World's First-Known Ancient Stone With Painted Face Discovered, Looks Exactly Like a Slice of Pizza

Jomon
Reconstructed houses from the Jōmon period. Wikimedia Commons

Japanese archaeologists discovered what they believe is the first-known example of a stone painted to show a human face. Researchers from the Hokkaido Archaeological Operations Center discovered the triangle-shaped fragment, which measures about five inches across, in October 2017. It was buried beneath the ground where a pit house once stood, according to The Asahi Shimbun.

The Japanese artifact was painted between 2500 and 1500 B.C., during the Jōmon period, which was especially known for its ceramic pottery, according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“The find is extremely precious in that it could help ascertain what the spiritual culture in the mid-Jōmon period was like,” Yasushi Kosugi, a Jōmon culture professor at Hokkaido University, told The Asahi Shimbun.

Though it’s difficult to see, the stone features an ellipse representing an eye drawn in black pigment, as well as lines for eyebrows and a nose, according to The Asahi Shimbun. (It also looks exactly like a piece of pizza, according to an informal survey of the Newsweek newsroom.)

It’s possible that a whetstone was used to get the stone as smooth and flat as it is. Previous researchers had unearthed a painting of a human body from this period, but never an image of a face, reported The Asahi Shimbun. This is the first such stone image discovered anywhere in Japan.

Its purpose, however, remains unclear. The time of its creation was one of increased production of artifacts with reproductive motifs, according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which might suggest a ritualistic aspect. The Jōmon period corresponds to Japan's Neolithic period, according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In keeping with the traditions of that time, the stone would likely have been painted by a woman. 

Jōmon pottery is generally small, with rounded bases that indicate they could have been designed to fit over a fire and hold boiling food, according to Ancient Origins. This particular artifact comes from the Middle Jōmon period, which according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was the peak of the era’s handicraft output. Around that time, rising temperatures drove populations in the area up into the mountains, where it's possible they attempted to cultivate crops for the first time.

Though they grew less transient and congregated in larger communities, the population still maintained a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, subsisting on animals like deer, bear, rabbit and duck, supplemented with plant foods like nuts, berries, mushrooms and parsley. When the climate eventually cooled, around 1000 to 300 B.C., the population levels dropped off and individual communities became smaller again.