Jar with Human Face Ornament
Jar-shaped earthenware vessels like this were produced during the Yayoi period, particularly in eastern Japan. At almost 70 centimeters tall, the large body of this vessel is shaped like a human figure. Clay has also been used around the jar's opening to depict a three-dimensional human face complete with eyebrows, nose, mouth, chin, and ears. A pattern resembling a tattoo is also engraved around the eyes and mouth.
These jar-shaped vessels with human faces follow in the figurative traditions of dogu clay figurines from the preceding Jomon period. Many dogu figurines represented women, but the depiction of breasts disappeared with the transition to the Yayoi period. Female-shaped dogu figurines were used in rituals to pray for safe births, fertility, and good harvests. Though these jar-shaped vessels bear a sculptural resemblance, they were not used for this purpose.
In fact, many of these jars were excavated from reburial tombs, so it is thought they were used as containers for bones. The bodies were buried first, with the bones later placed inside these jars. The faces probably represent the spirits of ancestors rather than any particular individual.
It is common to find several jars interred together in the same tomb. This suggests huge tumuli were built to reinforce a sense of clan unity. This tradition of gathering around graves to pay respect to ancestors is one that still lives on today in modern-day Japan.