Wanted: Tottori seeks look-alike of nearly 2,000-year-old man

Courtesy of the Tottori prefectural government
A bust of the “Aoya Yayoi man” reconstructed from a skull is dressed in clothes apparently resembling those worn during the Yayoi period.

TOTTORI — The skull of a man who lived nearly 2,000 years ago was unveiled to the public, and the Tottori prefectural government is working to select a modern-day man who best resembles him.

The skull was found at ruins located at the Aoya-Kamijichi site in Tottori City. The ancient village is thought to have existed between the 4th century B.C. and the 3rd century A.D.

When referring to ancient Japan, most people know the two major periods: The Jomon period and the Yayoi period. The Jomon period was an age of hunters and gatherers, and the Yayoi period was an age of rice farming. Although the exact date of when the Yayoi period began remains uncertain, the ruins of the Aoya-Kamijichi site date back to the late Yayoi period.

Tens of thousands of artifacts have been found at the ruins. There were a wide variety of items found in a clay layer that were well-preserved.

Hub for trade

More than 400 pieces of ironware have been found at the ruins. It is thought that the ironware was used to make tools out of wood and bone rather than farming tools or weapons.

During the Yayoi period, Japan did not have the resources to produce iron and relied on imports from China and the Korean Peninsula. The people of the Aoya-Kamijichi village likely reprocessed fragments of imported ironware — coming from the Kyushu region — to make small tools.

The village is thought to have been the hub for exchange and trade with the rest of Asia. Chinese bronze mirrors, dating back between the 1st century B.C. and the 1st century A.D., have been found at the site, as well as Chinese coins.

Human bones from more than 100 people were also discovered at the site. The skulls were remarkably well-preserved with some still containing brain tissue and showing scars from injury or disease.

During the first field survey conducted around 2000, many human bones were discovered in a ditch on the eastern part of the site’s central area. The bones looked as if they were thrown in, and some had scars, likely made by sharp weapons.

Courtesy of the Tottori prefectural government
A bust of the “Aoya Yayoi man” is dressed in modern-day clothes.

The bones date back to about 1,800 years ago, and according to a Chinese historical document, Japan was “greatly disturbed” at that time. It is possible that the entire area was affected by war, but the details are still unknown.

Facial reconstruction

A bust of an “Aoya Yayoi man” was unveiled to the public in October 2021 after it was reconstructed using the latest technology, including DNA analysis.

The work was supervised by Kazuhiro Sakaue, head of the Human Evolution Division at the National Museum of Nature and Science, and produced by Asuka Tosaka, an associate professor at Kyoto University of the Arts.

The skull selected for the reconstruction had the most brain tissue remaining, and analysis showed that it belonged to a mature male.

Courtesy of the Tottori prefectural government
Iron tools, likely used for engraving patterns on wooden objects

He was given thick, black hair considering his background — his mother’s side migrated from mainland Asia and his father descended from the Jomon, indigenous people — which was also learned from the skull.

The Aoya Yayoi man garnered attention online because of his Twitter account and the bust was exhibited in Tokyo.

Some said he looked like an actor, athlete or some other person you would see today. In response to the online enthusiasm, the Tottori prefectural government asked the public to come up with a name for the Yayoi man and to find his look-alike.

Gov. Shinji Hirai also commented, saying, “He looks like an average person you would see today.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun

From across the country, 215 people entered the look-alike contest before the prefectural government stopped accepting applications in December 2021.

Among them, 10 finalists were selected on Jan. 31 after a careful screening process. A prefectural government official said they even used artificial intelligence to accurately assess everyone’s facial structure.

The winner will be announced at the “grand prix” in May.