Needles, hooks, and harpoon

Period: Final Jōmon period (ca. 1000–300 B.C.)

Culture: Japan

Medium: Bone

Classification: Bone

Credit Line: The Harry G. C. Packard Collection of Asian Art, Gift of Harry G. C. Packard, and Purchase, Fletcher, Rogers, Harris Brisbane Dick and Louis V. Bell Funds, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and The Annenberg Fund Inc. Gift, 1975

Accession Number: 1975.268.333–.345


These implements—an arrowhead, fishhooks, needle, and harpoon—were skillfully carved from bone, a material worked by Japanese artisans since Paleolithic times. They were found in the Obara Shell Mound at Ofunato Bay in Iwate Prefecture. According to information gleaned from shell mounds, or middens, the people of the Jomon period relied on a variety of strategies to obtain food. The large number of fishhooks, fashioned with and without barbs, together with the rich array of marine remains found in these rubbish heaps since very early times indicate that some fifty species of fish and shellfish constituted an essential dietary staple. Toggle-head harpoons, a later innovation, facilitated the hunting of sea mammals. Attaching a line to the toggle allowed the hunter to draw in his prey once the toggle had broken away from the harpoon shaft. Further evidence gathered from these refuse dumps suggests that the Jomon people also relied heavily on nuts, collected most actively in the autumn, and hunted animals, notably wild boar and deer.