Japanese Amateur Archaeologist’s “Discoveries” Are Proven Fakes Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Amateur archaeologist Shinichi Fujimura, who had been credited with numerous major finds, was exposed as a fraud when the Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun published photographs of him burying finds he claimed to have discovered. This incident called into question the validity of his earlier work and caused a major scandal in Japan. Fujimura later admitted to fabricating all of his findings.

Summary of Event

On November 5, 2000, the Japanese were stunned by accusations of fraud involving one of Japan’s most trusted and admired amateur archaeologists, Shinichi Fujimura. By the age of fifty, Fujimura was a leading amateur archaeologist, even though he had only a high school diploma and no formal training. He was nicknamed the Hand of God and God’s Hand for his uncanny ability to find ancient artifacts. [kw]Archaeologist’s “Discoveries” Are Proven Fakes, Japanese Amateur (Nov. 5, 2000) [kw]Fakes, Japanese Amateur Archaeologist’s “Discoveries” Are Proven (Nov. 5, 2000) Fujimura, Shinichi Japanese paleolithic hoax Archaeology Tohoku Paleolithic Institute Takeoka, Toshiki Keally, Charles Kamata, Toshiaki Fujimura, Shinichi Japanese paleolithic hoax Archaeology Tohoku Paleolithic Institute Takeoka, Toshiki Keally, Charles Kamata, Toshiaki [g]Asia;Nov. 5, 2000: Japanese Amateur Archaeologist’s “Discoveries” Are Proven Fakes[03020] [g]Japan;Nov. 5, 2000: Japanese Amateur Archaeologist’s “Discoveries” Are Proven Fakes[03020] [c]Forgery;Nov. 5, 2000: Japanese Amateur Archaeologist’s “Discoveries” Are Proven Fakes[03020] [c]Hoaxes, frauds, and charlatanism;Nov. 5, 2000: Japanese Amateur Archaeologist’s “Discoveries” Are Proven Fakes[03020] [c]Publishing and journalism;Nov. 5, 2000: Japanese Amateur Archaeologist’s “Discoveries” Are Proven Fakes[03020] [c]Education;Nov. 5, 2000: Japanese Amateur Archaeologist’s “Discoveries” Are Proven Fakes[03020] [c]Public morals;Nov. 5, 2000: Japanese Amateur Archaeologist’s “Discoveries” Are Proven Fakes[03020] [c]Cultural and intellectual history;Nov. 5, 2000: Japanese Amateur Archaeologist’s “Discoveries” Are Proven Fakes[03020]

The shy, humble father of two was working at an electronic-gadget manufacturing company in 1972 when he became interested in Japan’s prehistory. Fujimura taught himself archaeology and, in 1981, had a major discovery when he found stoneware dating back 40 millennia. This discovery pushed Japan’s ancient history back by 10 millennia. Fujimura’s career and reputation took off, and he consistently found older artifacts as he worked on more than 180 other sites nationwide over a period of twenty years. He studied objects from the oldest of Japan’s Paleolithic, or Stone Age, which dates back 600 to 1,200 millennia. The stone implements, or tools, Fujimura discovered date back 500, 600, and 700 millennia. Each discovery broke archaeological records and seemed to prove that the earliest habitation of Japan occurred 600 millennia ago and not 30 to 35 millennia ago as previously determined by the archaeological evidence.

In 1992, Fujimura made a major discovery in the Zazaragi ruins in the Miyagi Prefecture, which was the first unanimously confirmed early-middle Paleolithic site in Japan. Fujimura’s finds at this site led to new avenues of research and were considered spectacular. Also in 1992, Fujimura and two trained archaeologists established the Tohoku Paleolithic Institute, a nonprofit organization in Tagajo, near Sendai, northeast of Tokyo. The institute supported the excavations of Paleolithic sites in Japan. Fujimura served as deputy director, or vice chairman. Toshiaki Kamata, an established archaeologist, served as the director.

Fujimura’s findings were supported by many well-respected scientists, including anthropologists and archaeologists. Privately, some professionals expressed doubt about the age of the discoveries, but only a few expressed their doubts publicly. As early as 1985, two prominent archaeologists, the American Charles Keally from Sophia University in Tokyo and Toshiki Takeoka, a lecturer at Kyoritsu Women’s University, also in Tokyo, claimed that the artifacts from one site were incorrectly dated. Their criticisms were ignored and Keally was essentially told by other archaeologists to remain quiet about his doubts. Takeoka was forced to tone down a paper in 1997 by the editors of Paleolithic Archaeology when he questioned Fujimura’s professionalism. Takeoka’s paper was edited so that the most critical sections were removed. The editors believed these sections alluded to rumors of planted artifacts.

Because of his concerns, Takeoka encouraged journalists to watch Fujimura. Reporters had been tracking Fujimura for six months when they caught him planting artifacts, first in September, 2000, at the Soshinfudozaka ruins in Shintotsukawa, Hokkaido. The photographs, however, were not clear enough to present as evidence.

At the Kamitakamori ruins in Tsukidate, Miyagi Prefecture—about 186 miles northeast of Tokyo—Fujimura and his team announced the discovery of holes that may have held pillars or columns supporting dwellings, as well as stones believed to be more than 600 millennia old—one of the oldest indications of human habitation in Japan. On October 22, local journalists with hidden Video evidence video cameras filmed Fujimura at one of the sites at dawn burying something that he had removed from his pocket. Hours later he “discovered” an artifact at the same place.

