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Ancient Links between Humans and Animals: Bone and Antler Implements

  • Image of "Bone and Antler Implements, Jomon period, 2000 - 400BC"

    Bone and Antler Implements, Jomon period, 2000 - 400BC

    Heiseikan Japanese Archaeology Gallery
    March 16, 2010 (Tue) - September 12, 2010 (Sun)

    Hunting and fishing tools and body ornaments crafted from animal bones, horns and tusks are known to archaeologists as "bone and antler implements." Objects crafted from shell are also included in this group. Together with earthenware and stone tools, bone and antler implements were essential to daily life in ancient times.

    Bone and antler implements have been unearthed from prehistoric sites worldwide. This includes Japan, where a great variety and number have been found in shell mounds across the archipelago, remaining from the ancient Jomon and Yayoi cultures of Honshu, and the Epi-Jomon and Kaizuka cultures of Hokkaido and Okinawa respectively.

    Bone and antler implements developed as a result of the strong connection between humans and animals in ancient times. People worked hard to hunt, fish and gather animals for food. They felt deeply indebted to the wealth of their natural environment, and humbly expressed their gratitude by making use of every part of their animal harvest, letting nothing go to waste.

    Crafting bone and antler implements required a detailed knowledge of the materials used. This included not only structural knowledge of animal or fish skeletons, but also the ability to identify harder bones from those which could be easily split or broken. In the case of body ornaments, color was important and rare materials were prized.

    In addition to showing how ancient people hunted and fished, bone and antler implements also give us insight into their spiritual beliefs, rituals and prayers, thus narrating the vital links between animals and ancient human cultures.

 Major works in this exhibition

* Works listed below are in the TNM Collection unless otherwise indicated.
Harpoon Head, Antler, from Usosawa Shellmound, Otomo-cho, Rikuzentakada-shi, Iwate, Jomon period, 2000 - 400 BC (Gift of Mr. Tokugawa Yorisada)
Fish Hook, form Kamegaoka, Kizukuri-machi, Tsugaru-shi, Aomori, Jomon period, 1000 - 400 BC (Gift of Mr. Tokugawa Yorisada)
Ornament, Boar Canine Tooth, Jomon period, 2000 - 400 BC
Ornament, Bear Canine Tooth, from Usosawa Shellmound, Otomo-cho, Rikuzentakada-shi, Iwate, Jomon period, 2000 - 400 BC (Gift of Mr. Tokugawa Yorisada)