Popular Science Monthly/Volume 14/January 1879/Traces of an Early Race in Japan




JANUARY, 1879.



THERE is no race of people in whose origin we are more interested than in that of the Japanese. Their history going so completely back for nearly two thousand years, their civilization, which in so many respects parallels our own—the various epochs in our history being typified again and again by similar ages in Japan—all excite our deepest interest. The difficulty of tracing out ethnical affinities either through their personal peculiarities or their language presents a problem yet unsolved. That they are a composite race we cannot doubt. All their traditions point to their coming from the south, and equally sure are we that when they landed they found a hairy race of men to contest their occupation. Later history shows that a number of Chinese invasions took place, and these unwelcome visits were returned by the Japanese. Corea was invaded by the Japanese long ago. With these facts in mind, we are no longer surprised at the great variety of faces to be met with in Japan—faces purely Chinese; others with the coarser features of the northern tribes; and again the delicate and pleasant features of what is supposed to represent the typical Japanese.

The conjectures and opinions that have been advanced regarding the origin of the Japanese would form a curious and bulky collection. It is worth noting that both pagan and Christian writers have held almost equally preposterous notions regarding the origin of the Japanese. The people themselves have a tradition that they owe their origin to the sun. Kämpfer holds the absurd idea that "they are descended from the first inhabitants of Babylon." From these vagaries we pass in turn to other ideas based on some foundation of fact. In a paper read before the Asiatic Society of Japan by Mr. Aston, an affinity is shown to exist between certain words in the Japanese and Aryan; while Mr. Brooks, in the proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences, takes ground for believing that the Japanese and Chinese may have been derived from the west coast of South America. Mr. Isawa, an intelligent Japanese student, at the last meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, called attention to the similarity

Figs. 1 to 9 show some of the various forms of vessels. Fig. 1, diameter, 130 mm. Fig. 2, diameter, 280 mm. Fig. 3, diameter, 130 mm. Fig. 4, height. 220 mm. Fig. 5, diameter, 105 mm. Fig. 6, diameter, 160 mm. Fig. 7, diameter, 150 mm. Fig. 8, diameter, 150 mm.

existing between many Japanese words and Hindostanee. With these and many other conflicting views, authorities seem to agree upon one thing, and that is, that the present inhabitants of Japan are not autochthonous, neither the Japanese nor the Ainos in Yesso.

So far as the ancient records of Japan are to be relied upon (and they certainly go back before the Christian era with considerable accuracy), Jimmu Tenno in the first century of our era came from a province in Kinshin for the conquest of Niphon or Japan. The invaders met with so courageous a resistance that they were obliged to go back to their own shores. The people who repulsed Jimmu Tenno and his followers are believed by the Japanese to have been the hairy men of Yesso, the ancestors of the present inhabitants of the northern islands.

The study of the language, traditions, and folklore of the Ainos, furnishes good reasons for believing that the ancestors of the Ainos came from Kamtchatka, drifting down through the Kuriles, and gradually becoming proprietors of the soil before the Japanese came from the south to displace them.

Fig. 9.—the rims of this vessel are quite common in the heaps, but only one, the fragments of which could be matched, was found. Its height was about 300 mm.

With every reason for believing that the Japanese came from the south, displacing the Ainos, who came from the north, the question next arises as to the original occupants of the island. Did the northern people encounter resistance from a primitive race of savages, or were they greeted only by the chattering of relatives still more remote, whose descendants yet clamber about the forest-trees to-day? The records are silent on these points. A discovery that I made in the vicinity of Tokio last year leads me to believe that possibly the traces of a race of men previous to the Aino occupation have been found. I say possibly, because a study of the Aino people, their manners, and traces of their early remains, is necessary before a definite opinion can be formed.

