A Demic and Diffusion Event
Before the arrival of intensive wet rice farming during the first few centuries of the 1st millennium BC, the Japanese islands were occupied by a population of complex hunter-gatherers, who produced a highly sophisticated material culture, lived in large sedentary settlements, and often practised different forms of plant management akin to agriculture. This period is referred, which started approximately 16,000 years ago, is known as Jomon (“chord-marked” in Japanese) period, from a type of decoration found prominently in the pottery produced by these people. The Jomon period flourished over 10,000 years, (albeit with some differences in regional trajectories and many episodes of population fluctuations) and saw major transformations when groups of migrants brought a package of new cultural elements, which included amongst other things new forms of pottery, burial customs, and most prominently a subsistence-based on intensive agriculture. This event was a combination of a demic and a cultural diffusion process, with the new migrants intermixing with pre-existing Jomon communities and transforming their economy and society. This key period in Japanese in prehistory is known as Yayoi period, a key stage that lays the building blocks of early state formation in the Japanese islands.
How does Culture Change?
History is punctuated by similar episodes of large-scale migratory events that foster the transmission of new ideas across different traditions, often leading to pivotal changes in the society and the culture of incumbent groups. These changes are however the results of a complex interplay of a variety of transmission processes; new cultural elements can be quickly and almost passively accepted, actively rejected, or mixed with elements of local traditions to produce new hybrid cultural variants. The archaeological evidence from prehistoric Japan suggests a variety of processes with regional variations in the way local incumbent groups responded to the migrants and the cultural packages they brought in. The variation in the local responses is reflected for example by the apparent uneven spread of rice farming, which shows episodes of delays, temporary adoptions followed by reversions to previous subsistence strategies, to almost complete rejections.
The ENCOUNTER project aims to investigate how and why local communities responded so differently to the new culture brought by the migrant communities from the Korean peninsula, and at the same time assess the demographic and economic impact of the Jomon-Yayoi transition.
Synthetic Research and Open Science
The recovery of archaeological data is inevitably a destructive process of a finite resource. The post-war rebuilding and modernisation of Japanese infrastructure have fostered an unmatched investment on rescue archaeology over the past fifty years, substantially contributing to one of the richest archaeological records in the world. For over a century Japanese archaeologists have made extraordinary efforts to discover, document, analyse an exceptional record, which size and complexity introduce new methodological and theoretical challenges for their effective synthesis. One of the core objectives of the ENCOUNTER project is to develop a framework for synthetic research in Japanese archaeology, enabling researchers within and without the project to better harness the untapped potential of the rich record offered in Japan. The project is actively committed to open science, and all data, methods, and outputs of the project will be made publicly available to foster reuse, replication, and reproduction.