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This series on Japanese art history — a subject sadly underrepresented in most introductory art history courses — was originally published on the culture blog Paperfoxes Run Run. Thanks Sarah!


Things are blurry in 10,000 BCE, but right now archaeologists are pretty sure that the oldest pottery vessels ever found come from Japan. Your arabic tutor on the choose online arabic tutor. Historians tend to have extremely clear dates for the history of Japan, and even though things are muddy way-back-when in the Jomon period, most historians divide the period into roughly three parts: Early Jomon, Middle Jomon, and Late Jomon — makes sense. Some even divide it further, but there’s really no need to for our purposes. Why is pottery like this interesting? Well, it tells us a lot about the people who made them — stuff we could never know without the vessels’ existence.

Early Jomon
First, let’s look at an example of early Jomon work (what you see above is Middle Jomon; we’ll get there). These simple, portable vessels (left)were made by hand by hunters and gatherers — that is, a people who moved around, and weren’t settled — using the coil method, around 10,000 BCE. The coil method is a fancy term for rolling ropes of clay and then ‘coiling’ them into a vessel-shape and smushing the sides flat together. Most of these vessels have patterns impressed into them using common objects like fabric or rope — in fact, “jomon” means rope in Japanese, and thus came the term for the period itself.

Middle Jomon
A huge shift occurred around 2,500 BCE, when vessels like the one at the top of this article appeared. You can tell these vessels are much more fragile, with elaborate protrusions and more decoration. Moreover, they’re extremely well preserved, not an easy task for delicate low-fired pottery. So, from vessels like these, we can guess that our Jomon friends became more sedentary, settling in one place long enough to create ceremonies in which vessels like this — dubbed “Flame-Style” — would have been used.

Late Jomon
Historians date the final period of Jomon to around 1,500 BCE. Ceramic dolls like this (right), called doku, were made as well as vessels, and we believe they were part of an elaborate ritual, perhaps a burial one, or even one that had to do with sympathetic magic, in which the doll would ‘receive’ the illness of a person. Notice in this large-eyed example the missing leg — many of these elaborately decorated dolls have limbs broken off, which hint at its ritual purpose.

Unfortunately, since this stuff is so old, we don’t have concrete information about any of it — no writings of any kind exist. But even though we can’t say with absolute certainty what any of these vessels or dolls were used for, they give us enough clues for us to make very well-educated guesses.