On my first visit to Tokio I discovered from the car-window a genuine "Kjoekkenmoedding," or shell-heap, as we call them. The deposit is in Omori, about six miles from Tokio; and one may well wonder why it had not been recognized before. It had probably often been seen, but, like many similar deposits in Europe and America, had been looked upon as natural beds of sea-shells deposited in past times, and after their formation elevated by upheaval. It was not until Steenstrup, of Copenhagen, first took up the critical study of similar deposits along the shores of the Baltic, and showed that the deposits were really the work of man, and of ancient man, that attention was attracted to these beds in other parts of the world.

Thanks to several years' study of these deposits along the coast of New England, in company with Prof. Jeffries Wyman, I was enabled to recognize the character of the Omori deposit at once. The railway passes directly through it, and most of it has been removed for ballasting the road. The bed evidently covered the field beyond the track for a considerable distance, judging from the quantity of shells and fragments of pottery which were strewed in the adjacent rice-field. The deposit varied from a few inches to two feet and a half in thickness, and the layer of earth above varied from two feet to nearly five feet in thickness. This great depth of soil above the shells might have been brought in by man, as the Japanese are famous for the manner in which they level the ground and fill in depressions. The thickness of soil above a deposit is always an untrustworthy guide in estimating the age of such a deposit: as, for example, the deposits about Salem, Massachusetts, containing precisely the same kinds of pottery and bone-implements, and presumably of the same age, will have in one place a thickness of two feet of soil above, and in the sterile pastures a thin layer of a few inches. The Omori deposit is made up of shells which still live in the bay of Yeddo, though I have not yet been able to study the living forms sufficiently to ascertain whether any changes have taken place in the fauna since the heaps were made. A number of genera are found, representing, among others, Eburna, Turbo, Ceritheimi Area, Pecten cardium, two species of Ostrea, and, curiously enough, large valves of the common clam, Mya arenaria, hardly to be distinguished from the same species so common along the New England coast. The position of the Omori heap is striking. The shell-heaps of New England, Florida, and nearly all places where they have been observed, are always in immediate proximity to the shore or river. In some places, as at Goose Island, Maine, the ocean encroaches upon the deposits and is gradually removing them. Rev. James Fowler, in commenting upon the absence of shell-heaps along the New Brunswick coast, offers this as one of the evidences that the sea is encroaching upon the land, and calls attention to the fact that buildings, which stood at some distance from the shore fifty years ago, have since been washed away.[1] Along the shores of the Baltic, the shell-heaps, on the contrary, are a mile or more from the shore, and this fact, with evidences of a geological character, shows a practical encroachment of the land upon the sea by upheaval since the deposits were made.

The Omori deposits, like those of the Baltic, are some distance from the sea-shore—nearly, if not quite, half a mile. And that an upheaval has taken place since the deposits were made, there can be no doubt. Geological evidences are not wanting to support this view; these various deposits, remote from each other, such as the Denmark, New England, and Florida deposits, have each their peculiarities. In the Danish heaps there seems to be a scarcity of pottery, but an abundance of flint-chips and rude stone implements, as well as implements worked out of horn and bone. The New England shell-heaps are not rich in pottery fragments, the stone implements are rude and scarce, but the implements of horn and bone are comparatively not uncommon, those worked out of bone being more common. In the Florida deposits fragments of pottery are more abundant; and while rude stone and bone implements are found, the larger shells seem to have furnished them with material for many of their implements. Prof. Wyman has figured many of them in his memoir on the fresh-water shell-heaps of Florida, and Dr. Stimpson has figured an awl in the American Naturalist, which was made out of the spirally grooved columella of Fasciolaria. While the pottery of Denmark and New England is ornamented by incised lines and "cordmarks," the Florida pottery bears the marks of stamps by which they impressed a rude ornamentation upon their vessels. The Omori shell-heap has also its peculiarities: 1. The extreme abundance of pottery, both in fragments and nearly perfect vessels. From the great quantity found there, one is led to believe that in past times it was a famous place for its manufacture. Yet in the excavations no masses or unfinished vessels were found to justify this assumption. 2. The great variety in the form of the vessels and remarkable diversity in their ornamentation. From these characters alone one might infer it to be of more recent origin. Its rudeness, however, and the absence of anything like lathe-work or glazing, show it to be ancient.[2] A greater portion of the pottery has the twisted cord-mark so common in most of the early pottery. Much of it has incised lines, and small fragments show a peculiar carving, made after the clay was dry, but before baking.

