Shinichi Fujimura

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Introduction

Shinichi Fujimura was born in 1950 from the Miyagi prefecture of Japan. He is a prolific archaeologist, who is well known for his discovery of stone artifacts from the Lower to Middle Paleolithic ages that later turned out to be a hoax. Fujimura had an impeccable skill of finding ruins and sites that held stone artifacts from prehistoric eras. Many of his peers referred to him as “God’s Hands” due to this so-called luck. [1]

Biography

Fujimura grew up in a town near Sendai where he would spend most of his childhood. When he was just a child, he ended up finding prehistoric pottery when playing in his garden.[2] Growing up in Post-World War II Japan, Fujimura was raised during an era where pride in one’s nation was especially important. The environment and culture he grew up in would affect how Fujimura was able to keep his deceptions going.

As a self-made archaeologist with no formal training, Fujimura was an uncommon sight in the archaeological field. He advanced so far in his career that he eventually became a senior director at the Tohoku Paleolithic Institute. [2] Fujimura was able to advance so quickly as he gained a friendly relationship with a well known and respected professor from Tohoku Institute named Chosuke Serizawa. [3] When Fujimura was working with the Tohoku Institute, it was not uncommon for those with no experience to work alongside professionals; therefore, it was not strange for Fujimura to be just as respected and accepted by the archaeological community as his peers. During his time at the Tohoku Institute, he even garnered the attention of the Japanese Archaeology Association.

Fujimura's Paleolithic stone material hoaxes

His biggest discovery and hoax was when Fujimura discovered a piece of stoneware that was dated to be 40,000 years old (early Paleolithic period) in 1981 at the Kamitakamori site. [4] This is what brought him to the limelight and what ultimately led to his downfall as there was video recordings of him planting artifacts at the dig site. The recordings were set up by Mainichi Shimbun, a journalist that worked for a prominent newspaper in Japan; his recordings would be released for all to see. Fujimura did not fight the video evidence and admitted to planting fakes of artifacts in over 180 sites. [5] Fujimura did not put into much effort into burying his artifacts as they would be dug up in the wrong strata. The strata in which he buried his forgeries would not have lined up with the time period they were dated to. [5]

Not only did Fujimura have to face the consequences of his actions, but the entire country of Japan felt the aftermath of this hoax unveiling. Fujimura was only able to keep his hoax up for so long because of the system he was apart of. In Japan, culturally it would be offensive to make such a strong claim against them. For someone to have called out Fujimura for his dishonesty would be akin to a personal attack against his character. [5] [6]

The Japanese mandates surrounding archaeological finds was determined to be the main enabler of Fujimura’s hoax as no peer evaluation was needed for Fujimura. In Japan, archaeologists were free to publish their findings without any peer-review and still have their publications be credible. [5] The archaeological community at the time even censored any negativity between archaeologists, which further allowed Fujimura to stay in the limelight for so long.

Outcome

After Fujimura was found out, Japan went through a major remodeling in regards to their archaeological scientific community. Allowing Fujimura to get away with his scandal for so long was a major embarrassment for Japan as it showed how little they focused on releasing quality scientific finds. Especially after the events of World War II it was incredibly important for Japan to try and raise patriotism amongst its citizens and establish that they are still a country full of academic achievements. The acknowledgement that these findings were full of errors that contradict the true history of the nation meant that Japanese historical textbooks were forced to be rewritten. [7] This led to a whole uprooting the basic understanding of the Japanese Paleolithic era as many of the historical context came from Fujimura’s archaeological findings. Not only were textbooks rewritten, but any museum or exhibit that showcased his findings had to completely restructure their displays and entire knowledge over the time period. This led to a feeling of disgrace in Japan, as the country had been trying to change their image post-World War II.

Because Japanese archaeology was interwoven with the culture at the time, many of Fujimura’s findings would be used to deduce important cultural aspects such as lucky numbers. Which also had to be reevaluated and checked once the hoax got revealed. Such as the belied that the lucky numbers in modern day Japan, three, seven, and five could be linked back to the Paleolithic era and to the discoveries that Fujimura had found. Once his finding would proved to be fake, this link had to be cut and Japan lost their understanding of an important cultural aspect of their life. [2]

Media at the time was especially guilty of exploiting the world of archaeology to further their narrative. In order to establish pride in the citizens of Japan, many media outlets would write articles about the discoveries of Japanese archaeology in a populist fashion. The attention to archaeology was especially needed post-war as many sites had been destroyed due to bombing and lack of care; the hope was that with the new interest in Japanese archaeology people would want to protect those sites with more vigor. [2]

Fujimura also experienced many mental health issues post being exposed for fraud, which led to him entering a mental institution. So much so that investigations surrounding his work had to be postponed to a further date. He then went on to move from his home, remarry, and change his name, all in order to better his mental health surrounding the scandal and to attempt to create a fresh start. [6] [8]

The Japanese Archaeology Association also published a final report on the Fujimura hoax that was 625 pages long. The cover of the final report was noted to be black in color to represent the loss of innocence within the Japanese Archaeological community as nothing as major or as extreme as the Fujimura incident had ever occurred before. They acknowledged that none of the archaeological material Fujimura had found could be used to further their scientific knowledge of their history. [2]

