Odake Shell Midden:
One of the largest shell middens on the Japan Sea side; 91 human skeletons are discovered, the largest number nationwide!

In an area where interred skeletons concentrated, the remains of 16 individuals of various ages and both sexes were recovered.

Skeletons Nos. 76, 77

Both were flexed burials, and skeleton No. 77 on the photo’s right was interred cradling a stone in both arms. Among the 91 skeletons found, only one was an extended burial, and additionally jars were found in which infants were buried.

The lagoon in the Jōmon period

At the time of settlement at the Odake shell midden,  there was a worldwide marine transgression due to climatic warming, and with the rising sea level the modern-day Imizu plain was inundated and a lagoon spread to the edge of the Kureha hills. The Odake and Shijimigamori shell middens, among others, were located at the shore.

Adapted from Hakkutsu sareta Nihon rettō 2015 [Excavations in the Japanese Archipelago, 2015] (Bunkachō [Agency for Cultural Affairs], ed., Kyodo News, 2015).

Dog skeleton No. 10

A total of 21 dog skeletons were found lying beside the human skeletons. None had traces of butchering as for use as food, but were buried with care. This is a good example showing the intimate relations between Jōmon people and dogs. Except for the cranium, dog skeleton No. 10 survived nearly intact (the forelegs are to the right).

Conditions of deposit of shell strata

The shell strata exceeded 2 m in thickness, and are estimated as extending over an area some 90 m north–south and 50 m east–west. There are very few marine shells, with the majority being a brackish water clam species (Corbicula japonica).

Overview of the excavation area

Urbanization is proceeding on the Kureha hills to the right side of the photo. The belt of rice paddy to the left is the Imizu plain, which extends to the sea.

Artist’s reconstruction of the Odaka shell midden (drawing by Hayakawa Kazuko)

A bird’s-eye view from the west of the entire settlement, the season being early summer. People are shown gathering clams and hunting for porpoise.

Facial reconstruction of skeleton No. 28 (supervised by the National Museum of Nature and Science)

Skeleton No. 28 was a man who stood 157.3 cm tall and was between 15–29 years of age. He had deeply chiseled features and a nose with a straight bridge, and double eyelids. His face was rather small, thin at the chin and with well developed cheekbones.

Odake Shell Midden,
Toyama City, Toyama Prefecture

Early Jōmon period (approximately 6,500–5,500 years before the present)

A shell midden located inland

The Odake shell midden is located some 4 km inland from the modern seacoast, at the junction of the Kureha hills, which are positioned roughly in the center of Toyama prefecture, with the Imizu plain extending to their north, at an elevation of about 3 m above sea level. But in the Jōmon period the sea level rose, and a region of brackish waters (where sea and fresh water mixed) of a lagoon, the modern-day Toyama Shinkō port, extended very close to the midden.

As the result of an excavation in the 2009–10 fiscal years which preceded the construction of the Hokuriku Shinkansen, it was learned that this site was a regularly inhabited settlement having, in addition to the shell midden, precincts for burials, dwellings, and productive tasks. The shell strata exceed 2 m in thickness, and are among the largest class on the Japan Sea side of Honshu. From the burial precinct the interred skeletons of 91 individuals were discovered, the largest number nationwide for the Early Jōmon period, and wooden implements, items of bone and antler and so forth were also recovered in extremely good condition.

Diverse buried skeletons and recovered articles

Flexed burial with the arms and legs folded was the method of interment for the majority of the 91 human skeletons. There were differences based on sex for the grave goods, with items symbolizing strength for males, such as polished stone axes, beads made from tusks, or thrusting implements of bone or antler, and personal ornaments for females, such as slit-disc earrings or pendants of bone or antler.

The greatest number of interred skeletons were of youths (aged from the latter half of the first through the second decades of life), and from the variety in terms of physique and facial types it is thought that there was some exchange with other regions. Also, from an analysis of the diet based on bone composition, among the males large differences were clearly seen between diets based mainly on marine products versus vegetables, so it is seen that at this time people were already leading a variety of livelihoods under differing environments.

Further, in addition to local items, among the Jōmon pottery were imported wares from the Kinki, Tōkai, or Tōhoku regions, along with lacquer-painted pottery. Stone implements as well include finds of items made of amber from the Pacific ocean side of Japan to begin with, plus those of stone materials originating in Nagano, Gifu, and Niigata prefectures, along with one of the oldest items nationwide worked from jade. Additionally, as items made from shell, a bracelet made from the shell of a true limpet (Patella flexuosa optima) from the south sea region was the first such find on the Japan Sea side.

This variety seen in the people and recovered artifacts buried at the Odake shell midden tell of a place that saw the traffic of many people and things. (Takanashi Kiyoshi)

The Odake shell midden was a prosperous settlement where many people and goods gathered.

Bracelet made from limpet shell

Length: 6.4 cm. The shellfish called ōtsutanoha in Japanese (a true limpet) is an umbrella-shaped species found southward from the Nansei islands (the entire chain of islands linking Kyushu and Taiwan) and the Izu peninsula (of Honshu). This bracelet is thought to have come through trade, and was recovered near skeleton No. 45 (a male youth) alongside a bracelet made from the bivalve benkeigai (w hite-lined bittersweet, Glycymeris albolineata).

Pendant made from a bear tusk

Length: 6 cm. Recovered alongside a tanged stone scraper from the breast of skeleton No. 26 (a male youth, about 160 cm tall). It is thought to have been interred worn as an ornament.

Clay object in the shape of a wild boar

Length: 7.5 cm; width: 3.9 cm. The oldest boar-shaped clay object nationwide. While it is not clear which end is the head, the torso has small holes forming four horizontal lines, an expression of the striped pattern of a wild boar piglet.

Three-legged cylindrical object

Height: 39.3 cm; diameter: 9.5 cm. The wood is from the soapnut tree ( Sapindus mukorrossi ), and a number of unfinished items like this were recovered. There were two ways of crafting, one in which the cylindrical portion was carved out first, and the other which started by forming the legs.

Jade pendant

Length: 4.3 cm. One of the oldest pieces of worked jade.

Fishing gear

(Three items at left) Fishhooks. The item at top is the barbed portion fitted to a spindle to form a composite hook. The bottom two items were used singly, with the fishing line tied at the indentation at the top. (Two items at right) Thrusting implements in the shape of fishing spears. The item at right is 7.5 cm in length.

Reconstructed example.

Lacquer-painted pottery

This was found as a sherd. The surviving length is 6 cm, with a width of 5.8 cm. After painting the inner and outer surfaces with black lacquer, it was painted over with red lacquer.