New evidence challenges image of Stone Age

By Takahiro Igaki, Mainichi Shimbun, Saturday 25 December 1999

[pit dwellings]
The remains of two pit dwellings and a road.
IBUSUKI, Kagoshima—Archaeologists here have found evidence that Stone Age people of 15,000 years ago may have already been living in roofed dwellings rather than caves as current theories state. The Ibusuki Municipal Board of Education on Friday announced they found the remains of a 15,000-year-old residential area at the Mizusako ruins here.

Because the finding includes not only the remains of two pit dwellings but also the remains of a road, a stone-tool factory and stake holes, officials of the board said that a permanent village may have existed here at that time.

If experts confirm the existence of the village, it could predate by as much as 5,500 years what is believed to be the oldest village built during the Jomon period in about 7,500 B.C., which was found in the Uenohara ruins in Kokubu, Kagoshima Prefecture.

Established theories suggest that man during the Old Stone Age lived a nomadic life taking refuge in caves.

The finding demands that current theories on the Old Stone Age be reviewed fundamentally, said Michio Okamura, a leading researcher at the Cultural Affairs Agency's Monuments and Site Division. I have never heard of a finding (suggesting the existence of a village) like this one in Ibusuki.

Okamura added that further investigations may confirm the remains of a large-scale residential village. Because there have been only a small number of residential findings from the Old Stone Age, I say, this is a world-class discovery, he said.

Okamura went on to say that experts have to review their understanding of human beings' development if permanent residences existed as far back as 15,000 years ago.

He suggests that warm temperatures in Kagoshima may have enabled people to create a permanent residential village here.

Takashi Inada, an archaeology professor at Okayama University, echoed Okamura's view, saying, Globally, the remains of a (14,000-year-old) residence have been found in the Ukraine, but no remains of a village have yet been confirmed. Therefore, if it is the remains of a village, it is the world's first.

But Inada said experts should not be too hasty in concluding that the finding is the oldest village in Japan, if not the world, because he believes other remains of villages may be older, although their dates cannot be confirmed due to the lack of decisive evidence.

Officials of the board of education said that they were able to date the remains by investigating stone tools found in the factory and because the remains were found in volcanic-ash layers from 11,400 years to 24,000 years old.

The sizes of the two pit dwellings are 2.2 meters by 1.8 meters and 1.7 meters by 1.3 meters, respectively. Surrounding them, dozens of pillar holes were also found. The road is about 12 meters long.