Sakitari-do cave (Japon): Ancient burial remains may fill void in Japanese ancestry

Shunsuke Nakamura

Source -

The discovery of probably one of the oldest burial sites in Japan could shed more light on the country's prehistory and the emergence of primitive culture.

The Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum in Naha announced Dec. 11 that it found human remains dating back more than 9,000 years at the Sakitari-do cave site in Nanjo, Okinawa Prefecture.

The bones dating to the Jomon Pottery Culture period (c. 8000 B.C.-300 B.C.) were found under 3 meters of dirt, indicating they had not been disturbed. Four large stones about 30 centimeters long had been placed over such areas as the head, chest and stomach of the adult, of undetermined gender, who was lying face-up.


Ancient human remains found at the Sakitari-do cave site in Nanjo, Okinawa Prefecture. The area being pointed to is the head. (Shunsuke Nakamura)

As joints in the arms remained connected, it is believed the bones were found in their original site, suggesting the cave was used as a tomb.

The bones were also excavated from a depth below where earthenware about 9,000 years old was previously found, suggesting they date further back in time.

The finding may help fill in a blank period in which no traces of humans living in Okinawa were found between Minatogawa Man, whose remains were discovered in the town of Yaese dating back to the Paleolithic Age about 20,000 years ago, and earthenware about 7,000-8,000 years old, the first indication of culture.

How did the prehistoric people of Okinawa treat the dead?" pondered Okinawa museum curator Shinji Yamasaki. "This find offers a glimpse of their view of life and death, and the spiritual world. It also serves as material evidence for revisiting the debate on whether the Shiraho (cave ruin) remains and those of Minatogawa Man are graves.”

The museum has been conducting digs at the Sakitari-do site since fiscal 2009, and discoveries such as the oldest earthenware in Okinawa and the first shell tools from the Paleolithic Age in Japan shore up theories that the prefecture has continuously been inhabited.

Burial remains from the early Jomon period on Japan's main island have been found at the Kamikuroiwa Iwakage site in Ehime Prefecture and the Tochibara Iwakage site in Nagano Prefecture. The latest finding would be at least as old as the others.

Clusters of ancient human remains have been uncovered in Okinawa, with bones dating back 20,000 years recently discovered at the Shiraho Saonetabaru Cave Ruins in Ishigaki. Each finding has stirred debate as to whether the sites were graves.