Japanese woman who lived 3,800 years ago had a high alcohol tolerance

A woman belonging to the now-extinct Japanese society of Jomon people has had her genetic sequence unpicked more than two decades after being discovered. 

The so-called ‘Jomon woman’ has been revealed as an elderly lady who had a high alcohol tolerance as well as wet earwax, smelly armpits and a fatty diet. 

She was first unearthed from the Funadomari shell mound, on Rebun Island off Hokkaido’s northern coast back in 1998 and experts are still learning more about her.

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The so-called 'Jomon woman' (pictured) has been revealed to have been elderly and with a high alcohol tolerance. It is also thought she had wet earwax, smelly armpits and a high-fat diet

The so-called ‘Jomon woman’ (pictured) has been revealed to have been elderly and with a high alcohol tolerance. It is also thought she had wet earwax, smelly armpits and a high-fat diet 

The Jōmon woman lived around 3,550–3,960 years ago during the Joman period, the Japanese equivalent of the Neolithic, which spanned from 10,500 to 300 BC. 

Last year anthropologist Hideaki Kanzawa of Tokyo’s National Museum of Nature and Science and colleagues analysed DNA extracted from one of her teeth. 

Preliminary DNA analysis had revealed that Jōmon woman — who died in her old age — had dark and frizzy hair, brown eyes and freckles.

She would have also been at a high risk of developing solar lentigo, dark patches of skin that develop from spending too much time in the sun.

Now, further analysis is unlocking more of the Jōmon woman’s genetic secrets. 

DNA analysis has revealed, for example, that the Jōmon people split from the Asian mainland populations between around 38,000 and 18,000 years ago.

The Jōmon woman’s genes suggest that, unlike some modern Japanese people, she likely had a high tolerance for alcohol — and also wet earwax. 

Today, 95 per cent of East Asians have dry earwax, the gene variant for which is believed to have first appeared in northeastern Asia.

The same gene that makes earwax dry also serves to minimise body odour.

This means that the Jōmon woman, unlike most modern Japanese people, likely had smelly armpits.

Last year anthropologist Hideaki Kanzawa of Tokyo's National Museum of Nature and Science and colleagues analysed DNA extracted from one of her teeth. Preliminary DNA analysis revealed she had dark and frizzy hair, brown eyes and freckles

Last year anthropologist Hideaki Kanzawa of Tokyo’s National Museum of Nature and Science and colleagues analysed DNA extracted from one of her teeth. Preliminary DNA analysis revealed she had dark and frizzy hair, brown eyes and freckles

Although Jōmon woman would have had many differences to the modern-day population of Japan, she is still more closely related to them, the indigenous Ulchi culture of eastern Russian, Koreans, aboriginal Taiwanese and the Philippine people than they are to Han Chinese

Although Jōmon woman would have had many differences to the modern-day population of Japan, she is still more closely related to them, the indigenous Ulchi culture of eastern Russian, Koreans, aboriginal Taiwanese and the Philippine people than they are to Han Chinese

Researchers were also surprised to find that the ancient Japanese woman had a gene variant that helps people to digest high-fat foods.

The same gene is present in 70 per cent of the modern-day population of the Arctic, but absent in other groups, researchers report.

This variant provides further evidence that the Jomon people fished and hunted fatty sea and land animals, Dr Kanzawa said.

WHO IS THE JOMON WOMAN? 

The Jōmon woman lived around 3,550–3,960 years ago during the Joman period, the Japanese equivalent of the Neolithic, which spanned from 10,500 to 300 BC.

She was unearthed from the Funadomari shell mound, on Rebun Island off Hokkaido’s northern coast back in 1998.

Last year anthropologist Hideaki Kanzawa of Tokyo’s National Museum of Nature and Science and colleagues analysed DNA extracted from one of her teeth. 

Preliminary DNA analysis had revealed that Jōmon woman — who died in her old age — had dark and frizzy hair, brown eyes and freckles.

‘Hokkaido Jōmon people engaged in [not only the] hunting of land animals, such as deer and boar, but also marine fishing and hunting of fur seal, Steller sea lions, sea lions, dolphins, salmon and trout,’ Dr Kanzawa told Live Science

‘In particular, many relics related to hunting of ocean animals have been excavated from the Funadomari site,’ he added.

Researchers believe that the Jōmon people lived across the Japanese archipelago in small tribes of hunter gatherers, likely for a period of around 50,000 years, and were not one homogeneous people but likely 2–3 distinct groups.

Although the Jōmon woman would have had many differences to the modern-day population of Japan, she is still more closely related to them, the indigenous Ulchi culture of eastern Russian, Koreans, aboriginal Taiwanese and the Philippine people than they are to Han Chinese, Dr Kanzawa said.

‘These findings provide insights into the history and reconstructions of the ancient human-population structures in east Eurasia,’ he added.

The full findings of the study are to be published in the journal Anthropological Science. 

The Jōmon woman was unearthed from the Funadomari shell mound on Rebun Island, off Hokkaido's northern coast, back in 1998

The Jōmon woman was unearthed from the Funadomari shell mound on Rebun Island, off Hokkaido’s northern coast, back in 1998

WHO WERE THE JŌMON PEOPLE?

The Jomon Period is the earliest historical era of Japanese history.

It began around 14500 BCE, at the same time as the Neolithic Period in Europe and Asia, and ended around 300 BCE when the Yayoi Period began. 

They were hunter-gatherers who subsisted primarily on hunting animals like deer and boar, collecting acorns, nuts and fruits, and fishing and collecting mollusks in coastal waters. 

The name Jomon, means ‘cord marked’ or ‘patterned’ and comes from the style of pottery made during that time. 

Although the entire period is called Jomon, various phases can be identified based on the style and intended use of pottery they used.

The Jomon world was one where many ceremonies and rituals took place. 

They buried infants in large jars, adults inside pits and shell mounds near villages, and place ceremonial offerings and other ornaments in graves from the Middle to Late Jomon Periods.

Some of their pottery depicted pregnant women in the hope of boosting fertility or they depicted regular people which were sometimes broken in the belief that any bad luck or illness would pass to the figurine.

A bizarre common practice for males entering puberty would be ritualistic teeth pulling for unknown reasons.  

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