As I wrote in an earlier post, hubby and I had been on a sightseeing trip to Aomori City in December 2016. On the morning of 23rd December, we visited Sannai Maruyama Archaeological Site located in the southwest of Aomori City. Sannai Maruyama Archaeological Site is the largest and one of the most complete and best preserved Jomon period village in Japan. The site consists of the remains of a long-term human settlement, and the excavation of the ruins indicate that an enormous village had existed and people lived continuously in the area for more than 1500 years from the early to middle Jomon period, which is approximately about 5500 to 4000 years ago. The ruins have been known to exist since the 17th century and small test units were excavated in the 1950s. But the size and complexity of Sannai Maruyama was clearly understood in 1992, when Aomori prefecture started surveying the site area for a planned community baseball stadium and discovered large ancient ruins. The construction of the stadium was halted and a large-scale excavation was undertaken in 1994. Subsequently, the whole site was preserved and archaeological surveys were initiated to clarify the nature of the ruins. On the enormous site that covers 350000 square meters, excavations have uncovered a large number of structures and dwellings including 11 large pit-dwellings, over 700 regular-sized pit-dwellings, about 120 pillar-supported stilt-houses, many above ground storage structures, many storage pits, 3 clusters of clay mining pits, trash pits, 380 burial pits for adults, 900 burial jars for children, 2 large mounds, and 3 remains of roads. The excavation has also uncovered a large number of everyday artifacts including pottery, stoneware, clay figures, earthenware, woodenware, as well as those composed of jade and skillfully created lacquer. The rich and varied diets of the people at that time have been analyzed from the stupendous amount of recovered bones of animals and fish, and seeds and nuts. All the valuable evidence that the site has produced has helped to unravel some of the many mysteries of life during the ancient Jomon culture. Archaeologists have used this site to further their understanding of the transition to sedentism and the life of the Jomon people. Their findings have revealed changes in the structure of the community, architecture, and organizational behaviors of the Jomon people, as well as the natural environmental changes over time. Archaeologists, however, estimate that only about 40% of the site has been excavated, and many clues to the ancient culture is still hidden at the site area. After the excavation and study of the site, the village ruins were reburied with earth for preservation. But a number of reconstructed pit-dwellings, a large pit-dwelling, and a large tower were built on top of the preserved site. Visitors can see the reconstructed structures as well as see a few of the original excavated sites around the grounds which give a sense of ancient times. Because of the importance of this site, Sannai Maruyama was designated as a national special historical site in November 2000. The site is currently a major tourist attraction with several reconstructed buildings and a museum exhibits open to the public.
On 23rd December 2016, hubby and I reached near Sannai Maruyama Archaeological Site in Aomori City at about 10.30 am. We noted that within the site premises, a modern building named Jomon Jiyukan has been constructed surrounding the actual archaeological site. This building houses several site related offices, shops, restaurants, and a museum. We went to the Visitors Center inside the building where a staff welcomed us to the site premises and then crossing that building, we entered the grounds of the actual site. Since it was peak of winter season, there was snow all around on the site grounds. It should be mentioned here that after the excavated village ruins of Jomon period were studied and analyzed by experts, the ruins were reburied with earth for preservation. However, a number of reconstructed pit-dwellings, large pit-dwellings, pillar-supported buildings, and a large tower were built on top of the preserved site. In addition, a few original excavated sites around the grounds were also kept exposed under heavily controlled environment. We wished to see the reconstructed structures as well as the exposed excavated sites around the grounds to get a sense of bygone olden times.
I am standing near Sannai Maruyama Archaeological Site
I am standing in front of the entrance area of Jomon Jiyukan building
I am standing near a stone monument with ‘Sannai Maruyama Iseki (ruins)’ inscribed on it that is located at the grounds of the actual site
I am standing near an information board giving details about the site
There was snow all around on the site grounds
We walked along a paved pathway in the snowy grounds of the preserved archaeological site. After walking for a few minutes, we reached a spot where stone circles with burials for adults are lined up along the pathway. Unfortunately we could not see the burial sites as everything was covered in snow that time. We continued walking along the pathway for several more minutes and saw many reconstructed structures like a large pit-dwelling, many regular-sized pit-dwellings, a large pillar-supported building, and a few regular-sized pillar-supported buildings located in the snow covered vast grounds of the site. Stepping into this region was like taking a step back in time.
