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The Evolution of Curved Beads (Magatama 勾玉/曲玉) in Jōmon Period Japan and the Development of Individual Ownership

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Title:The Evolution of Curved Beads (Magatama 勾玉/曲玉) in Jōmon Period Japan and the Development of Individual Ownership
Authors:Nishimura, Yoko
comma-shaped beads
grave goods
material comfort
contextual analysis
show 1 moreJōmon
show less
Date Issued:2018
Series:Volume 57
Number 1
Abstract:Curved or comma-shaped stone beads known as magatama (勾玉/曲玉) are often considered to have been used as amulets, talismans, or ritual items in ancient Japan. They are connected with beliefs in the magical power of various symbolically represented animals and the celestial world, the moon, or the soul and spirit. Throughout the Jōmon period, magatama were embedded within common household objects and tools as well as ritual items and they were used, lost, or discarded within houses. The specific functions and meanings of the magatama found in Jōmon houses are not clear, but these beads were consistently present for thousands of years in everyday settings where daily household activities were carried out. In Late Jōmon, however, some magatama beads were included in grave goods in northern Japan (Tōhoku and Hokkaidō). This transformation in their role occasionally spread to central parts of the main island of Japan, such as Hokuriku and Kantō. Other bead types made of talc or jadeite had already been buried in tombs since Early Jōmon, but it was not until Late Jōmon that magatama became regularly buried in tombs, apparently being worn by or given to the deceased at the time of entombment. The dramatic increase in the production of these small curved stone beads and their deployment in clusters of grave pits in cemeteries suggest that this was a personalization process leading to more individualized ownership of the magatama. After Late Jōmon, much smaller and more varied magatama shapes began to occur in graves along with other personal items such as combs, pendants, and earrings. The increased production and individual ownership of these body ornaments suggest that the Jōmon people enjoyed relative material comfort in northern Japan.
ISSN:0066-8435 (Print)
1535-8283 (E-ISSN)
Appears in Collections: Asian Perspectives, 2018 - Volume 57, Number 1 (Spring)

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