The ornamentation in these fragments is almost precisely similar to the Aino style of ornamenting. In other pottery also the peculiar way in which spaces between curved lines are "filled in," either by "cord-marks" or punctures, again recalls the Aino. And had nothing else been found in the deposit, the remains might have unhesitatingly been referred to the Yessoines. Such comparisons are unsafe, as Mr. Frank H. Gushing, of the Smithsonian Institution, finds similar pottery in Northern New York and Canada, and I may add that in New England such pottery has been found. In many cases the borders of vessels are ornamented with undulating ribs, showing the marks of "finger-squeezing." A marked peculiarity of the pottery consists in the elevation

Figs. 10. to 17 show a few of the knobs or handles which are peculiar to the Omori deposit. Not a single vessel was found with legs, as with the Central American pottery, but most of the vessels have raised knobs on the margin. Fig. 16 is looped, so that a wooden handle might be adjusted. Fig. 11 is 190 mm. in its longest diameter; the size of the other knobs may be estimated from this.

of the rim or border into ornamented knobs or handles, some of which are represented in Figs. 10 to 17 inclusive. Some painted pottery was also found, the coloring matter of which, on analysis by Prof. Jewett, of the Imperial University of Tokio, proves to be cinnabar. The occurrence throughout the empire of stone celts, finished arrow-heads, and spear-points and pestles, is common. These might or might not have belonged to the Ainos, though, as similar forms occur in Yesso, the probability is that many of them at least are of early Aino manufacture. It is significant, however, to observe that the few stone implements found in the Omori beds are of the rudest manufacture; and, furthermore, that no shell-heap that I know of has revealed a less number, the two shown in Figs. 28 and 29 being made of a soft volcanic rock. Curiously enough, most of the other implements were made out of deer's-horns, only one being of bone (Fig. 21, evidently the end of a deer's metatarsal). An exquisitely finished arrow-point (Fig. 25) was fabricated out of a boar's tusk.

The bones of birds were not common. I searched in vain for traces of the great auk, the remains of which are so widely met with in Denmark and New England. Though ponderous shells of various species occur in the heap, no evidence was found that these were worked in any way.

Fig. 18 is a piece of pottery that may be a spindle-whorl—diameter, 70 mm.
Fig. 19 is a small clay brick, 55 mm. in length. This is ornamented on both sides. It is difficult to conjecture its use. I have lour more in the collection at the university, much larger and ornamented in a different manner. These are possibly amulets, or perhaps signs of office or authority. I think they are unique.

A fragment of a spindle-whorl is shown in Fig. 18. A peculiar tablet, or brick of clay, curiously ornamented, is shown in Fig. 19. Nothing of the kind, so far as I know, has been found in the shell-heaps of other parts of the world. It is difficult even to conjecture its use.

The most important discoveries connected with the Omori deposits are the unquestionable evidences of cannibalism. Large fragments of the human femur, humerus, radius, ulna, lower jaw, and parietal bone, were found widely scattered in the heap. These were broken in precisely the same manner as the deer-bones—either to get them into the cooking-vessel, or for the purpose of extracting the marrow—in all respects corresponding to the facts cited by Wyman in proof of the evidences of cannibalism found in the Florida and New England shell-heaps.

The question as to the antiquity of the Omori deposits naturally arises, and the evidences all point to a considerable antiquity, suggested by the entire absence of worked metals, as well as of finished or polished stone implements, the few implements found being of the rudest character.

The change which has taken place in the coast-line by upheaval, since the deposits were made, has not the importance which would be ascribed to it in a more stable country.