I am walking along a paved pathway in the snowy grounds of the archaeological site
Hubby is standing near the spot where stone circles with burials for adults are lined up along the pathway
I am standing in the snow covered grounds of the archaeological site along with several reconstructed structures like a large pillar-supported building structure (partially seen in the left), a large pit-dwelling, and a few regular-sized pillar-supported buildings in the background
A few reconstructed regular-sized pit-dwellings located in the snowy grounds of the site
First we walked up to the reconstructed large pit-dwelling located in the grounds of the site. The reconstructed large pillar-supported building structure (discussed later) in the background looked huge. A pit-dwelling longer than 10 meters in length is called large pit-dwelling. Eleven large pit-dwellings have been excavated at Sannai Maruyama site. Such pit-dwellings were large, oval-shaped semi-subterranean structures that were built at the end of the Middle Jomon period (approximately 4000 years ago). According to archaeological theories, these structures served as a gathering space or as a communal workshop. The reconstructed model of the large pit-dwelling located at the site is the largest of such structures in Japan, which is approximately 32 meters long, 9.8 meters wide, and has a floor area of about 250 square meters. For entering inside, we walked down a few stairs located at the entrance area of the large pit-dwelling. The stairs descended into the pit-dwelling that had a slightly-below-ground foundation. Such below-ground foundation made the building more stable. We loved looking at the exterior as well as the interior details of the large pit-dwelling.
A reconstructed large pit-dwelling along with a reconstructed large pillar-supported building structure located in the grounds of the site
Hubby standing along with the reconstructed large pit-dwelling
Hubby standing at the entrance area of the large pit-dwelling
Interior details of the large pit-dwelling
It is a huge building
Hubby sitting inside the building
Next, we saw three reconstructed regular-sized pillar-supported buildings in the grounds of the site. From the excavation of the site, archaeologists have found that six postmolds were set in a rectangular pattern in several places. Postmolds are circular stains in the earth, signs where wooden posts were purposefully placed in the earth which eventually rotted away. These data led to the conclusion that the pillar-supported buildings were built by supporting them with pillars erected in holes formed in the ground. Such six-pillared buildings had the pillars installed at intervals of multiples of approximately 35 centimeters. Since no remains of hearth or built floors have been found at the ground level, they are thought to be raised-floor buildings. Such structures were built during the first half of the middle Jomon period (approximately 5400-4900 years ago) and were interpreted as special storage facilities to protect the stored contents from vermin and rot. We noted that the three reconstructed models of regular-sized pillar-supported buildings looked amazing in the snow covered grounds of the site. We clicked several photos of these reconstructed buildings from various positions and angles.
Three reconstructed regular-sized pillar-supported buildings in the grounds of the site as viewed from the southwest
The three reconstructed pillar-supported buildings as viewed from the northwest
The three buildings as viewed from the northeast
Two of the pillar-supported buildings as viewed from the southeast
One of the three pillar-supported buildings as viewed from the north
I am standing next to the east facing entrance area of the above building
Yet another of the three pillar-supported buildings as viewed from the south
The back side of the above building as viewed from the west
Hubby standing next to the east facing entrance area of the above building
In front of (south of) the three reconstructed pillar-supported buildings, we saw many reconstructed pit-dwellings in the grounds of the site. Pit-dwellings were the most common type of residential structures of people during the Jomon period. According to the excavation data and results, pit-dwellings were set at the ground level and were constructed with pillars, a roof, and a floor created by removing soil. The pit-dwellings had different floor shape, pillar arrangement, furnace structure, and location depending on when they were built during the Jomon period. In addition, such pit-dwellings had three types of roofs, namely bark, thatched, and mud roofs, which also depended on when they were built. The average size of a pit-dwelling was found to be between 3 to 4 meters in diameter with a floor plan of about 12 square meters. About 700 pit-dwellings have so far been discovered, and the excavation data showed that most of the pit-dwellings were built in the middle Jomon period (approximately 4500 years ago) but the earliest of the pit-dwellings with bark roof were built during the early Jomon period (approximately 5900-5400 years ago). At the site, we saw all the three kinds of reconstructed pit-dwellings having roofs made of bark, thatch, or mud. We also noted that each dwelling was reconstructed with a slightly different form, in order to show a variety of interpretations that are possible from the archaeological evidence. We really had fun looking at the reconstructed pit-dwellings in details.
