Discovery of oldest East Asian full-body human skeleton at Shiraho Saonetabaru Cave Ruins

Discovery of oldest East Asian full-body human skeleton at Shiraho Saonetabaru Cave Ruins

Excavation of Shiraho Saonetabaru Cave Ruins has exhumed numerous human bones from the Paleolithic Era. (Photograph taken on June 30 in Shiraho, Ishigaki City.)


July 1, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo
By Gaisho Yonekura

On June 30 the Okinawa Prefectural Buried Cultural Property Center announced to concerned persons its latest excavation discovery of a 21,000 year-old full-body human skeleton at Shiraho Saonetabaru Cave Ruins. This skeleton is the oldest full skeleton discovered in East Asia, even older than the skeletons of the Minatogawa people (from about 18,000 years ago) of the Paleolithic Era discovered in Yaese Town. About 1,000 pieces of bone that appear to make up about ten body parts have been found during investigation of the cave ruins since 2010. These ruins are the largest scale from their time period within Asia. An information session was conducted on July 1 for concerned persons, and on July 2 another was held for the general public.

The cave ruins are located on the grounds of the Shin-Ishigaki Airport, and were detected due to a survey of the land prior to construction. Once the site was detected, it was decided that the excavation would take place over ten years of the site being preserved, with a 5-year investigation plan starting in 2012. Parts of this full skeleton were discovered last year, and finally the remaining parts of the spine have been found and are to be completely exhumed and examined by July 2. The discussion will start next year on whether to continue to preserve the site or put it to use.

(Top left) thoracic vertebrae and (top right) forearm bone (Bottom left) clear rendering of top photograph (Bottom right) map showing positioning of Shiraho Saonetabaru Cave Ruins [black dot] and Shin-Ishigaki Airport [grey shape]

(Top left) thoracic vertebrae and (top right) forearm bone
(Bottom left) clear rendering of top photograph
(Bottom right) map showing positioning of Shiraho Saonetabaru Cave Ruins [black dot] and Shin-Ishigaki Airport [grey shape]

Archaeological excavation at the cave ruins has found a large quantity of human bones from about 20,000 years ago, but no man-made tools or artifacts have been unearthed yet. Some researchers think that this site was a graveyard, since the human bones have been found concentrated in four spots. If people from that time period are found to have prepared gravesites separate from where they carried out their daily activities, it will be a globally recognized discovery. To see what conclusions come of this discovery, keep an eye out for the report that will come available at the end of this year.

(English translation by T&CT and Erin Jones)

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