Basics about the Jōmon people

The Jōmon people (縄文人) are an ancient people native to Japan and the Okhotsk sea. They arrived in Japan and the Okhotsk region more than 45,000 years ago and are the autochthonus people of eastern Siberian and Japan.

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They originated from Central Asia and can be linked to Cro-Magnon type of people of the Paleolithic, commonly found in parts of Asia and Europe. Skull of Jōmon and Cro-Magnon bear strikingly similarities.

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Physically they looked more like Europeans or Middle Easterners and different from East or Southeast Asians.

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The Jōmon people were found to be genetically unique and not closely related to any other population. Strangely they are also genetically distinct from ancient Basal-Asians and seem to be a distinct population wave which used the northern route as opposed to the southern route. They are not closely related to ancient Asian samples such as Tianyuan or Hoabhinians. (Boer et al. 2020).

It was also found they share some genome with Arctic population of Eurasia and eastern Siberia. SNP data show that modern people of eastern Siberia retained some Jōmon ancestry.

The Ainu of Hokkaido share about 75% ancestry from the Jōmon and can be described as closest people today.

The Jōmon share relatively most genome with Paleolithic Siberians, as well as with modern people in Japan and various groups around the Sea of Okhotsk.

Origins

Genetic data, anthropologic and archeological evidence supports an origin of proto-Jōmon people somewhere in Central Asia. They used the northern route through Siberia to the Altai mountain and than to Japan. This was more than 56,000 years ago. Quite long time.

The Jōmon belong to Haplogroup D-M55 (D1a2a1 formerly known as D1b) and to C-M8 (C1a). These haplogroups are very ancient. Haplogroup D-M55 was formed more than 56,000 years ago in Central Asia. It has more than 5 unique mutations. C1a is a bit younger and found in Jōmon and strangely in Paleolithic Europeans and Levant populations.

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Haplogroup D is found in 30% of modern Japanese, mostly descedants of assimilated Emishi and Ainu. In contrast, it is found at about 4% in Koreans

D is also found in some modern Tibeto-Burmese and Altaian tribes. It was also found in Syrian and Arab samples (Saudi-Arabia and Arab-Nigerian). The Andamanese have also high frequency of D (60%), but their sub-clade is only 1,700 to 2,400 years old and suggested to be from a gene-flow of Tibeto-Burmese tribes: The Riang tribe in Myanmar and Northeast India have the same clade as the Andamanese. Chaubey et al. 2015 found East Asian admixture in Andamanese which may represent the introduction of the D clade.

Examples of carriers of D today:

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It is rare today, but it is believed to was rather widespread in ancient Eurasia. Recently in 2020, ancient samples in southern Russia and Georgia (Koban cultural sites) were found to have a medium frequency of D1a2a1.

C1a is very seldom today and most commonly in Japan:

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C1a range between 6% to 10% today.

Genetic studies show that the Ainu are the last direct descendants of the Jōmon. But several other people, including Japanese people, have some Jōmon ancestry. Modern Japanese are estimated to have between 10% to 20% Jōmon ancestry.

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A genetic analysis in 2016 showed that although the Ainu have some genetic relations to the Japanese people and Eastern Siberians (especially Itelmens and Chukchis), they are not closely related to any modern ethnic group. Further, the study detected genetic contribution from the Ainu to populations around the Sea of Okhotsk but no genetic influence on the Ainu themselves. According to the study, the Ainu-like genetic contribution in the Ulch people is about 17.8% or 13.5% and about 27.2% in the Nivkhs. The study also disproved the idea about a relation to Andamanese or Tibetans; instead, it presented evidence of gene flow between the Ainu and “lowland East Asian farmer populations” (represented in the study by the Ami and Atayal in Taiwan, and the Dai and Lahu in Mainland East Asia).

Genetic analyses of HLA I and HLA II genes as well as HLA-A, -B, and -DRB1 gene frequencies links the Ainu to some Indigenous peoples of the Americas, especially to populations on the Pacific Northwest Coast such as Tlingit. The scientists suggest that the main ancestor of the Ainu and of some Native American groups can be traced back to Paleolithic groups in Southern Siberia.

Jōmon-related genome was found among Paleolithic samples in the Altai mountain area.

A genetic study published in the scientific journal “Nature” by Jinam et al., using genome-wide SNP data comparison found that the Ainu have unique characteristics and are distinct from contemporary East-Eurasians. Strangely, the Ainu have some genes which are associated with Europeans but absent from other East-Eurasians.