Many reconstructed pit-dwellings in the grounds of the site
Several pit-dwellings with thatched roofs
Hubby standing in front of a pit-dwelling with thatched roof
Another pit-dwelling with thatched roof
Yet another pit-dwelling with thatched roof
One more pit-dwelling with thatched roof
Pit-dwellings with mud roof (left) and bark roof (right)
Hubby standing in front of another pit-dwelling with mud roof
I am standing in front of yet another pit-dwelling with mud roof
I am pointing towards a pit-dwelling with bark roof
Hubby sitting in front of the above-mentioned pit-dwelling with bark roof
Hubby’s favorite pit-dwelling is damaged as the bark roof seems to have disappeared
Just north of the reconstructed large pit-dwelling, we saw a reconstructed large pillar-supported building structure in the grounds of the site. From the excavation of the site, archaeologists have found that six postmolds were set in a rectangular pattern, in the same manner as the regular-sized six-pillar structures (discussed earlier). But in this case, each of the postmolds was about 2 meters in diameter with an average depth of more than 2 meters. At the bottom of each postmold was a piece of the post itself, a large chestnut tree bole, approximately 1 meter in diameter. Several such large pillar-supported structures have been found scattered around the site grounds. They were built in the middle Jomon period (approximately 4500 years ago). Archaeologists feel that these posts might represent the support posts for a large watch tower. However considering the assemblage of such structures as a whole, like most of them faced the same direction and had multiple floors, they could also have been a palace or ritual building. The large pillar-supported building we saw was reconstructed on a scale based on estimates derived from the archaeological excavation research results and the analysis of pressure exerted on the soil at the bottom of the excavated pillar holes (postmolds). The reconstructed tower structure is 14.7 meters tall, three-storied building with 4.2 meters wide floors that fit the distance between the pillars. The roof has not been reconstructed since there are several possible theories as to its form. We loved the enigmatic reconstructed large pillar-supported building structure very much.
Reconstructed large pillar-supported building structure in the grounds of the site as viewed from the south
Reconstructed large pillar-supported building structure as viewed from the north
Hubby and the enigmatic building structure
The large six-pillared building structure as viewed from the northwest
The six-pillared structure as viewed from the west (right) along with two dome shaped buildings (left)
Just north of the reconstructed large pillar-supported building structure, we saw a dome shaped hemispherical metal building in the grounds of the site. It was an ugly looking modern building and we thought that it was used by the staff members for maintenance of the site grounds. We almost did not enter inside. But hubby opened the doors of the building to find inside one of the most interesting original Jomon period structures of Sannai Maruyama that was not reburied with earth after the excavated village ruins were studied and analyzed by experts. Seeing such an original excavated site really gave us a sense of ancient times. The original structure we saw was the remains of a large pillar-supported building structure of the Jomon period. This pillar-supported building was built by erecting pillars in excavated holes to support the floors and roof. At this site, archaeologists found two parallel lines of three-pillar holes (postholes) with a diameter and depth of approximately 2 meters. The pillar holes were neatly arranged at intervals of approximately 4.2 meters. We noted that wooden columns made of chestnut tree bole with a diameter of about 1 meter protruded from these holes. These columns are believed to be from the middle Jomon period (approximately 4500 years ago). Seeing such original postholes even retaining some of the original wood was an amazing experience for us. This original large pillar-supported building structure is preserved underneath the modern dome shaped building equipped with sandbags and drains to assist in its conservation. The controlled environment does not allow the structure to completely dry out but it is not totally flooded either. We moved around inside the modern building and appreciated the remains of the large pillar-supported building structure from various positions and angles. It should be mentioned that remains of several such original large pillar-supported building structures have been found scattered around the site grounds but all others were carefully reburied after excavation studies.
