Japan’s oldest shell tools found in Sakitari Cave in Okinawa

Japan's oldest shell tools found in Sakitari Cave in Okinawa

The shell tools (from front) and beads made of shells found in the Sakitari Cave. At the Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum in Naha on February 15.

February 16, 2014 Ryukyu Shimpo

The Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum announced on February 15 that archaeologists have unearthed 39 items of shell tools, accessories and human bones in the Sakitari Cave in Nanjo City.

Carbon dating of charcoal from the same formation suggests that the remains date back 20,000 to 23,000 years, making them from the Upper Paleolithic age.
Researchers have unearthed shell tools dating back 2,000 to 10,000 years (the Jomon Period), but this is the first time in Japan that they have found the tools at the site from the Paleolithic Age.

It is possible that the Minatogawa people, the prehistoric people of Okinawa who lived about 18,000 years ago, used the tools. A representative of the museum said, “The findings are important to clarify Paleolithic culture. This is a rare find anywhere in the world.”

The location of Sakitari Cave.

According to the museum, the researchers unearthed 23 items of fragments of bivalve shells. The edged shells indicate that they were used to cut and scrape things. The researchers recognized tiny wounds caused by their use. The museum sees the tools as having been used for cutting cooking ingredients and manufacturing.

The researchers found two accessories made of tusk shell fragments. There were about 1.5 centimeters long in a cylindrical shape and appear to be beads.
They found a human tooth, a foot bone and crab claws, burned earth from the same formation.

On February 15, the museum opened the site to the press and explained the items were unearthed from the black geological formation that contained many carbides.
Shinji Yamasaki, a curator with the museum, said, “We think that people used to live around the site.” He went on to say, “Although the tools made of stone and bone in Paleolithic Age were not new experts, this is the first time that researchers have found the shell tools in this age. The findings will help clarify the culture of the Minatogawa people.”

The museum plans to display the items to the public from February 18 to March 16.
Excavation in the Sakitari Cave, which began in 2009, found human remains and stone artifacts dating back 12,000 years and earthenware dating back 9,000 years.
There is a possibility that the researchers will find items from older ages. The museum plans to continue researching in 2014.

Glossary: Sakitari Cave
A cave site in Nanjo City. The Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum started researching the site in 2009. The researchers found human remains and stone artifacts dating back 14,000 years. They also found the oldest piece of Okinawan earthenware with the Oshibiki pattern from 9,000 years ago.
The researchers expect further findings from older formation.

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