Art of Asia
by The British Museum
Jōmon pot, c. 5000 B.C.E., cord-marked and lacquered, Japan 17 cm in diameter (© Trustees of the British Museum)
Skill in pottery has been an important defining aspect of Japanese culture from earliest time. There are pottery fragments from Aomori in northern Japan which date from about 14,500 B.C.E., and are believed to be among the oldest yet discovered anywhere in the world.
So-called ‘Jōmon’ wares were first discovered in 1877 at a site known as the Ōmori shell-mound near Tokyo. Those examples were so named by an American archaeologist, Edward S. Morse.
Jōmon means ‘cord pattern’ and the term describes the characteristic surface patterns that were made with a twisted cord. The name was later applied to the long period of well over 10,000 years of prehistory in the Japanese archipelago. The Jōmon peoples were predominantly hunters, fishers and gatherers and their pots were mainly used for boiling food and for eating.
This bowl, which originally had a lid, has a well-defined rim decoration of marks jabbed with a stick, bone, or finger-nail. The main body has cord decoration. The inside has been lacquered, probably sometime in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, when the vessel was briefly used as a mizusashi (water jar) for the Tea Ceremony.
Beaker, c. 2000–1000 B.C.E., Jōmon period, impressed, Japan 20.9 cm in diameter (© Trustees of the British Museum)
This vessel has a gentle outward curve ending in a wide mouth. It is decorated with an all-over design made by the impression of a cord, and a shallowly incised border. It belongs to the final phase of Jōmon wares (about 2000–1000 B.C.E.). It was probably used for boiling food, including plants, nuts, fish and meat.
© Trustees of the British Museum
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