Stewards of Heritage
SASEBO, Japan (Aug. 7, 2018) - Commander, Fleet Activities Sasebo’s heritage and footprint stem from the Imperial Japanese Navy when what is now CFAS was Sasebo Chinjufu, or naval district, but its history goes back further to the days before Japan was Japan as we know it. Evidence of Japan’s earliest inhabitants can be found at some of CFAS’ ordnance and fuel facilities.
The facilities are on large plots of rural land, necessary for safety and security, which was occupied by the Imperial Japanese Navy more than a century ago and so were bypassed by modernization, preserving cultural relics from more than 10,000 years ago in the ground.
To protect these artifacts CFAS cultural resources works with the cities of Sasebo and Saikai and their respective boards of education. The Board of Education is responsible for managing all cultural resources within their area of responsibility, keeping registries of cultural resources, responding to inadvertent discoveries, conducting resource surveys and curating artifacts.
“The US Navy has similar cultural resource management responsibilities for resources located on Navy installations throughout Japan, said Curtis Valerie, U.S. Naval Facilities Command Far East archeologist. “This enables us to meet our program goals and to be good stewards of the environment, while also respecting the local culture and communities in which we live and work.”
There are known and marked archeological sites around the installations, but sometimes new discoveries are made. Recently artifacts were found while surveying by US Navy archaeologists onboard CFAS’ Yokose fuel facility, which is within Sakai’s AOR.
The artifacts, which are stone tools or lithics, were found on the surface mixed in with debris from an eroded hillside. Realizing there could be more under the surface, Navy archeologists took sub-surface samples and determined the size of the archeological site, then fencing and geotextile material was applied to the surface to prevent erosion. According to Valerie, this is the preferred way of handling a discovery, leaving artifacts in the ground to preserve the context of the site until archeological studies and excavations can be made in a controlled manner.
The exposed surface artifacts couldn’t be left on site as they could easily be damaged and so were recovered for temporary holding. The artifacts are significant as they likely come from Japan’s Jomon era, which lasted more than 10,000 years, ending around 300 BC. This was the time of Japan’s earliest habitation as people are believed to have come over to what’s now Japan during the last ice age and were stranded when the land bridge to the mainland disappeared. These early hunter-gatherers made clay pottery, some of the oldest pottery in existence is Jomon, and relied on stone tools, such as the lithics discovered at Yokose.
Sean Suk, CFAS cultural resources manager, turned over the lithics to the Saikai City Board of Education as well as presented them with the base’s Integrated Cultural Resource Management Plan and the locations of all known significant cultural resources at Yokose. CFAS cultural resources and the board of education meet to share and collaborate on the discovery of significant cultural resources within their neighboring areas.
“CFAS and the U.S. Navy is heavily invested in the protection and stewardship of the cultural resources under its control,” said Suk. “The CFAS Cultural Resources Program actively manages these resources to protect their heritage and to be good stewards of the environment.”
Artifacts turned over to the cities are curated in their collections, with some being displayed in local museums or loaned out for research in universities.