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"God's Hands" Did the Devil's Work Volume 54 Number 1, January/February 2001
by Kristin M. Romey

Prominent Japanese archaeologist Shinichi Fujimura has been caught red-handed burying artifacts at a site, prompting demands for a review of the nation's Palaeolithic record. Nicknamed "God's Hands" by colleagues who marveled at his luck in locating ancient sites, Fujimura was senior director at the Tohoku Paleolithic Institute. His discovery of artifacts dated to the early Palaeolithic period (600,000-120,000 years ago) at the Kamitakamori ruins in Miyagi Prefecture in 1994 established the site as Japan's oldest. Fujimura's team recently made headlines again following discovery of postholes that provided evidence for early Palaeolithic dwellings at Kamitakamori.

Fujimura's hoax, occurring less than a month after his team's headline-making posthole discovery, was exposed by Japan's Mainichi Shimbun newspaper, which published three photographs on its front page of him deliberately burying 61 artifacts on the Kamitakamori site. The artifacts were taken by Fujimura from earlier excavations. He has also confessed to deliberately burying artifacts at the Palaeolithic site of Soshinfudozaka, but insists his other discoveries were authentic. "I did something that I shouldn't have done," Fujimura said at an emotional press conference. "I had wanted to find more ruins that include stone artifacts."

Fujimura first won acclaim with his discovery of 40,000-year-old stoneware in 1981. The self-taught archaeologist has investigated more than 150 archaeological sites in Japan, including most of the country's Palaeolithic sites. In light of his confession, Fujimura's involvement in several important discoveries at these sites has brought many fundamental ideas about Japan's Palaeolithic--and the content of many textbooks--into question. The Japanese Archaeological Association is debating whether to reinvestigate sites he excavated. The Tokyo National Museum has removed more than 20 artifacts discovered by Fujimura from display; other museums are following suit.

Many archaeologists privately questioned Fujimura's discoveries, but he was rarely publicly challenged. Chairman of the Japanese Archaeological Association Ken Amaksu conceded that Japan's academic environment may have played a role in the ongoing ruse. "We need to examine...whether enough information was disclosed and enough theories were exchanged among researchers with differing opinions concerning the new discoveries."

Fujimura has been expelled from both the Tohoku Institute and the Japanese Archaeological Association. The incident has also irreparably damaged the reputation of the Tohoku Institute. "There's nothing more you can say," said its former chairman Toshiaki Kamata, who resigned in the aftermath of the scandal. "With this media coverage, all our work over the years is as good as ruined."

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America