Five Bold Navigators Master the Deadly ‘Black Stream’ Migration After 32,000 Years
A brave Japanese and Taiwanese rowing team has successfully replicated a 32,000-year-old ancient sea migration route in a traditional dugout canoe.
After two failed attempts on Sunday afternoon, one Taiwanese man, three Japanese men, and one Japanese woman boarded their 7.6-meter-long, 70-centimeter-wide (24.93-ft.-long by 27.56-inches-wide) wooden canoe and paddled 200 kilometers (125 miles) from Taitung County, southeastern Taiwan, to Yonaguni Island, Okinawa. Over two days and nights, remaining loyal to the ancient archaeological nature of their project, the team calculated latitude at sea with the sun, their course by the stars, and they gauged wind speed and direction for their bearings.
Crew setting out for the voyage (CAN)
Why Navigate the Black Stream?
This project was one of several similar voyages signed in 2017 between Japan’s National Museum of Nature and Science and Taiwan’s National Museum of Prehistory. Team leader, Yosuke Kaifa, told Japanese reporters that archaeologists think early humans migrated to Japan using three routes and the one they chose is known as the Black Stream, flowing from the Philippines northeastward past Japan. He added that the project “intended to shed light on how difficult the journey would have been.”
Talking about the legendary black stream, 47-year-old lead paddler, Koji Hara, told reporters at the Japanese Times that the sea “carried the canoe and all we did was steer it a little”, a statement which must take the 2019 gold prize for downright humbleness. She added, “I can’t imagine how people traveled 30,000 years ago, but for this journey I think they risked their lives” and as the canoe pulled into the island several hundred local residents cheered them in.
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Questioning The Ancient Navigators Of The Black Stream
You might remember the Japanese television game show Takeshi Castle that aired between 1986 and 1990, where regular Japanese folk knocked lumps out of one and another ‘to get ahead’? Well, Japanese archaeology holds similar precepts when it comes to the argument of when the islands were first settled. The period of human inhabitation in Japan before 10,000 BC, defined as predating pottery, is called the Japanese Paleolithic period and extends to the beginning of the Mesolithic Jōmon period around 14,000 BC. The first paddlers arrived ‘sometime’ in the Paleolithic era between 2.6 million years ago and around 15,000 years ago.
Late Jōmon period clay statue. (PHGCOm/CC BY SA 3.0)
While some archaeologists maintain the first explorers arrived around 40,000 BC, others argue this is based on questionable evidence and the first people canoed there around 35,000 BC. And we must consider that some archaeologists believe ‘people’ may have arrived on the Japanese archipelago as far back as 100,000 years ago during an ice age, when, according to an entry in Facts and Details, “Japan was connected to the Asian mainland by land bridges to the Korean peninsula in the south and the Amur River Delta (between present-day China and Russia) via Sakhalin Island in the north.”
The Hoax that Misted Japan’s Archaeological Community
The global reputation of Japan’s Paleolithic archaeology was ridiculed and brought into shame by a scandal known as the ‘Japanese Paleolithic hoax’ that broke in Japanese archaeological circles after a story was published by the Mainichi Shimbun on November 5, 2000. Shinichi Fujimura, a highly respected state archaeologist had been secretly photographed ‘planting artifacts’ at the Kamitakamori site, and was caught red handed.
This Japan Times article explains that the archaeologist announced to the world that he had “found” the artifacts the very day after being photographed, but soon after he confessed to the entire plot to push back the dating of the site. Since the discovery of the hoax anything dating to between 40,000–50,000 BC in Japan raises eyebrows, and in the most unscientific way, please forgive me for this, scientists ‘average’ that people first arrived around 35,000 BC. But you know what I mean.
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Microliths. 18 000 BP. The Niigata excavation. Tokyo National Museum. (Kakidai/CC BY SA 3.0)
With artifacts supporting a pre-35,000 BC human presence on the archipelago being of questionable authenticity, the organizers of this new canoe voyage safeguarded themselves and based their route on the discovery of relics dating to 30,000 years on the Ryukyu Archipelago. An article in World-Archaeology discusses ‘six limestone cave and fissure sites on the islands” that revealed human bones dating to around 30,000 to 20,000 years ago including the bones of a “six year old girl who died around 32,000 years ago.”
Navigating the black stream in a wooden canoe by the sun, moon, stars and wind, seeing, smelling, feeling, and hearing what the people did 32,000 years ago invariably gave to these five paddlers something that no PhD scientist working with hypothetical models will ever achieve. This is raw experiential archaeology at its finest, with no signs of a hoax. Hold on. Did anyone check the canoe for a small propeller? We’ve been here before!
The team of Japanese and Taiwanese paddlers in a dugout canoe arrives at Yonaguni Island, Okinawa Prefecture, successfully replicating a hypothetical human migration between Taiwan and Okinawa about 30,000 years ago via the Black Stream. (KYODO)
Top Image: The team of five paddlers crossed 200 kilometers of open ocean and the Black Stream in a primitive log boat. Source: National Museum of Nature and Science/Tokyo
By Ashley Cowie