The bones were first unearthed in 2007 on the island of Ishigaki, southwest of Okinawa Island, in an area that was being prepared to be converted into a small airport, the Mainichi reported.
Nine bones were found, but only six could be directly dated from extracted collagen samples, according to Jiji Press. Of those six, the oldest piece, which dates back 20,000 years, was part of the skull of a man in his 20s to 30s. A piece of an adult leg bone that was found dates back around 18,000 years. Another bone is calculated to be 15,000 years old. The remaining three are all from approximately 2,000 years ago.
The 20,000 year old piece is the oldest human bone in Japan to have been found and directly dated. This piece took over the record from bones found in the 1960s in Shizuoka Prefecture, west of Tokyo, that were directly dated to be 14,000 year old, Jiji Press reported. The actual oldest human remains found on Japanese territory were discovered on Okinawa Island and are believed, through indirect means, to be 32,000 years old.
Professor of Paleethnology Minoru Yoneda at Tokyo University told Mainichi reporters, “This provides support that humans lived on Ishigaki Island during the Paleolithic period. A large number of human bones likely still remain there. Furthermore, continuing detailed investigation will lead to clues on the search for the roots of the Japanese people.”