The Ice Age in East Asia

3 Jan 2012

Human endeavour, in Europe during and immediately after the Late Glacial Maximum may have been quite different to what it was in East Asia. For example, human activity on what is now the submerged continental shelf system of Beringia, between Siberia and Alaska, which was dry land during at least parts of the last Ice Age, may have been wiped out - suddenly. The tide may have come in - and continued to come in until the ocean had covered Beringia, in a single day. Perhaps. Currently, it is thought any humans living in Beringia had time to move to the Americas as sea levels rose slowly, over hundreds if not thousands of years. Therefore, what might have happened in this region has a direct bearing on ideas concerning the peopling of the Americas - and when it took place. 

At the same time, what was happening in East Asia below Beringia, was also important - in Japan for example. It so happens there is a very nice English language web site devoted to the history of Japan that just might provide some useful information - see For thousands of years, most of the Holocene, Japan was dominated by a single culture, that of the Jomon. Around 1000BC new people bringing with them rice cultivation, arrived, and it is thought the present population of Japan is a mixture of both strands. The question is being asked, were the Jomon people descended from Palaeolithic people already living in Japan during the Late Pleistocene, going back some 30,000 years ago. For example, obsidian was exploited by the Jomon between 13,000 and 3000 years ago, and they had boats as they seem to have traded with various lands as Japanese obsidian tools have been found near modern Vladivostok and dating back 10,000 years. The Jomon were also famously fishermen, a trait that has persisted amongst the Japanese into modern times. Fish is still a large part of the Japanese diet. See However, archaeologists claim there is evidence obsidian was being exploited in Japan as early as 35,000 years ago.

Archaeologists also think Japan was colonised by Palaeolithic people arriving from both the north and the south and fossilised human remains have been found. A series of hunting traps, basically pits in the ground used to capture animals such as wild pigs, elephants, deer and bison have their modern parallel much further south than Japan, and these pits date from at least as long ago as 27,000 years BP. This was the height of the Late Glacial Maximum - what on earth were elephants doing this far north? The Jomon people also made pottery, from as early as 16,500 years ago (but possibly from long before this). It is assumed by the blog author, and the consensus model of the Ice Ages, that it was distinctly cool and somewhat cold in Pleistocene Japan (and northern China). Yet, they were trapping elephants - is this a reasonable deduction?

At the blog author turns in an unusual direction, the study of the dispersal of earwax, dry and moist. Apparently, in East Asia ear wax is in some ways different from other world populations, and quite different from Africans. However, this does not deflect the blog author from a general acceptance of the Out of Africa theory, but it seems the same thing applies to body odour. Koreans are apparently the least smelly people on the planet and we've all heard the anecdote that the Viet Cong were able to sniff out the presence of American servicemen. It was blamed on the steaks they consumed but it appears to be a genetic trait which East Asians seem to have lost in the process of evolution. Dry earwax and lack of body odour is most common amongst Korean and Chinese peoples - but evidence suggests the gene responsible has spread to other parts of the world. For example, 5 per cent of Europeans have dry ear wax.