Some of the earliest village communities in the world were constructed in the Jomon period, marking a revolution in human history, a revolution that Japanese archaeologists describe as the ‘sedentary’ revolution. The term ‘ sedentary’ is used by archaeologists and anthropologists to describe societies that base themselves in one location all year around, and is used in contrast to the term ‘mobile societies’, which travel from place to place as part of their annual round of activities. Typical mobile societies include pastoralists who move with their flocks and herds from winter to summer pastures, and small-scale hunter-gatherers, who move from one place to another to make the most of seasonally available foodstuffs in different parts of their territories. In European prehistory there is a long-standing tendency to associate the appearance of sedentary communities with the advent of farming and the spread of what is known as the Neolithic (or New Stone Age). In the Japanese archipelago, settled villages are built thousands of years before the adoption of rice farming in the islands. Whether associated with farming or not, the establishment of such settlements represented a major change in the structure of the landscape, and a new phase of human interaction with, and impact upon, the environment.
In this module, we explore two aspects of this sedentary revolution: the nature of the Jomon settlements; and how the inhabitants of these new village settlements buried their dead. We will consider how the excavated remains of these prehistoric settlement plans and cemeteries can be interpreted to reveal about the nature of Jomon society.