→ The Jōmon are a quite mysterious and ancient population. They appear similar to Europeans and Middle Easterners and also share some genes with them, but are generally quite distinct from any modern populations. They appear to be linked to Cro-Magnon type of people which also resembled people in Europe or the Middle East but left only some traces of their ancestry in modern people.

A craniometric study by Brace et al. (2001) shows a closer morphological relation of the Jōmon and Ainu people to prehistoric and modern Europeans rather than to other contemporary East Asians. The study concludes that the Jōmon people are descendants of a population (dubbed “Eurasians” by Brace et al.) that moved into northern Eurasia (and also the Americas) in the Late Pleistocene, which significantly predates the expansion of the modern core population of East Asia.

According to “Jōmon culture and the peopling of the Japanese archipelago” by Schmidt and Seguchi (2014), the prehistoric Jōmon people descended from a paleolithic population of Siberia (Altai mountains region). Other cited scholars point out similarities between the Jōmon and various paleolithic and Bronze Age Siberians.

I want to share cultural elements of the Jōmon and the Jōmon elements in modern Japan:

The Jōmon culture is one of the oldest cultures of the world. It is noted for the oldest kind of pottery and the unique designs.

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The dogū are famous Jōmon statues and there are tourist versions which you can buy in history shops or museums.

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Jōmon also used Obsidian, Jade and different kinds of wood. The Jōmon created many jewelry and ornamental items. The Magatama was likely invented by one of the Jōmon tribes and is commonly found in Japan.

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It was later found in many parts of Northeast Asia and eastern Siberia.

Some argue that the three imperial objects are of Jōmon origin and had a important position among one or many Jōmon tribes and was conquered and adopted by the Yayoi.

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The Jōmon did not use steel (at least there is no evidence for that) and used hardened wood for spears and sword-like objects as well as bows.

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The Jōmon bow which was used by the Emishi is ancestral to the modern Japanese bow (Yumi) :

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The famous red-black design is of Jōmon origin.

The Emishi Jōmon tribes were famous for their resistance against the Japanese Yamato dynasty. They were feared by the early Japanese because of their advanced warfare style and archery skills. The Japanese adopted the Emishi war styles and this may have leaded to the development of the Samurai.

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Certain elements of Samurai armor can be traced back to Jōmon/Emishi tribes.

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It is not known if the Emishi were Ainu or a related but culturally distinct Jōmon ethnicity.

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It is also suggested that some ethnic Japanese which did not accept the Yamato dynasty joined Emishi groups. It is also argued that ethnic Emishi which joined the Yamato dynasty were sometimes granted high positions if they teached their knowledge to the Japanese.

Because of modern geographical terms and vocabulary found in modern Japanese, it is believed that the Jōmon spoke languages similar to Ainu language.

The Jōmon culture was largely based on food collection and hunting but it is also suggested that the Jōmon people practiced early agriculture. They gathered tree nuts and shellfish, laid the foundations for living such as hunting and fishing, and also made some cultivation. They used stoneware and pottery, and lived in a pit dwelling.

Some elements of modern Japanese culture may have come from Jomon groups. Among these elements are the precursors to Shinto, some marriage customs, some architectural styles, and possibly some technological developments such as lacquerware, laminated yumi, metalworking, and glass making.

Jōmon culture was quite advanced and not a simple hunter gatherers culture. It is no coincidence that the Jōmon had the earliest pottery and high artistic abilities.

While we Japanese have only traces of Jōmon blood, many are very proud about them. Currently there is high interest in ancient Jōmon culture and customs and art.

Jōmon culture is noted to share some similarities to Native American cultures and Siberian (Altaian and Buryat).

Aspects of the Jōmon culture were used in the famous video game “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild”. You may know this game.

Nintendo’s art director Takizawa Satoru said that the Jōmon culture was the inspiration for the “Sheikah slates, shrines and other ancient objects” in the game.

A recreated Jōmon village in the form of an experience park (Sarashina no Sato), which offers different activities, can be visited in Chikuma, Nagano.

Summary:

The Jōmon people are very ancient people, originating from Paleolithic Central Asia. They came through the northern route to Altai mountains and Japan. They are physically similar to European or Middle Easterners and likely linked to the Paleolithic Cro-Magnon man type. Genetically they are distinct and not closely related to other people. But they share some genes with Arctic people and Europeans as well as some Native Americans.

Speaking about race, Jōmon can be described as own race. Europeans, Middle Easterners are known as Caucasoid. Jōmon can be classified as Caucasoid. I prefer to see them as own Jōmon race, but links to ancient Europeans and Middle Easterners can not be denied. With modern science we will possibly be able to create authentic replicas of Jōmon.

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