Fujimura’s discovery also allowed for Japan to contemplate their archaeological system. As it allowed for Fujimura to create incredibly obvious frauds that would contribute to universal knowledge, that misinformation would have to be reversed and the one who will receive the blame more so than Fujimura is the system that didn’t verify his work or allowed his work to be published without peer evaluations. [5] After Fujimura’s hoax was revealed, Japan had to usher in an era of contemplation and restructuring of their archaeological process. As it was far too focused on the nationalistic perspective of proving their ancestors were inventive and ahead of their time, rather than producing certified discoveries that could be fact checked. [5]

Pseudoarchaeological Narrative

Fujimura claims to have continued his scandal for so long because he wished to continue finding more stone artifacts from the paleolithic era, the real issue lies in the culture surrounding him. Post War Japan was eager to prove itself a great country again take the focus off of their war crimes. This meant that the Japanese government would push any “positive” achievement they could towards the public. In essence, it all boils down to nationalism and the need to prove a nation’s superiority. Even if Fujimura wasn’t intentionally trying to showcase these impressive finds in the name of Japanese pride, he still was kept in the spotlight for so long because Japan wanted a positive achievement to come out of their country. They were willing to let Fujimura cheat the system and become an influential archaeologist with no advanced degree or scientific training.

The true motive of why Fujimura acted upon his ideas of forgery remain unanswered. As there have been many theories about why he could have done it, but some comment that when Fujimura was exposed, it was as if it came as a shock to himself as well. [2] Although, the concrete motive might never come to light, there were many external factors that led to Fujimura getting away with his con for so long. As Fujimura’s motive is far less important than the system and culture that allowed him to get away with his hoax for as long as he did. With around 180 sites that have been confirmed to have been tampered by Fujimura, it is far more valuable to understand why no one caught him sooner, if he was so easily caught on camera.

Dissecting the Motive

Japan after World War II attempted to change their image to one of innovation and peace. It is why many today associate it with innovative technology, futuristic society, and above all, well mannered citizens. When an archaeologist such as Fujimura appears and is given such an extreme nickname as “God’s Hands”, it came as no surprise that he would be given the amount of fame he received during his career. Japan could boast about their extensive list of prehistoric findings. One of Fujimura’s stone artifacts was said to be dated back to a time before Japan had been using stone and instead of other archaeologists refuting his claims, they were silenced into allowing the public to believe that their ancestors were more advanced than they originally were led to believe.

Japan’s archaeology society was deeply rooted in nationalistic undertones as everything they were digging was to further the knowledge of the “people’s” history.[2] They were never going to sites without there being a sense that everything they would find would benefit the nation. This, of course, excluded Japanese natives such as the Ainu people as their history and culture would continuously be buried by the advancements in Japanese history even if the history wasn’t true like in the case of the Fujimura hoax.

Some Miyagi archaeologists even attempted to refute Fujimura by acknowledging that the Miyagi prefecture site that Fujimura was at could not have produced paleolithic era artifacts, but all of their rebuttals were ignored by the community due to Japan’s refusal to allow critique and due to the success that Fujimura brought to Japan’s archaeological community.[2] The most notable of these refusals were two Archaeologists by the names of Shizu Oda and Charles Keally. [3] Before Fujimura was exposed for his false discoveries, Oda and Keally both had written about how noticeable the faults in Fujimura’s findings were.[2] However, since the scientific culture at the time did not allow for such blatant critique the two od them were ignored like anyone else who had spoken up about Fujimura. According to Keally, Chosuke Serizawa, the professor that was close to Fujimura, blatantly ignored him at conferences after Keally had published his critique of Fujimura’s work.[2]

Both the media’s fascination with archaeology and its eagerness to pump out new discoveries to inspire pride for their ancestors within the Japanese people and the scientific communities lack of acceptance of critique allowed for Fujimura to act on his impulsive of wanting to dig up fakes for the pure satisfaction of being able to claim to have found more stone material from his time period of choice. If either the media or the scientific community had been more open to the idea of a Japanese archaeologist committing fraud, then Fujimura could have been stopped before his “discoveries” would cause a whole nation’s understanding of their own history to crumble. Fujimura’s findings caused the nation of Japan to take a step back in regards to their own scientific understanding of their history. No longer could Japan pride itself on being so early to use stone material, like Fujimura told them they used; they now had to completely change that narrative and accept that their advancements came much later in their timeline.



  1. [Romey, Kristin M. "'God's Hands' Did the Devil's Work." Archaeology 54.1 (2001): 16-16.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 [Hudson, Mark J. "For the people, by the people: postwar Japanese archaeology and the Early Paleolithic hoax." Anthropological Science 113.2 (2005): 131-139.], The Archaeological Institute of America, June 2016, Access Date Nov 15, 2021
  3. 3.0 3.1 [Lovata, Troy R. Inauthentic archaeologies: public uses and abuses of the past. Routledge, 2016.
  4. [Ikawa-Smith, Fumiko. "Paleolithic Archaeology in Japan." Handbook of East and Southeast Asian Archaeology. Springer, New York, NY, 2017. 195-217.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 [Fan, Ryan. "Fall of a God: Uncovering Japan’s Most Humbling Archaeological Crisis." A publication of the Critical Writing Program The University of Pennsylvania 3808 Walnut Street Philadelphia, PA 19104-6221 (2015): 72.
  6. 6.0 6.1 [Cyranoski, D. Fake finds reveal critical deficiency. Nature 408, 280 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1038/35042725
  7. [Johnston, Grahame. Shinichi Fujimura, Archaeology Expert, http://www.archaeologyexpert.co.uk/shinichifujiama.html.
  8. [“Further Fakes.” Science, vol. 294, no. 5540, 2001, pp. 31–31., https://doi.org/10.1126/science.294.5540.31c.