This week: Japanese stone circles

Stone circles at Kabayama ruins, a Jomon period settlement, in the city of Kitakami, Japan. IMAGE: MChew/WikiMedia Commons.

A fascinating exhibition opening at the Stonehenge Visitor Centre this autumn shines new light on a remarkable group of ancient stone circles.

Spread across 17 sites, and mostly dating from c.2500 to 300 BC, these extraordinary monuments served for centuries as the focus for ceremonies associated with solar alignments and the seasons, as well as with death and the afterlife.

Such is their importance that these stone circles were even granted UNESCO World Heritage status last summer. Even so, they will be unknown to many here in Britain.

The reason, as we discover this week on The Past, is that they were created neither on Salisbury Plain, nor in Orkney – nor indeed in any other European prehistoric hot-spot – but many thousands of miles to the east, amid the landscape occupied from c.14,000 to 300 BC by the Jomon peoples, the hunter-gatherers recognised as the first major culture of Japan.

In the latest issue of Current World Archaeology magazine, Simon Kaner examines how these enigmatic structures came into being, and what they can tell us – not only about a key period of Japanese prehistory, but also about the similarities and the differences between the traditions of building stone circles at either end of Eurasia.

Elsewhere this week on The Past, we have been searching the archives for more about Japan: we compiled a special report on how the heritage sector is recovering ten years after the earthquake that triggered a triple disaster along the country’s Pacific coast; and we travelled to Tokyo to discover what archaeology can tell us about the past of one of the world’s greatest cities.

And finally, if all that leaves you longing for more, don’t forget to have a go at our latest Quiz, which this week is also themed around Japanese history and culture. Good luck, and we hope you enjoy The Past!


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