Rethinking sex and gender in Protohistoric Japan

Archaeology Center
Wednesday, February 13, 2019 12:00 PM
Archaeology Center

This talk focuses on the classical problems surrounding the relationship regarding sex and gender by using some case studies, mainly from the Yayoi period in Japan. We need to use perspectives beyond present-day heteronormativity or sexual dimorphism to clarify ancient perspectives on sex and gender. How can we identify them into the archaeological materials? The Yayoi period lasted from around the 8th century BC to the first half of the 3rd century AD; this period was characterized by rice cultivation, metallurgy, warfare, and hierarchisation. As for gender, we note the emergence of a pair of different bodily representations, including drawings and clay, wooden, and stone figurines. One such pair of figurines has been interpreted as representing the female and male forms, and a connection has been made between them and the development of sexual divisions in labor. However, it is challenging to recognize the sexual differences depicted on those artifacts because direct sexual features are rarely represented. Using some case studies and focusing on bodily
representations of some artifacts, including drawings of the bronze bell, I explore the possibility that division of labor was not based on sexual differences, but, rather, a process to produce gendered or sexed bodies during the Yayoi period; in particular, I will analyze a burial in Tanegashima Island in South Japan, which evidences the existence of a cross-dressing shaman, as analysis of the correspondence between the sex of the human skeletal remains (observed by a biological anthropologist) and the burial goods shows.


Jun Mitsumoto is Associate Professor of Archaeology and Museum Studies, Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Okayama University, Japan. He received his PhD in 2004 from Okayama University. His research interests include archaeology of the Yayoi and Kofun periods, archaeology of embodiment, and archaeology of gender and sexuality, particularly queer archaeology. He is now planning to edit a book on archaeology of gender and sexuality in East Asia. He has also used 3D measurements to actively conduct field surveys and excavations in the Kofun-period mounded tombs in the Okayama area (2014-2018).