The Kanayama Megaliths and Archaeoastronomy in Japan 
  The Ancient Solar Calendar

 Advisors ≫ Advisors' Corner  Dr.STEFAN MAEDER

Dr. Stefan Maeder graduated from Albert-Ludwigs-University Freiburg, Germany, with an M.A. degree in Archaeology and Celtic Studies in 1996. In 2001 he received his doctoral degree from Humboldt University Berlin with a thesis on cultural and technological comparisons between Japanese Swords and Early Medieval European specimen. With respect to the international "megalithic phenomena" he emphasizes the necessity of an interdiscplinary and intercultural approach for a more comprehensive evaluation of the Kanayama megaliths. From a wider archaeological perspective it is highly probable that limited excavations at the Kanayama megaliths will provide further answers to a range of questions concerning astronomical aspects of prehistoric religion in Japan.

September 8, 2011 The Kanayama Megaliths from an Archaeological Perspective
・February 10, 2011. Discovered the "Big Dipper" Cup Marks.
・2011 List of publications and activities
・November 19, 2010. Interview, International Lounge Kokugakuin Univ. (In Japanese)
June 15, 2010.
Archaeological Expertise

・August 10,2009. KANAYAMA-MEGALITHEN (In German)

 September 8, 2011  The Kanayama Megaliths from an Archaeological Perspective

The Kanayama Megaliths from an Archaeological Perspective
(Stefan Maeder, Sept. 8th 2011)

When viewing the imposing rocks of the Kanayama Kyoseki-gun for the first time, they may appear just like one of the marvels of nature so numerous in Japan. But this is only one aspect of this formation of volcanic rocks. Reading about the possible significance of light phenomena within the two major accumulations for the first time in autumn 2008 I was very sceptical concerning an interpretation of the site as linked to cultural astronomy in prehistoric Japan

It was then that I was invited by Mr. Yoshiki Kobayashi, Ms. Shiho Tokuda and Ms. Kikuko Funabashi to have a look at the evidence myself in June 2009. In the meantime during several visits I could verify the light-phenomena and the rock-surfaces at first hand. The question was: is there hard and fast evidence for the presence of and eventual alteration of the rock surfaces by man?

In short there are the following pointers which in my view render a more thorough archaeological examination of the site necessary:

  • The entrance area of the “cave” under Senkoku-Ishi shows work-traces of stone-tools.
  • The hollow underneath was not filled with rock-debris which could be expected if the ceiling and walls had broken down naturally.
  • From the filling of this cavity Mr. Kobayashi and Ms. Tokuda could save Jomon-period scrapers and charcoal-samples which were dated by the C-14 method around 2800 B.C..
  • Two stone-tools were found by the present writer on the surface close to the rocks: one is a so-called “Suri-ishi”, typical for Jomon culture. The other is a fragment of a stone-hammer with traces of use and apparently flattened surfaces.
  • The shape of the carvings above the cavity corresponds clearly to the varying size of the speck of light that can be viewed in the northern part of the “Cave” around the summer solstice with the biggest carving marking the shape of the light-speck during the three of the solstice.
  • There are other rough carvings and traces of pre-industrial rock-cutting at the site.
  • The light phenomena in Iwaya Iwakage are amazing and would have drawn the attention of early dwellers without any reasonable doubt, whether for calendarical or ritual use.
  • The fact that there is a Myouken-Shrine in Iwaya-Iwakage is further evidence for a long tradition of north-star, resp. Big-Dipper-worship in Japan. This tradition is highlighted by 10 roughly shaped cupmarks on the outer surface of the rock formation whose arrangement corresponds to a mirror-inverted representation of the big-dipper (see candle experiment). Furthermore there is an alignment pointing out true north through stone J and the Big Dipper-carving.

As the earliest mythological traditions of Japan are full of references to “heavenly rock-houses”, “heavenly stone-boats”, “heavenly rock-caves” “1000-man-draught-stones”, “500-man-draught-stones” (well, isn’t that a good description for a megalith?) etc. connected to the early Japanese Pantheon it should be borne in mind that in any culture with the need for orientation in time and space calendrical observations were paramount. In this context a deity of the center of the universe, a pole-star deity, occurs not only in the first sentence of the Kojiki, but also in ancient Egypt, Sumeria, etc.. The question is wether one decides to see all of Japanese mythology to be politically motivated imports from the mainland, or wether one is ready to accept that there was a higher level of civilization in Japan as hitherto supposed by historians and archaeologists. The Kanayama Megaliths are a natural and cultural treasure which deserves to be researched on an interdisciplinary basis without prejudice.




線刻石の下 にある洞窟の入口付近は石器が用いられた形跡を示している。


 Feburary 10, 2011.  Discovered the "Big Dipper" Cup Marks

 2011 List of publications and activities

List of Scientific activities, Stefan Maeder, PhD, MA.

