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Jar, 2500-1500 BCE
Earthenware with applied and incised decoration
Height: 14 1/8 inches (35.9 cm)
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Purchased with the Hollis Family Foundation Fund, the Henry B. Keep Fund, and the East Asian Art Revolving Fund, 1999
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About This Jar

This dynamic, three-dimensional form with linear sweeping designs and lively details was created during the Middle Jōmon period, 2500–1500 BCE. The term Jōmon (jo-mohn) means "cord-marked," and refers to the cord-like designs that decorate this vessel. Jars of this type are a hallmark of Middle Jōmon pieces found at the archaeological site of Katsusaka in Kanagawa prefecture, on Japan’s main island, Honshū.

The ancient potter who created this vessel worked the clay cords up from the base along the cylindrical body in vertical lines that are capped by swirling loops. Along the upper part of the body, the potter applied a wide, horizontal band of the spiraling cords, which look like waves rolling around the edges of the jar. The wave motif continues at the top of the vessel, where along the rim a thick, incised triple band of cords swoops up into open curls at the four corners. Two of the flared corners have small, open-looped handles, where a carrying rope might have been attached.

The long, rolled-cord shapes applied to the surface of this vessel were not only decoration, but also served to strengthen the pot by adding thickness and support to the body. Pieces such as this jar were fired in earthen pits, where the heat only reached between 600 and 750 degrees. Ceramics fired at these temperatures are called low-fired ceramics, or earthenware. While the exact use of such jars is unknown, they were most likely used for cooking or storing food.


Archaeology is the scientific study of material remains—such as relics, artifacts, and monuments—of past human life and activities. By examining the physical evidence of ancient cultures, archaeologists attempt to solve mysteries about human societies of long ago. Archaeologists working in Japan have a large number of research sites. Japan has about 370,000 registered archaeological sites, and approximately 50,000 of these represent the Jōmon period (10,500–300 BCE).

As a result of archaeological studies, we have gained much knowledge about the Jōmon period in Japan. Artifacts found in Jōmon-period sites in Japan allow archaeologists to theorize about how people met the challenges of life in their environment. For example, the discovery of various tools for farming and hunting has led archaeologists to understand the variety of ways Jōmon society people obtained food. Unearthing highly decorated jars like this one gives us information about Jōmon concepts of beauty and design.

Archaeologists come to conclusions about their subjects based on information they gather researching in the field, as well as by reading other archaeological documents. Although discovering ancient artifacts can be very exciting, archaeology also requires patience and meticulous attention to detail. Depending on the size of a site, it could take many years to completely reveal what lies underground.

This object is included in Learning from Asian Art: Japan, a teaching kit developed by the Division of Education and made possible by a grant from the Freeman Foundation of New York and Stowe, Vermont.

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