Ritual practices and social organisation at the Middle Yayoi culture settlement site of Maenakanishi, eastern Japan

Abstract

Combined archaeobotanical and archaeological data from Middle Yayoi (fourth century bce–first century ce) cultural layers of the Maenakanishi site (36°08′55″ N, 139°24′08″ E) in northern Saitama Prefecture indicate that rice was less significant as everyday food, but played an important role in ritual practices and in strengthening social stratification at the studied settlement site. The results further suggest that the crop was used in feasting performed in context of pillared buildings that were often large and occupied a spatially separated central location within a settlement. We propose that these pillared buildings were residences of political/religious leaders, who directed these rituals related to agricultural production and worship of elite ancestors. Such ritual practices were likely introduced to Japan from continental East Asia as part of the ‘Yayoi package’ and conducted for empowerment and labour mobilisation.

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Data Availability

Archaeobotanical data used in the current paper are available as supplementary material (Leipe et al. 2020a) stored in the online Open Access information system PANGAEA (https://www.pangaea.de/). The 14C data based on selected archaeobotanical remains from the Maenakanishi site are reported in (Leipe et al. 2020b).

Code availability

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Acknowledgments

This study is a contribution to the interdisciplinary Grant-in-Aid project ‘Cultural History of PaleoAsia’ (grant no. 1802) awarded by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) and to the German Research Foundation (DFG) project ‘The spread of agriculture into Far East Eurasia: Timing, pathways, and environmental feedbacks’ (DFG TA 540/8-1). We are grateful to H. Kitagawa (Nagoya University, Japan) for AMS 14C dating of six of the obtained carbonised seeds. Thanks to M. Ono and H. Koshitsuka (both Konan Cultural Heritage Center, Kumagaya, Japan) for giving valuable information and literature about Yayoi culture sites in Kumagaya City. The authors are grateful to two anonymous reviewers and the editor D.Q. Fuller for their valuable advice and constructive suggestions.

Funding

This study was supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG) through a Research Fellowship (LE 3508/2-1) to C. Leipe and an Individual Research Grant (TA 540/8-1) to P.E. Tarasov.

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C.L. designed the research. S.K. led the archaeological survey of sections 1 and 2 in 2018/2019 and compiled and organised the archaeological data. C.L. performed flotation and identification of archaeobotanical assemblages. C.L., S.K., M.W., and P.E.T discussed the results. C.L. compiled the tables and figures and wrote the manuscript with contributions from S.K., M.W., and P.E.T.

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Correspondence to Christian Leipe.

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Leipe, C., Kuramochi, S., Wagner, M. et al. Ritual practices and social organisation at the Middle Yayoi culture settlement site of Maenakanishi, eastern Japan. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 12, 134 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-020-01098-y

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Keywords

  • Early agricultural societies
  • Social stratification
  • Inclusive feasting
  • Ancestral worshipping