Saisekki (microlith; a small chipped stone tools characterized by a cutting edge) (細石器)

Saisekki (microlith) is a kind of chipped stone tools, which is small and is characterized by a cutting edge. In Japan, it is generally classified as belonging to the late Paleolithic period. However, in Europe and other parts of the world, a transition from the Paleolithic period to the Neolithic period is set as the Mesolithic period. And it is sometimes considered to be a part of this. It is said that the flint blades whose width was less than a centimeter (called saisekijin, or flint microblades) already came into existence in the Altai Region, which is in the central part of the Eurasian Continent, about 40000 years ago. This is considered to be the origin of saisekijin in East Siberia and the Far East. Lately, however, these views concerning the transition period of the stone tools are being reconsidered.


What appeared at the end of the Paleolithic period in the Japanese archipelago is the Saisekijin Culture in which saisekki (or saisekijin) was used. The exact date of its appearance is not well known. The first appearance date in Honshu is identified by the Yasumiba-iseki Remains in Shizuoka Prefecture. Radioactive carbon dating shows that it dates back to 14300 years ago. And it seems to have ended 12000 years ago. It is said to have appeared in Hokkaido Prefecture about 20000 years ago. The culture lasted for a short period of time. It is likely that it continued until the beginning of the Jomon period.

The number of the remains dating back to the period of Saisekijin Culture (from 14300 to 12000 years ago) easily exceeds 500. The density of the remains is especially high in Hokkaido and Kyushu regions, while their number is extremely low in the Kinki region.

The stones used include obsidian, sandstone, chert, rhyolite, andesite, shale, and so on. Stated differently, the stones and rocks that were available in the local area were used.

In this culture, notable regional differences are found with respect to the shape of the saisekijin core and its fabrication method. And this is the characteristics.

The cores of saisekijin in Hokkaido Prefecture are classified into the following types known as Yubetsu technique (technique in Yubetsu area): Types of Shirataki Remains, of the Satsukotsu Remains, of Togeshita Remains, of Rankoshi Remains, of Oshoroko Remains, of Horoka-gawa (or Horokazawa) Remains, of Shatekiyama Remains, of Momijiyama Remains, and so on. This Yubetsu technique and the other saisekijin exfoliation techniques that were influenced by it fan out across the northern half of the Tohoku region, such as Yamagata, Niigata, and Ibaraki Prefectures, beyond the Tsugaru Straits. They are found with Araya-type sculpted vessels.

On the other hand, the core of saisekijin, which is called the Fukui type (type in Fukui Prefecture), is found mainly in northwest Kyushu. This sekkaku (the stone core) is accompanied by the Toryumon (bean applique design) earthenware, the Ryusenmon (linear relief) earthenware, the Tsumegatamon (finger-nail like impressions) earthenware, and so on, which are from the Incipient Jomon period. Additionally, the Unehara type (type of Unehara Remains) is known mainly in southern Kyushu.

The Nodake and Yasumiba type (type of Nodate Remains and Yasumiba Remains) saisekijin cores spread to a wide area, namely from regions of the Kanto and Chubu to Kyushu. They are conical, half-conical, prismatic, and so on, in shape.

The Funano type (type of Funano Remains) saisekijin core is also widely distributed from the Miyazaki-heiya Plains and the Ono-gawa River basin to the southern half of the Chubu region and the south Kanto, via the southern part of the Kinki region and Tokai region.

The Saisekijin Culture of the Japanese archipelago is largely divided into two areas of distribution, that of cuneate saisekijin in northeast Japan and those of Nodake, Yasumiba, and Funano types in the southwest Japan. It appears that the former reached Honshu (the main island of Japan) through Siberia and then Hokkaido and the latter through the middle and lower Yellow River of China and then Kyushu. The possibility that a considerable number came from the north to Honshu at this cultural stage cannot be denied. Thus, it is conjectured that the late Paleolithic people did not directly become the Jomon people.

Directions for Use

Saisekki is a small flint blade, whose length is less than roughly three centimeters and whose width is 0.5 centimeters or so. A few pieces were mounted in the carved-out areas of a hilt made of wood and animal bones. It is a kind of stone tools with replacement blades that were found in inserted-blade and pointed tools. Embedding it as a blade near the point of a spear and a harpoon increased the piercing capacity. It is presumed that reducing the weight of the whole spear was also expected to produce improvement in the accuracy rate of javelins. It is also referred as saisekijin.

In Japan, however, there is no known example that used saisekijin. However, it is inferred by analogy from unearthed articles in Siberia and China.

It is considered to have developed first around the northeastern part of China and the Lake Baikal before the rest of the world. And it spread rapidly as far as Alaska. It is unearthed widely in many parts of the world.

[Original Japanese]