The Japan Times
April 26, 2000

Relic believed to represent female form

KAGOSHIMA (Kyodo) A 24,000year-old artifact, believed to be a representation of a woman and the oldest image of a human being found in Japan, has been unearthed from the Mimitori ruins in Kagoshima Prefecture, archaeologists said Tuesday.

The roundish object, made of shale, is about 5 cm long, 3 cm wide and 3 cm tall, and has been carved to represent what appears to be a woman, according to the Kagoshima Prefectural Archaeological Center.

On the underside of the object, there are 17 thin carved lines, probably representing hair, and a groove on the underside representing a vulva, center officials said.

Meiji University professor Masao Anbiru said the artifact is similar to figures unearthed in Europe during the Paleolithic period. Those figures also have exaggerated sexual features.

The discovery suggests that "people all over the world may have led common spiritual lives during the Paleolithic period," Anbiru said.

Cultural Affairs Agency researcher Michio Okamura said, "We cannot determine whether it represents a woman, but it is appropriate to say it is Japan's oldest expression of a human being."

Previously, the oldest artifact of its kind was one shaped like a breast discovered at the Kamikuroiwa ruins in Ehime Prefecture.

The item, discovered during an excavation project in 1961, was believed to be between 10,000 and 12,000 years old, from the Incipient Jomon period (around 10,000 B.C. to 7,500 B.C.)