Urushishita:
A large-scale site buried in the mountains. Stone features in a variety of shapes were placed at burial and ceremonial locations. A set of materials showing the manufacturing process of lacquered goods is found.


Thread bead Made with thread
of twisted vegetable fiber about 0.6 mm thick, it was seeped with clear (raw) lacquer and then covered with red lacquer, to harden and set the shape. In addition to items like this one with the thread made into a coil, there are others which are bunched and tied together. More than ten examples of thread beads have been found, centering on sites on the Sea of Japan. Diameter: 1.7 cm.

Lacquer-related materials
Regarding the red painted lacquer items in the center, from chemical analysis it has been learned that clear and red lacquer were painted layer upon layer, and that both cinnabar and rouge (ferric oxide) were used as red pigment. Height of item in the upper right corner: 12.2 cm.
Adapted from Hakkutsu sareta Nihon rettō 2012 [Excavations in the Japanese Archipelago, 2012] (Bunkachō [Agency for Cultural Affairs], ed., Asahi Shimbun Publications, 2012).

Distant view of the site (from the southwest)
The site is located on a river terrace at approximately 140 m elevation, facing the Komata river which flows along the northern base of Mt. Moriyoshi. There are level areas atop both the western (towards the front) and eastern (to the rear) sides of a tableland about 255 m in length. Vast quantities of artifacts were recovered from the midden areas (yellow arrows) on the slopes of the western area, numbering as many as 523,000 items of Jōmon pottery and clay objects, and 110,000 stone tools and stone objects. On the far side of the Komata river are the Mukaisamada A and D sites, thought to be large-scale ceremonial sites of the first half of the Final Jōmon (approximately 3,000 – 2,300 years ago).
Adapted from Hakkutsu sareta Nihon rettō 2012 [Excavations in the Japanese Archipelago, 2012] (Bunkachō [Agency for Cultural Affairs], ed., Asahi Shimbun Publications, 2012).

Archaeological features distribution map (Late Jōmon)
A planned, rational mode of distribution can be discerned for groups of embedded-pillar buildings, stone features and pit plus stone feature combinations, and midden areas, atop a tableland made level with groundwork, cutting down and filling in the ground surface.
Adapted from Hakkutsu sareta Nihon rettō 2012 [Excavations in the Japanese Archipelago, 2012] (Bunkachō [Agency for Cultural Affairs], ed., Asahi Shimbun Publications, 2012).

Pit plus stone feature combinations and stone features on the eastern side of the tableland
Over a leveled and filled area of approximately 1,000 m2, in addition to 41 pit plus stone feature combinations which are thought to be burials, there were 6 assembled stone features made as a set. Among the various shapes are circles, ellipses, arcs, an X shape (photo), and others resembling the character .

Perforated stone object Made of slate.
Length: 7.4 cm; width: 2.7 cm; thickness 0.7 cm.

Structure of a pit plus stone feature combination
Among the stone features, there were some with a stone feature on the surface matching a hole dug out underneath, as in the photograph. From the presence at the bottom of the hole of items such as the perforated stone object (in the accompanying photo), thought to be grave goods, the upper stone feature is believed to be a marker, and the hole beneath it a burial. These were made as a prescribed group, and are thought to constitute a cemetery.

(principal artifacts, Urushishita Site)


Stone object in the shape of an animal
Late Jōmon, approximately 3,500 years ago.
Height: 5.9 cm; width: 5.6 cm; thickness: 5.1 cm.
Carved from soft sandstone, from the representations of a round eye, and a protruding nose and mouth, it is thought to have been modeled after the head of an animal. A hole has been opened through the center. Is it perhaps a representation of a bear?
Adapted from Hakkutsu sareta Nihon rettō 2012 [Excavations in the Japanese Archipelago, 2012] (Bunkachō [Agency for Cultural Affairs], ed., Asahi Shimbun Publications, 2012).

Stone rod
Late Jōmon, approximately 3,500 years ago.
Length: 73 cm;
weight: 2.2 kg; material: shale.
This was discovered in the middle of a midden area. The two rounded ends are made as protrusions on which fine carving was applied. It is thought to have been used in some kind of ritual. Its recovery in an intact condition suggests the midden was not simply for rubbish, but a disposal area having a special nature.

Urushishita Site, Kitaakita City, Akita Prefecture

A base-like site found in the home of Matagi hunters

Urushishita is a site of the Late Jōmon period (ca. 4,000 – 3,000 years ago). It lies among the mountains where the Matagi, well-known bearers of a traditional hunting culture, still survive in the town of Ani. Excavations have been conducted three times, in the years 2001, 2002, and 2006.

It was learned as a result that large-scale groundwork was undertaken on a tableland at two locations, and after these ground preparations were finished, groups of embedded-pillar buildings, stone features, and pit plus stone feature combinations were made. From midden areas on slopes of the western part of the site, in addition to pottery, stone tools, and clay figurines, a variety of ceremonial and ritual paraphernalia was found in large quantities. From the amounts of these items as well it is thought that the Urushishita site was a base that was continually used, comprising a vast area centering on graves, ceremonial areas, and middens.

Lacquered goods recovered in large quantities

From the midden areas, artifacts were found together that show the manufacturing process of lacquer ware, from tapping the trees for sap to making the finished product.

In particular, over 80 vessels contained lacquer or had adhesions of it, the largest number of such finds to date, and from the state of preservation the stages of lacquer refinement can be seen. In this manner, an image comes into view of lacquer being continually utilized and lacquer ware being made over the long span of the Late Jōmon period.

Stone features placed in cemeteries and ceremonial sites

On the level area in the western side of the site, 104 embedded-pillar buildings and other features were found distributed in ring with an outside diameter of 60 m. The function of these buildings is unclear, but possibly they were dwellings or ceremonial facilities.

On the level area in the site’s eastern side are concentrations of features made with stones combined in various shapes, along with pit plus stone feature combinations believed to be burials, and the area is thought to have been a cemetery or a ceremonial site.

At this period in time, in eastern Japan there were many stone circles made with rows of stones or stone arrangements laid in a ring, and as a characteristic seen at such sites as the Ōyu stone circle, a designated Special Historic Site in Kazuno City, Akita Prefecture, and Isedōtai, a Historic Site in Kitaakita City, both close to Urushishita, groups of embedded-pillar buildings are made in a ring surrounding the outer perimeter of the stone circle, and are thought to have perhaps been facilities related to rituals when burials were conducted in the vicinity of these stone features.

The Urushishita site’s age centers on a time slightly after that of these stone circles, and shows differences in the condition of the stone arrangements, and in the placement and distributional compositions of the groups of stone features and buildings, and may thus be regarded as a precious site for considering changes in stone arrangements and site structure. (Hosoda Masashi)