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Gunma burial site one of the oldest in Japan at 8,300 years

Human remains dating to the Jomon Pottery Culture period (c. 8000 BC-300 BC) are among the oldest in Japan to have been given formal burial, researchers said.

Gunma burial site one of the oldest in Japan at 8,300 years
An adult skeleton with back hunched at the Jomon period site in Naganohara, 
Gunma Prefecture [Credit: Kokugakuin University]
A team from Kokugakuin University estimated the remains at the Iyaiiwakage site here to be 8,300 years old.

The estimate was based on a nearly complete adult skeleton discovered in a burial pit with knees bent and back hunched. The burial method, known as “kusso,” was common during the early Jomon period and subsequent years.

The burial site is located near the top of a slope by a river and protected from rain by a hollow in the lower part of a cliff.

Researchers believe humans first settled there and built a burial site around 15,000 years ago.

“The finding will help us figure out how people in the early Jomon period were living in a mountainous area,” said Yasuhiro Taniguchi, a professor of prehistoric archaeology at the university. “We hope to ascertain the processes leading to the establishment of the Jomon culture.”

His team has been surveying the site for two years and found large amounts of earthenware, stone tools, bones of Japanese deer and wild boar, and plant seeds.

The adult skeleton was discovered at a depth of 80 centimeters under accumulated ash generated from cooking and fires. Researchers said the alkaline ash likely helped preserve the remains.

“The remains are well preserved, so I expect we will be able to obtain considerable information from them,” said Osamu Kondo, an associate professor of physical anthropology at the University of Tokyo.

Researchers plan to perform DNA analysis of the remains to determine the sex, age and genetic characteristics of the Jomon individuals.

Interred human remains dating to around the same time have also been found in such prefectures as Nagano, Tochigi and Chiba.

The Iyaiiwakage site yielded the skeletal remains of at least six people, which is rare for a single location. The remains of the adults and children were unearthed in a section measuring four meters by four meters.

Researchers plan to expand the survey area for more burials.

Author: Hiromou Tsuchiya | Source: The Asahi Shimbun [October 10, 2016]

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