Japan’s oldest human bones excavated on Ishigaki Island

The Okinawa Buried Cultural Property Investigation Center announced Friday that human bones from the Old Stone Age were excavated from the Shiraho Saonetabaru Cave.

The archaeologists in charge of the excavation also confirmed that the remains were artificially buried in a site that “was the nationally first confirmed cemetery from the Old Stone Age.” They confirmed from more than 1,000 fragments of human bones they found at the site that the cemetery had at least 19 bodies. They think that it is the world’s largest cemetery from the Old Stone Age.

One of the bodies was confirmed to be about 27,000 years old making it the oldest human remains ever discovered in Japan. Until now, the oldest human remains discovered in Japan were bones of the so called Minatogawa man that were about 22,000 years old and discovered in a cave in the southern part of the Okinawa main island.

The body in Ishigaki was laid face up, knees touching the chest, and arms bent to place both hands over the face. After reanalyzing other human bones from the site, the archaeologists confirmed the common location of the bones and places indicating all were buried. They found no marks of a community living around the site, and from that recognized the place was used only as a cemetery.

They also found that some bone joints were off or had tooth marks of rodents like mice, indicating that the bodies were not buried underground but placed for aerial burial for elements and animals to dispose of the remains.

Some of the excavated human bones are on display to public at the Okinawa Buried Cultural Property Investigation Center in Nishihara Town through May 28th. The center is closed on Mondays. Admission to the center is free from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the last entry at 4:30 p.m.