Raw Material (Obsidian) for Stone Tools


Raw Material (Obsidian) for Stone Tools

Archaeology / Paleolithic Age / Hokkaido

Place excavated:Excavated at Shirataki, Engaru-cho, Hokkaido

Paleolithic period, 18000 BC




Obsidian is a volcanic rock made when magma cools suddenly. It is characterized by a lustrous black color and edges as sharp as swords. Obsidian is also known as natural glass. In Japan, it was a key material for various implements from the Paleolithic period through the Jomon period and down to the Yayoi period, when iron was first introduced to Japan. It was often used for the tips of backed blades and spears during the Paleolithic period and for arrowheads during the Jomon period. Obsidian was also adapted for other uses besides hunting, with obsidian tools used to tan animal hides, for example.

Major sites of obsidian production include Oketo and Shirataki in Hokkaido, Kirigamine in Nagano, and Koshidake in Saga. Obsidian and obsidian tools have been excavated together from locations over 200 kilometers away from these production sites. For example, it appears that people who lived around the modern-day Kanto area travelled as far as Nagano prefecture to obtain obsidian. In an era when the majority of daily implements were made of stone, it seems obsidian was highly prized. It is possible to determine where a piece of obsidian comes from by analyzing its composition. As such, obsidian can paint a picture of how objects and people moved around during prehistoric times.

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