As with all areas in which state level societies developed, archaeologists have been curious about the origins of civilization in Japan for a long time. Until recently, however, researchers were unable to study this topic and were relying on old and incomplete data to make their conclusions. Before the end of the Second World War, Japan was mostly unwilling to allow archaeologists to perform excavations in order to help understand how people came to Japan and how they developed. Since then, the restrictions have been loosened and archaeologists have uncovered a great deal of new evidence to be examined (Brown 1993: 108-109). This paper will use these new sources and attempt to build an understanding of when and how the first societies developed on the Japanese islands as well as when and how they collapsed or were replaced.
The date of the earliest humans to arrive in Japan is a matter of some dispute among archaeologists. The oldest definitive human remains date to around 30 thousand years ago, but the generally accepted estimate is that the first arrival happened within the past 200 thousand years (Henshall 2004: 8). At the time, Japan would have been connected to the mainland of Asia by land bridge, so these first immigrants would not have needed boating technology to get there. Due to the ease with which people could migrate to the area, it is expected that there were several waves of migration and groups from both southeast and northeast Asia likely migrated there (Henshall 2004: 8). These people would have brought with them their own stone tool industry techniques and various other technologies, making Japan a crossroads for the diffusion of knowledge in Asia. This perhaps could have led to more innovation in Japan, due to exposure to different ideas, and, in fact, Japan is the site where the oldest pottery was found (Henshall 2004: 8). The theme of influence from different groups would continue as Japan began to develop more technology and eventually form state level society.
In Japan, around the third century CE, a society began to rise up in the Nara Plain region. Though it has long been a matter of some dispute, some archaeologists believe that they have evidence that supports the idea that this society might have been originally formed by horse-riding tribes who had migrated to Japan from Korea (Barnes 1988, 36). The evidence for this theory involves the appearance of burial mounds, similar to those found in Korea around the same time and grave goods which indicate a greater reliance on horses (Brown 1993, 109). Whether or not the theory holds true or not, the common beginnings of state level society was appearing. There was evidence of monumental architecture, social stratification, and rising populations; all of which are common precursors to the development of state level societies in other areas of the world (Barnes 1988, 36).
The society has come to be known as the Yamata Kingdom and is split into two major periods: the Kofun...