Gravers, Excavated from Araya site, Nagaoka-shi, Niigata, Paleolithic period, 16000 BC (Gift of Mr. Hoshino Ryo)
The Beginning of Tool Making in the Paleolithic Era
1st floor: Japanese Archaeology (Chronological Exhibition)
Japanese Archaeology Gallery
September 6, 2022 (Tue) - March 5, 2023 (Sun)
People first settled in Japan about 40,000 years ago, marking the beginning of the Paleolithic era, which continued until pottery was first created approximately 13,000 years ago. This era coincided with an ice age during which Japan was still connected to the Asian continent via land bridges and inhabited by large mammals such as mammoths. People led nomadic lives and made tools from stone and animal bone, using them to hunt and forage.
This section explores how Paleolithic tools changed over time through common examples: trapezoids with cutting edges, knives, spearheads, and miniature blades for making composite tools such as harpoons. Generally, Paleolithic tools were made by chipping stone into the desired shapes, while polished stone tools first appeared in the following Neolithic era. Japan’s Paleolithic era, however, is characterized by the use of stone axe heads with partially-polished blades.
The most common material for tools was obsidian, a type of volcanic glass found in abundance across most of Japan. The sedimentary rock siliceous shale was used in northeastern Japan, where obsidian was scarce, while the volcanic rock sanukite was used in the Kinki region and around the Seto Inland Sea. All of these materials were suitable for making tools because they were relatively hard and fine-grained, allowing sharp edges to be formed by chipping.