-eyed clay figurines, as well as by structural remains such as graves, dumping grounds, artificial earthen mounds, and stone circles.

Criterion (ⅴ)
Be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change;

This serial property is an outstanding example of the development of sedentism from emergence to subsequent development to maturity, as well as being an outstanding example of land use.
The property illustrates how people in those days maintained sedentary lifestyles based on hunting, fishing, and gathering by adapting to climate change without altering the land significantly as agrarian societies would have done.
The property specifically illustrates how people selected diverse locations for settlement to secure food stably, such as places near rivers where salmon migrating upstream could be caught, near tidelands where brackish shellfish could be gathered, and near colonies of beech and chestnut trees.
Skills and tools for obtaining food were developed in accordance with specific conditions of different locations.

Integrity and Authenticity

The 17 component parts of the property are of adequate size and carry all the attributes necessary to express the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property.
Most of the structural remains have been well preserved underground for thousands of years, and authenticity of the component parts is highly maintained in terms of location, from and design, materials and substance, use and function, traditions and techniques, and sprit and feeling.

Thorough Protective Measures

All 17 components parts of the property are designated and protected under the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties as Historic Sites or Special Historic Sites.
In addition, a buffer zone of appropriate size has been delineated around each component part, in which legal regulatory measures are in place for he proper protection of the property.
The Council for the Preservation and Utilization of World Heritage Jomon Prehistoric Sites promotes the preservation and utilization of the property based on the Comprehensive Preservation and Management Plan, which sets out the basic policies for conserving the OUV f the property in its entirety.

Features Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the Jomon Prehistoric Sites in Northern Japan

The property demonstrates how prehistoric people in he region led sedentary lives based on hunting, fishing, and gathering over the very long period of more than 10,000 years through the sustainably managed use of natural bounties, including forest and aquatic resources, while adapting to environmental changes such as climate warming and cooling without transitioning to an agrarian society.

The property demonstrates how prehistoric people in the region developed a complex spiritual culture from the emergent stage of sedentism, as evident in graves, in shell mounds and artificial earthen mounds that were used as ritual and ceremonial sites, in stone circles (i.e., circular stone arrangements), and in excavated artifacts such as clay tablets with footprints and clay figurines.

The property demonstrates that prehistoric people in the region selected locations for settlements in order to secure food stably, such as places near rivers where salmon migrating upstream could be caught, hilly and other areas that abounded in nut-bearing trees, and inner bay areas and areas near lakes and marshes where fish and shellfish could be caught.
Skills and tools for obtaining food were developed in accordance with the specific conditions of the different locations.

The property demonstrates that prehistoric people in this region, who began loving sedentarily ca. 13,000 BCE, changed their settlement patterns to adapt to environmental changes such as climate warming and cooling without altering the land significantly as agrarian societies would have done.

Comparative prehistoric properties around the world

In order to be inscribed on the World Heritage List, it must be proven that there are no other similar heritage sites.
Comparative studies of Jomon archaeological sites in Hokkaido and the northern Tohoku region with similar prehistoric properties around the world have shown that none of them possess all four of the above characteristics. This comparative research proved that the Jomon sites are representative examples of how humans lived for long periods of time in Northeast Asia before the start of agriculture, leading to their inscription on the World Heritage List.