Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Dogu figures: Jomon Jedi?

Long before the invention of agriculture or the domestication of animals, the Japanese already lived on villages and cooked their meals on pots. Ten thousand years before the Christian Era, possibly even earlier, the inhabitants of the eastern islands had already developed the art of ceramics, which would arise on the “Cradle of Civilization”, western Asia, three thousand years later. Reason for the Japanese to yell “Banzai!“, which actually means “ten thousand years”.

Such ancient ceramics mark the so-called Jomon Jidai, a term from Japanese archeology: Jomon, meaning “rope pattern”, and Jidai meaning period or era.

The word Jidai would become famous worldwide on a variation created by filmmaker George Lucas. With his space knights with strict honor codes, Lucas was inspired by the “jidai geki”, Japanese period dramas with samurais. That’s where the Jedi knights come from.

Our interest here is something that likewise links Japanese prehistory with the modern space fantasy. Beside pots, the Jomon Jidai ceramic artifacts include some figures, called Dogu. With an intriguing appearance, highly stylized, some of them were recently understood as “six thousand years-old space suits”, proof of ancient contacts with extraterrestrials. Click on the figure to continue reading.

Space suits
The idea of ancient astronauts antedates its most famous promoter, Erich von Däniken, in decades. And we can locate the association between the Japanese Dogu figures and “space suits” as early as an article by Russian scientist Viatcheslaw Zaitsev published on the soviet magazine Spoutnik in June 1967. This article was also the origin of the Fergana astronaut hoax — which was not Zaitsev’s fault — and also played a big role in the popularization of the legend of the Dropas.

Curiously, though, real space suits were never exactly like Dogu figures. Granted, there’s a general resemblance, but made from flexible parts, like a clothe with many layers, real astronaut suits are not like the seemingly rigid round shapes that can be seen in the clay figures. The space suits we know have something very familiar: creases.

Gemini and Apollo space suits

More curious still is the fact that future space suits may become very similar to the thousands-years old clay figures. This change is not aesthetic, Botero had nothing to do with it. Future suits may have rigid layers, with sophisticated joints, offering better protection to the men and women who will walk on Mars. They’re effectively armor suits. The resemblance with the Japanese figures is astounding, considering that the AX-5 concept was created around 1985, decades after Zaitsev’s article and most certainly not inspired by it.

Speaking of suits, deep sea diving suits are also very similar to the ancient figures. Just as on the rigid space suits, the round shapes are not arbitrary. As they must counteract great pressures, the use of spherical shapes capable of better distributing forces is an engineering solution. The design of the articulated joints also contribute to the unique appearance of those suits. Which are being used effectively right now.

Prototype of rigid space suits (NASA AX-5) and a deep sea diving suit (Newtsuit) being used today

Nevertheless, before searching for answers in space or the deep ocean, it would be reasonable to have a better look at the people who created those figures, the Jomonjin.

Hair and tattoos
We don’t know nearly as much as we would like about the Jomon people. Though archaeologists apparently assume they even know that their hair style looked like that of princess Leia, they are not sure about the Dogu figures purpose. They do have some good evidence, though.

A quick look at the variety of Dogu figures may be enough to realize that they are not natural representations. We can see a continuum of representations, starting from those very much like the natural human figure, going to the most stylized ones with geometrical shapes.

Series of reproductions of Dogu figures

We could end our article here, but understanding that those figures are stylized doesn’t mean they do not represent something real, even if they are distorted. To start with, we can be reasonably sure they do represent human figures! And many other elements can also be identified on them.

The most trivial characteristic on the figures is that they clearly represent nipples and breasts. The reader may take a second look at them if it wasn’t noted before, but the breasts are always there. Combining that with the stylized form, with a large pelvis and generous shapes, the most common interpretation of the Dogu figures is that they may have played part on a fertility cult. In other words, they are not aliens, but big mammas.

These other Jomon figures are more evident as being part of a fertility cult. Note the beauty of the “Venus” to the right.

The figures also usually display intricate patterns covering their bodies. They could represent the patterns used on the clothes at the time, but that interpretation apparently contradict the naked breasts. Again, we could remember that those are stylized figures, but another possibility is that those patterns actually represent tattoos. That interpretation gains support when we look at the faces of the figures.

Jomon clothes and Maori tattoos

The suggestion may come as a surprise, but that the patterns represent tattoos may be one of the most solid interpretations of the clay figures. The oldest known reference to Japan, a Chinese manuscript of the third century, Gishiwajinden, mentions the “men of Wa”:

“The men of “Wa” tattoo their faces and paint their bodies with designs. They are fond of diving for fish and shells. Long ago they decorated their bodies in order to protect themselves from large fish and later these designs became ornamental. Body painting differs among the various tribes with the position and size of the designs vary according to the rank of individuals; they smear their bodies with pink and scarlet just as Chinese use powder.”

