Early Pottery: The Jōmon Culture

Pictured here is a wonderful example of the flame-ware of the middle Jōmon period (3000-2000 BC) of Paleolithic Japan. Also clearly represented is the straw-rope style of decoration for which the entire cultural period was named; the word Jōmon meaning literally “rope patterned”. The only true example of a culture that practiced coil built pottery the delicacy of decoration and elaborate upper 1/3 of the piece is hugely impressive even today. It is thought that due to the idyllic nature of the islands on which the Jōmon people lived and the abundance of terrestrial and marine resources, they were able to develop culturally and artistically long before their contemporaries. Without any claim to authority I see the creative power of surplus evidenced quite clearly. Even the name of this style of pottery; “flame-ware”, speaks to the poetry of observed fingers of flame. The beauty of dancing flames I believe has long inspired artists, specifically potters. All one must do is ask a wood fire potter about their surface designs and listen to the passionate and often poetically beautiful conception of the path of the flame. A burial cult in the Jōmon culture contributed largely to the preservation of the pots we now have today, for example preserving the elaborate decorations on the pictured example.

Similar to the phenomenon of well-developed coastal pottery is the example of the Timucua culture of my native Florida. While the oldest known sherds from the region date to ~4000 years before present they only began practicing agriculture in any significant way about 500 years before the Spaniards arrived. Archaeological study of the shell middens throughout the coastal region and the records of the Spanish speak to the reliance on abundant estuarine resources rather than organized agriculture. The Timucua pots never achieved the same level of decoration as the Jōmon however there are records of the Spanish outsourcing the production of cook-ware in Saint Augustine to a Timucua village nearby to the north. Similar also is the presence of “cord-marked” ware drawing yet another parallel of these two coastal, pottery-making cultures.