Hubby standing at the entrance area of the modern dome shaped hemispherical metal building in the grounds of the site
The remains of a large pillar-supported building structure is preserved underneath the modern dome shaped building
The remains consist of two parallel lines of three-pillar holes (postholes)
The remains as viewed from another direction
Hubby observing the remains and the postholes in details
Two of the postholes and I
Retained portion of the original wooden column made of chestnut tree bole is protruding from one of the postholes
Retained portion of the original wooden column protruding from yet another posthole
Next, we went inside another modern dome shaped hemispherical metal building located in the northern area in the grounds of the site. There we saw the excavated original remains of the burial jars for children of the Jomon period kept under controlled environmental factors. During the Jomon period, children were placed in pottery and buried after their death. Approximately 900 tombs have been found in this excavated site. Pottery used as coffins had a round hole or a broken rim or bottom, which differentiated such pottery from those used for cooking. A fist-size stone was found in one of the pottery. Seeing the remains of the burial jars for children had a sobering effect on us even though they were from the long bygone Jomon period.
A modern dome shaped hemispherical metal building in the grounds of the site inside which are located the remains of the burial jars for children of the Jomon period
Excavated site where the original remains of the burial jars for children are preserved underneath the modern dome shaped building
A few remains of the burials jars can be seen here
Hubby observing the remains of the burial jars for children in details
Afterwards we went inside yet another modern building located in the northern area in the grounds of the site. There we saw an original mound from the Jomon period that has been displayed just as it was at the time of its excavation. This mound is called northern mound and is kept under controlled environmental factors inside the building. A mound is a slightly elevated patch of ground formed during the Jomon period as a result of the long-term disposal of dirt and waste during the construction of pit-dwellings or the digging of holes, burned soil, burned coals, stone artifacts, and broken clay pots. We saw that a huge amount of potsherds covered the mound surface. All these potsherds were created in the middle Jomon period (approximately 4500 years ago). Although a mound is usually covered with several layers of such remains, we noted that only one section was exhibited.
Northern mound with excavated objects and potsherds preserved underneath a modern building
Northern mound as viewed from a slightly different angle
Finally, we went inside one more modern building located in the southern area in the grounds of the site. There we saw yet another original mound from the Jomon period that has been displayed just as it was after the excavation studies. This mound is called southern mound and is kept under controlled environmental factors inside the building. The northern mound (previous paragraph) as well as the southern mound may have been ritual sites because a large number of clay figures had been discovered during the excavation. We noted that the cross sectional view of the southern mound was exhibited, and many pieces of discarded pottery protruded from the cross section.
Cross sectional view of the southern mound preserved underneath a modern building
Excavated objects and potsherds protruding from the cross section of the southern mound
At this point, we finished the tour of Sannai Maruyama Archaeological Site. We returned to the Jomon Jiyukan building and bought a few replicas of the flat as well as rounded clay figurines from a shop located inside the building. Many such Jomon period clay figurines were found during the excavation of the archaeological site. Afterwards, we had lunch at a restaurant located inside the building itself. After lunch, we visited Sanmaru Museum also located inside the same building. The museum has artifacts related to or excavated from the archaeological site, about which I will write in the next post.
Replicas of a pair of Jomon flat clay figurines
Replicas of rounded and flat clay figurines
Hubby’s lunch with scallops for the main dish
Hubby having lunch