Okinawa is the “treasure trove” for discovering prehistoric human remains

May 20, 2017 Ryukyu Shimpo

Human remains from the Old Stone Age or Japan’s Paleolithic era, which is more than 16,000 years ago, have been found at 10 different ruins within Okinawa. In Japan, there are more than 10,000 ruins from the Old Stone Age. Despite that, discovering human remains outside of Okinawa has only occurred once. This was in Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka Prefecture where remains of a Hamakita person from around 14,000 to 18,000 years ago were found. Even across East Asia as a whole, unearthing Paleolithic human remains are concentrated in Okinawa. This makes Okinawa the “treasure trove” for fossilized human bones.

Bones cannot survive in acidic soil that is mixed with volcanic ashes because they will melt. Meanwhile, Ryukyu limestones that come from raised coral reefs can be found across Okinawa. Because of these limestones, the soil along the west coast on the south-central part of the main island of Okinawa is slightly alkaline, making it less likely to oxidize and more likely to preserve bones.

In 1962, the remains of a Yamashitadou person (Yamashita Town First Cave Person) were found in Naha City. The remains are presumed to have come from more than 36,000 years ago. In 1970, a complete skeleton of a Minatogawa person from around 22,000 years ago was found at the Minatogawa Fisher Ruins in Yaese Town. The discovery of the Minatogawa person is famous for becoming the first set of human remains that was close to complete in Japan.

Human remains continue to be discovered in Okinawa. In 2010, human bones from about 27,000 years ago were found in Shiraho Saonetabaru Cave Ruins in Ishigaki City. In 2012, stone tools and human bones from about 20,000 years ago were excavated at the Sakitari Cave Ruins. Fossilized human bones have also been found on Kume Island, Ie Island, and Miyako Island.

(English translation by T&CT and Chelsea Ashimine)

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