The land of “Wa” is Japan. Though this style of tribal tattoos would not continue among the Japanese people, it can still be seen today in other Pacific inhabitants, such as the Maori of New Zealand. The facial marks on the Dogu figures and those still practiced by those communities were the subject of a study by Jun Takayama in 1969, and sure enough, he found that the Dogu figure patterns must have been tattoos indeed.

If there’s still some skepticism, maybe the next image of another Jomon figure may blast it into space.

Jomon clay face

But the most intriguing feature of the figures must be their peculiarly big eyes. Now, the established interpretation for what they represent is quite spectacular: they are sunglasses. In fact, the Dogu figures that are the main subject of this article are a special category of figures formally called “Shakkoki Dogu“, or “clay figures with sunglasses“!

They are not sunglasses like those we know, obviously. The interpretation is based on primitive “snow glasses”, like those used by the Inuit. Built as opaque visors, they have a small horizontal slit. Very stylish.

Inuit snow goggles

Those “goggles” work quite well by limiting the amount of sunlight that reach the eyes, as we all do instinctively squeezing them when obfuscated. They may not be very sophisticated, but they don’t get fogged either. To the Inuit, and it’s suggested, also to the Jomonjin, those goggles were necessary on the wide plains covered in white snow reflecting the sunlight. Without such protection, one could be afflicted with temporary blindness due to the excessive light.

The Inuit still use those “sunglasses”, and it’s clear they look like the eyes of the Dogu figures. But the interpretation is not definitive. What should we then think about these Brazilian clay figures from Santarem, Amazon?

Santarém figure

Called “inciso ponteada” ceramics, they may date up to two thousand years ago. We know even less about the Santarém people, but the feminine figure, with the hands over the belly and the peculiar representation of the eyes must be familiar. And there is no snow in Amazon.

A direct link between Santarém and Japan may not be the case, though. In fact, one of the most famous archaeological finds also has those eyes. The mask of Agamemnon, found by Heinrich Shcliemann, is two thousand years older than the Santarem figures. And he is not wearing goggles.

We can find works of art all over the world with similar, even common, representations of simple closed eyes. Though there are those that defend the idea that long ago there was an intense global interchange of cultures, the most simple explanation is that those are styles that arose independently in many times and places. Some may be goggles, some may be simply closed eyes.

Agamemnon mask and contemporary African tribal mask

Control buttons
Objects of fertility cults, tattoos, clothes, sunglasses, closed eyes, going from Troy to the strange hairstyles of a distant Galaxy, among all the uncertainties the most clear conclusion we may get to is that the Jomon artists who created the Dogu figures thousands of years ago really deserve this worship so many people pay to their works.

Their art inspire the modern man to all kinds of speculation, including even aliens. Speculation that, in my humble opinion, is the least imaginative of they all.

Even if it is the most hilarious. Because, in the words of a very serious proponent of ancient astronauts, “those are not nipples, those are control buttons“.


– – –

– “Dogu no Nazo”, Shinji Kawasaki, 103, 199, 200-201, 217: 1975
– “Beweise”, Erich von Däniken, Melhoramentos (Brazilian edition), p. 126: 1977
– “Oomukashi no Seikatsu”, Yuzo Sugimura, p. 108: 1951
– “Gendai Shinhyakajiten”, Gakken, p. 375: 1968
– “Os primeiros habitantes do Brasil”, Atual Editora, Norberto L. Guarinello, pp 28-29: 1994

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Posted in Fortean,Miscelaneous,Skepticism | 6 comments

6 Comments so far

  1. craig york April 22nd, 2008 6:43 pm

    An Excellent article, Mori. Though the ‘ancient astronaut’
    meme ( if you will ) continues to exert a certain vigor, I
    doubt there is much to recommend it. Looking at our modern
    spacesuits, you’d almost expect any ancient interpretation to
    have more closely resembled a cyclops.

  2. Les April 23rd, 2008 11:26 pm

    Tattoos are likely, but as I looked at the first figure on the page I wondered if maybe she was wearing some sort of corset. The fat breasts and thighs don’t work with that narrow waist unless she wore something to accent her waist. Also the arms and legs appear to be bulging while her torso is quite smooth. Maybe she is wearing a corset under a sort of ornamented jacket like the ones you see on traditional Thai dancers.

    The big eyes remind me of the big eyed Greek figures I’ve seen in art history books. Then again they also remind me of the cartoonish big eyes on Jim Henson’s muppets.

  3. Carlo April 24th, 2008 11:42 am

    Yet another great post!

  4. Katherine Bolman May 27th, 2008 7:15 pm

    Great work connecting the idea of spirit in different areas of the world. You might want to add images from ancient America South West rock art and the Hawaiian helmets.
    Katherine Bolman, Hawaii

  5. Steamships of the Gods | forgetomori September 28th, 2008 10:01 pm

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