24000 year-old human remains discovered at Shiraho Saonetabaru Cave Ruins in Ishigaki City

24000 year-old human remains discovered at Shiraho Saonetabaru Cave Ruins in Ishigaki City

Approximately 24000 year-old human bones from Shiraho Saonetabaru Cave Ruins at the University of the Ryukyus, Faculty of Medicine


November 11, 2011 Ryukyu Shimpo

Twenty four thousand year-old human remains have been freshly discovered at the Shiraho Saonetabaru Cave Ruins in Ishigaki City. Previously, the oldest find from these ruins were 20000 year-old human bones dating back to the Paleolithic era. Physical anthropologist, Associate Professor Minoru Yoneda and his laboratory team from the University of Tokyo extracted the protein component “collagen” from a part of rib bones discovered in last year’s excavation, and conducted carbon measurement.

Bones from animals such as boar and birds were also found from the same ruins. Yoneda says, “Human habitation of the Ryukyu Archipelago during the Paleolithic era is now confirmed. This may assist in explaining life in those times and human evolution in East Asia.”

Associate Professor Minoru Yoneda


The ruins are located within the planned construction site of the New Ishigaki Airport. Human bones excavated there three years ago during a dig carried out by the prefecture were verified to date back 20000 years. This April, Associate Professor Yoneda reported that another piece of human bone had been discovered from stratum between 20000 and 24000 years old.

During the three months since August, an urgent full-scale excavation was conducted in which approximately 300 pieces of human bone were discovered from the stratum. New discoveries to explore the roots of Japanese and Okinawa’s connections to the Jomon period are expected.

Although the construction for the New Ishigaki Airport is proceeding for its opening in March 2013, Yoneda says, “There are no other ruins in the country. Additional excavations should be carried out before the airport project is completed.”
In Okinawa, other human bone fossils such as the Yamashita Cave man (32000 years ago), Minatogawa Man (18000 years ago) have been found. The fossils’ ages are estimated based on measurement of materials such as carbon excavated together with the fossil.

(English Translation by T&CT, Megumi Chibana and Mark Ealey)

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