On November 5, the newspaper Mainichi Shimbum (newspaper) Mainichi Shimbun published three still images from the video that showed Fujimura burying the artifacts he later dug up and claimed as authentic and newly discovered. The paper published the images only after confirming the facts with Fujimura himself. In a press conference that same day, Fujimura admitted to planting many Stone Age artifacts but insisted that he had only done so at the Soshinfudozaka and Kamitakamori ruins and that all of his other finds were legitimate. He claimed that he had been tempted by the devil and by the need for the continued admiration of the archaeological community.

News of the scandal spread quickly and shocked the archaeologists who worked with Fujimura. Many defended the validity of his earlier finds, especially those who had excavated with him. Kamata admitted that Fujimura’s actions were foolish, but he also insisted that the deception involved only the two most recent sites. Fujimura resigned from Tohoku Paleolithic Institute and Kamata, as his boss, accepted full blame on behalf of the institute. Fujimura, who had been admitted to the Japanese Archaeology Association Japanese Archaeology Association (JAA) in 1984, was expelled in 2000 after the scandal was revealed.

Shortly after the November 5 revelation, Fujimura was hospitalized after suffering an emotional breakdown. He spent the next several years in a psychiatric hospital, and all of his communication with the outside world was mediated by his doctor and lawyer. Because of his initial unavailability, it was not until May, 2001, that JAA representatives could begin five sessions of interrogation with Fujimura. Meanwhile, local governments were reexcavating the sites of his major finds. By October, with proof by others that he had faked the excavations at more than thirty sites, Fujimura admitted that all of his work was fabricated. The forgeries included sites that accounted for most of the archaeological record in Japan for the earliest period of the Paleolithic era. Fujimura wanted fame and felt pressured to continue making spectacular finds. The archaeological community was stunned and dismayed, as many of the sites were thought to be among the world’s oldest human habitations.

In its report issued in May, 2002, the JAA’s special investigative committee announced that none of the stone tools Fujimura identified as belonging to the Paleolithic period had academic value. Former chairman Kamata resigned from the Tohoku Paleolithic Institute, indicating that the reputation of the institute was irreparably damaged. The institute was dissolved in 2004. Fujimura eventually left the psychiatric institute, changed his name, and remarried. In 2007, he was reportedly living in a small town on the Pacific coast of Japan.

For more than twenty years, Fujimura’s work was taught to children and featured in textbooks. He was a hero because his discoveries helped prove Japan’s cultural uniqueness. Because archaeology is extremely popular in Japan and has been a source of great pride, the people not only felt betrayed by his fraud but also embarrassed.

Impact

Fujimura’s method of deception was very effective, and it was difficult to detect a planted artifact unless someone was specifically looking for that item. No obvious signs of forgery existed because the planted tools were ancient, locations were favorable, and because the stone implements were dated by the stratum (layer of rock or soil) in which they were found, it was extremely difficult to differentiate between planted and real finds. Also, unusual archaeological discoveries were common, so archaeologists accepted Fujimura’s sensational findings.

Fujimura also was very good at planting forgeries, often during the early morning hours but even with other people, including professionals and the press, watching him excavate. Because he was trusted and respected, any inconsistencies were explained away, ignored, or simply not noticed.

After the scandal, Fujimura critic Keally highlighted flaws in Japanese archaeology. He argued that findings were revealed at press conferences and circulated among the public and profession quickly but with little critical review or scholarly debate. Critic Takeoka said that the study of archaeology in Japan was not scholarly but rather based on the desire for incredible discoveries. Senior scholars, he said, are not challenged in Japan; to directly criticize another’s work is considered a personal and professional insult.

The Fujimura scandal led the Japanese scientific community to call for major changes in how findings are announced to colleagues and the general public. Scientists also called for more time on analysis before claims were made, and for greater collaboration with foreign scientists, which would encourage more debate and raise the standards of scientific scholarship in Japan.

Japanese archaeologists and other prominent scientists, many of whom had based years of research on Fujimura’s findings, found all of their work questioned, and the field itself was forced to reconsider how discoveries were verified. Trust eroded between the public and academia, as well as between colleagues, and the international reputation of Japanese archaeology suffered because of the scandal. Fujimura, Shinichi Japanese paleolithic hoax Archaeology Tohoku Paleolithic Institute Takeoka, Toshiki Keally, Charles Kamata, Toshiaki

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Keally, Charles T. “Dirt and Japan’s Early Paleolithic Hoax.” Sophia International Review no. 24 (2002). A look at the practice of archaeology in light of the Fujimura scandal. Written by one of Fujimura’s major critics.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Normile, Dennis. “Japanese Fraud Highlights Media-Driven Research Ethic.” Science, January 5, 2001. Discusses the impact of the revelation of Fujimura’s fraud. Notes the major changes to the field of archaeology in Japan.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Romey, Kristin M.“’God’s Hands’ Did the Devil’s Work.” Archaeology 54, no. 1 (January-February, 2001). A brief journal article about the aftermath of Fujimura’s hoax.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wehrfritz, George, and Hideko Takayama. “With a Wave of God’s Hand.” Newsweek International, October 22, 2001. Examines the effects of Fujimura’s hoax, and asks how the structure of the scientific community allowed it to happen.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Yamada, Shoh. “Politics and Personality: Japan’s Worst Archaeology Scandal.” Asia Quarterly 6, no. 3 (Summer, 2002). Detailed, well-balanced overview of the scandal and its far-reaching affect on Japanese archaeology and national pride. Includes discussion of the importance of archaeology in Japanese society.

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