The purpose of this book is to explain the process of Paleolithic human adaptation to the environment by integrating archaeological data that shows traces of human activity with data on paleoenvironmental changes and landform developments.
Humans of the Paleolithic period are thought to have been nomadic hunter-gatherers. The transition of the natural environment in which they lived, therefore, is an important factor in considering the changes undergone by human society in the period. And this is why a precise understanding of the temporal correspondence between the two fields of archaeological and environmental studies is essential. In this regard, Japan has accumulated a vast amount of archaeological and natural science data obtained through nearly half a century of large-scale excavations, making it possible to conduct research with a precision unmatched anywhere in the world.
This book focuses on the northwest area of the Kanto Plain, around the southern base of Mount Akagi in present-day Gunma Prefecture. A large amount of information, both archaeological and paleoenvironmental, has been accumulated on this region. The objectives of this book, therefore, are to (1) present and verify the rich archaeological evidence-based scenarios covering both broad and specific regional events in a manner that does not rely on either model-oriented deductive explanations or trivial empirical studies, and (2) provide comprehensive research on the history of human adaptation to the environment by incorporating findings from the natural sciences. In pursuing these two objectives, our intent has been to show a way for future such studies in Japan to maintain a broad regional perspective while focusing on a specific region.
Analyses of pollen fossils and phytolith assemblages, mammalian fossil productions, and the history of landform developments in major areas and river basins of the region are presented as a means of confirming the spatiotemporal changes in the surroundings that took place during the Paleolithic period. Additionally, dating of tephra and other fragmental material produced by volcanic eruptions in the region is used to compare the actual chronologies of environmental changes and the development of paleolithic artifacts.
To date paleolithic lithic tools, individual artifacts within a single archaeological site, were placed in chronological order through seriation and then this chronology was compared to the reconstructed chronology of the paleoenvironment and that of surrounding regions. What we learned from this is that the duration of lithic tool types and the process of regional adaptation differ among regions, and that there are different phases of change and variation in the creation of lithics diversity, that is, (1) changes observed over a broad area and (2) local variation based on various patterns of resources and use within each region.
Finally, based on these analyses, we examine how the Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherer dwelling patterns in the region changed and evolved. This has made it possible for us to explain the phenomenon of increases and decreases in the number of archaeological sites as an outcome of nomadic hunter-gatherers adapting to their environment and changing their strategies for subsistence and dwellings accordingly. Additionally, we found that the emergence of sites for large-scale production of lithic points, for example, relate to complex changes in the natural and social environment during the Paleolithic period, such as environmental changes, new lithic production technologies, and changes in modes of dwelling.
Changes in the lithic assemblages of the Paleolithic period are related to the activities of the nomadic hunter-gatherers of the time as they changed their methods of subsistence and types of dwellings to adapt to changes in such environmental factors as flora and fauna. Discussions, such as in this book, that are based on the correspondence between Paleolithic hunter-gatherers and the changes in the natural environment during that period will greatly contribute to Paleolithic studies in Japan, where excavated artifacts of the period are almost exclusively lithics.
(Written by: KOHARA Toshiyuki / April 14, 2023)
The 3rd UTokyo Jiritsu Award for Early Career Academics (The University of Tokyo 2022)