The next question arises as to whether the deposits are Aino or pre-Aino. The race who left these remains were pot-makers par excellence. It is generally admitted by ethnologists that the art of pottery once gained is never lost. It is a fact, however, that neither the

Figs. 20 to 26 represent a number of implements made out of horn, with the exception of Fig. 25, which is worked out of a boar's tusk. Figs. 23, 24, and 26, are respectively 60, 62, and 125 mm. in length. Fig. 21 is worked out of the end of a deer's metatarsal. Fig. 22 is a bird's bone, probably a humerus, with two holes worked in it.
Fig. 27 is a portion of deer's antler cut at both ends and broken.
Fig. 28 and 29 are two stone implements, worked out of soft lava-rock. They are respectively 50 and 70 mm. in length.

Esquimaux, Aleutians, Kamtchadales, nor the Ainos, are essentially earthen-pot makers, their vessels being usually wrought out of stone or wood, and their ancient stone vessels are often met with in various parts of Japan.

If the unquestionable resemblance between the ornamentation of some of the fragments and similar styles of ornamentation among the present Ainos be looked upon as indicating a community of origin, what shall be said of the following figures of knobs found in a shell-heap on the Upper Amazon by the lamented Prof. Hartt? The knobs themselves are so unlike anything figured heretofore, and yet so precisely do they resemble similar knobs which are most common in the Omori deposits, that were they mixed with the collection it would be impossible to separate them by a single character!—even to the depression on top and in front, as shown in Fig. 12.

A curious stone ornament, having the general shape of a comma, with the big end perforated, is known as the magatama. These peculiar-shaped objects are looked upon as ornaments belonging to the primitive inhabitants of Japan. Mr. Borlase[3] says the traditions about them have been handed down from mythological times.

Siebold says: "To this day they are in use among the Ainos of Yesso and in the Kuriles, as precious ornaments, under the name of sitogi. The inhabitants, too, of Liukiu wear a stone resembling the magatama; so that this little jewel helps us to a noteworthy historic fact, namely, to the connection which in remote times existed between the inhabitants of the whole chain of islands from Taiwan to Kamtchatka."

An exhaustive examination of the Omori deposits did not reveal anything like a magatama.

Were the Ainos cannibals?

Repeated inquiries among eminent Japanese scholars and archæologists, like Mr. Kanda, Mr. NinagaAva, and others, as to this question, are always answered in the same way. Not only were they not cannibals, but they are reported as being so mild and gentle that murder was never known to have occurred. So monstrous a habit would certainly have been known and recorded, particularly in the painstaking annals of early historians.

In conclusion, then, the Omori shell-heap presents all the leading characteristics of the typical Kjoekkenmoedding. And the evidences

Fig. 30. Fig. 31.

which Prof. Wyman cites as evidence of cannibalism, in the shell-heaps of Florida and Massachusetts, are likewise present in the Omori deposit. The recent occupation of America by the white race renders it difficult to determine how recent the shell-heaps along the coast may be, since the savages when first encountered were living in much the same condition as their ancestors had lived, just as to-day there still exist in some parts of the world veritable Stone-age savages. In Japan, however, where historians have chronicled with remarkable fidelity the minute details of their history, we get, as it were, some standard for time in estimating the age of the Omori deposits. It can be stated with absolute certainty that they are pre-Japanese; and there are as good reasons for believing them pre-Aino as early Aino.

I have to return my sincere thanks to the university authorities for the zeal they have displayed in assisting me in the examination of the deposits, and to the personal help afforded me in the excavations by Profs. Yatabe, Toyama, and Dr. David Murray, Messrs. Matsumura, Sasaki, Matsura, Fukuyo, and others. I made a special request that the deposits should be completely examined during my absence, and this examination was most faithfully done. A much larger collection was made with many new and curious forms of pots. I hope at some future time to illustrate them.

  1. "Smithsonian Annual Report" for 1870, p. 389.
  2. A writer in one of the Yokohama papers calls attention to the fact that a fragment of glazed pottery was found, when the excavations were first made, against the exposed bank of the railway. He might have added that an English button and the soldered disk of a tin preserving-can were also found! Such a one, finding a living toad in a granitic crevice, would be likely to infer, either that the toad was as old as the granite, or that the granite was as recent as the toad.
  3. "Niphon and its Antiquities."