 November 19, 2010.  Interview, International Lounge

Interview, International Lounge Kokugakuin Univ.
(In Japanese)


 June 15, 2010  Archaeological Expertise
The Kanayama-megaliths,
Gifu-prefecture, Gero-city, Kanayama-cho

Archaeological Expertise

By: Stefan Maeder, Archaeologist (PhD, M.A.)
MeijiUniversity,Kokukaguin University,Tokyo
Old Arsenal Museum Solothum,Switzerland

             Maps, an outline of the research-history and the archaeoastronomical hypotheses concerning the site can be found online under the following address: In addition, some information on the site has recently been published in the Journal AERA (2010.6/21, Vol. 23, No. 27, pp. 44-48).

             In winter 2008/2009 I contacted the research group to express professional skepticism concerning the astronomical interpretation of annually recurring sunbeam-phenomena at the Senkoku-ishi and the Iwaya-Iwakage-formations, which form the two focal points of the site. Subsequently I was kindly invited to inspect the site from an archaeological viewpoint. Accepting the invitation I visited the site for the first time on the 19th/20tth of June 2009, on the 18th to the 22nd of March 2010 and on the 21st-22nd of May 2010. The main objective was to check the probability to which extent prehistoric human activity was involved in the supposed arrangement, shaping and carving of the rocks.

             It is well confirmed by archaeological excavations that the Kanayama-area was settled from the initial to the middle Jomon-period (from ca. 6000 to ca. 3000 B.C.). After having visited the site three times there can be no doubt in my opinion that several of the larger rhyolithic rocks have been worked by applying stone-tools. This is shown by some rock-splitting preparation seams, by angularly flattened rock-surfaces, by carvings in the shape of crescents, a triangle, the top view of stone axes and several irregularly shaped cup-marks which differ significantly from the surface-structure of the surrounding rock. All of these features display heavy weathering.

             Between the rocks and actually in a cavity under the Sen-Koku-Ishiseveral artefacts from the Jomon-period have been found (scraper, blade-fragments, microliths, charcoal yielding a C-14 date of ca. 2800 B.C.). Further the presence of two eventual stone-working mauls in the shape of two large rounded (carved?) quartzite pebbles preserved in the side shrines of the Myouken-Jinja, of one complete and one fragmented stone-hammer are telling evidence that stone-working took place at the site in a time-period well before the arrival of metal-tools.

             Under the biggest rock in the Senkoku-ishiformation two cavities are present: both were excavated by Mr. Y. Kobayashi and Ms. S. Tokuda. The northern one may well be natural. In this cavity occur sunbeam-phenomena, which result in the biggest outline of a “Sun-spot” during the summer solstice. This speck of light increases in size from about 60 days before and diminishes in size until around 60 days after the summer solstice, after which time no sunbeam does enter the chamber.

             The presence of three deeply carved depressions above this chamber, whose outline corresponds to the shape of the “sun-spots” on the chamber-ground at the summer solstice, as well as before and after, makes them the first pointers towards a link between hitherto found archaeological evidence on the site and astronomical/calendrical observation. The second point consists of at least two representations of “stone axes in top view” carved on the eastern surface of the same rock and pointing out the shadow of an opposed rock during the summer solstice. The third point is the creating of a second cavity under the Senkoku-Ishi into which light of the rising sun penetrates only around the summer solstice. The shape and surface of this cavity´s ceiling correspond to evidence obtained from Neolithic flint-, copper- and haematite-mines in Europe which date from ca. 5000 B.C. to the early second millennium B.C.. The worked surface on the right side of the entrance apparently was worked with the same kind of rounded stone-hammers, which could be gathered on the surface around the megaliths. If the cavity would have originated from natural weathering, the debris must have fallen down and would have been present when this small area was excavated in 2003. However the cavity was filled with soil containing worked silex-microliths and not rock-debris. This artificial cavity makes no sense from a mining-point of view. The fact that sunbeams are entering this cave only around the summer solstice, make it another archaeological pointer towards a possible archaeoastronomical significance of the site.

             The fourth point linking archaeological evidence to observational astronomy is the arrangement of irregularly shaped and heavily weathered cupmarks in the shape of the “Big-Dipper”-constellation on a rock beside the Myouken-Jinja(initially the deified heavenly pole, then worshipped as Hokuto Shichisei) at the site. The cup-marks apparently have been created by stone chisels as was the case also with megalithic carvings inEurope, especially in Ireland and Britanny. This representation of the Big Dipper has prehistoric parallels in China, Iraq,Switzerland, France, Germany, Denmark, Scotland and Sweden. The evidence gathered during three visits to the site in my view justifies the demand for a more thorough archaeological and astronomical analysis. The tentative option for verifying early observational astronomy in Japan before the arrival of continental astronomical concepts is a matter that should not be dismissed lightly.

金山巨石群 −岐阜県下呂市金山町

考古学博士、修士 (明治大学、国学院大学 ; 東京)


また、最近発行された、朝日新聞出版の週刊誌「朝日新聞ウィークリーAERA」にも記事が掲載されている。(2010.6/21, Vol. 23, No. 27, pp. 44-48).












 August 10, 2009  Zur Frage der prahistorischen Himmelsbeobachtung in Japan

Ein Besuch bei den Kanayama-Megalithen, Stadtkreis Gero,Gifu-Prafektur
Zur Frage der prahistorischen Himmelsbeobachtung in Japan

Schwertbrucken Forschung und Kulturaustausch - Zwischen Japan und Europa
(In German)

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