The Museum of Hoaxes
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Vilcabamba, the town of very old people, 1978
The Olympic Underwear Relay, 1956
Swiss peasants harvest spaghetti from trees, 1957
Boy floats away in balloon, 2009
Bizarre pictographs of Emmanuel Domenech, 1860
Brief History of Triple-Decker Buses
Female thieves hide money in their bras, 1950
The Crown Prince Regent of Thulia, 1954
The Berners Street Hoax, 1810
Monkeys pick cotton, a 19th-century urban legend
The Stone Age Discoveries of Shinichi Fujimura, 2000

One of the 'smoking gun' photographs that showed Fujimura burying artifacts
As a young man, Shinichi Fujimura developed an interest in Japan's pre-history and taught himself archaeology. Soon he was making spectacular finds that caught the attention of researchers around the world. By the age of 50, he had established himself as one of Japan's leading archaeologists.

Fujimura's first major discovery occurred in 1981 when he found stoneware that dated back 40,000 years — the oldest stoneware ever found in Japan. After this discovery his career, and reputation, took off. During the following years, he worked on over 150 archaeological projects around Japan, managing to consistently find increasingly older artifacts that pushed back the limits of Japan's known pre-history. His skill at finding ancient artifacts was so great that a rumor began to spread that he had "divine hands."

Fujimura's career was buoyed by the popularity of archaeology in Japan. Japanese book shops have entire sections devoted to Stone Age Japan, and archaeological discoveries frequently make the front pages of newspapers. School children were taught about Fujimura's finds, and many textbooks contained photographs of Stone Age artifacts discovered by him.

In 2000, Fujimura was excavating a prehistoric site near the town of Tsukidate in the Miyagi Prefecture, about 186 miles northeast of Tokyo. Work at the dig had been proceeding for a while, and a number of important finds had already been made. The town of Tsukidate was enjoying the tourism trade the site attracted. It had created a signature drink, "Early Man," that it sold to tourists, and it had changed its official slogan to "The town with the same skies viewed by early man."

On October 22, 2000 Fujimura and his team announced the discovery of a cluster of stone pieces they believed to be the work of primitive people. They also found several holes that, they hypothesized, had held pillars supporting primitive dwellings. The stones and holes were believed to be over 600,000 years old, making them one of the oldest signs of human habitation in the world. For this reason, the discovery drew international attention.

But on November 5 the Mainichi Shimbun published three pictures on its front page showing Fujimura digging holes at the site and burying artifacts he later dug up and announced as major finds. The artifacts were supposedly Stone Age rocks that had been modified by humans for cutting and scraping. The Mainichi Shimbun had taken the photographs in secret, but did not publish them until it confirmed with Fujimura that he had indeed buried the artifacts himself.

At a press conference on November 5 Fujimura confessed he had planted Stone Age artifacts at the site, and had faked many discoveries. He kept his head bowed in shame during the conference and said, "I was tempted by the Devil. I don't know how I can apologise for what I did... I wanted to be known as the person who excavated the oldest stoneware in Japan."

Fujimura admitted he had planted 27 of the 31 pieces found at the Miyagi site. He also admitted he had planted all 29 pieces found earlier in the year at the Soshinfudozaka archeological site in Shintotsugawa, in the north of Japan. Suspicion was immediately cast over all the sites he had ever worked on in Japan.

The revelations shocked the nation and angered Fujimura's colleagues. Hiroshi Kajiwara, a professor at Tohoku Fukushi University, said, "My 20 years of research are ruined . . . Why on earth did he do such a stupid thing?"

Inevitably the question was raised of how Fujimura could have gotten away with such an elaborate deception for so long. Part of the reason lay in the difficulty of dating stone implements. They can only be dated by the stratum in which they are found, meaning that it is almost impossible to differentiate between planted artifacts and real ones.

Some researchers did claim they had noticed that Fujimura's discoveries did not appear to be adequately stained considering their supposed internment for thousands of years. But they had been reluctant to challenge Fujimura on this point because of his strong reputation.

In the wake of the revelations, Fujimura was dismissed from his position as a senior researcher at the Tohoku Paleolithic Institute. Publishers frantically tried to find and correct the pictures of his artifacts they had included in their textbooks.

This was not the first time the Japanese archaeological community had been fooled by a hoax. In 1931 it was duped by an amateur archaeologist named Nobuo Naora who discovered what he claimed was the hip bone of a primitive man. Naora even got round to giving his find an official name: 'Akashi Genjin,' after the location where he supposedly found it in the Hyogo Prefecture.

Links and References
  • Eric Prideaux, "Japanese archeologist says he faked discovery," Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 6, 2000.
  • "Japanese archeologist admits groundbreaking find a hoax: Artifacts buried last month, newspaper photographs show," National Post, Nov. 6, 2000.
  • "History book to carry notes on fake finds," The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 10, 2000.
In your article about Shinichi Fujimura you call the black rice sake Early Man when it is really Cave Man.
Posted by Anon.  on  Sat Aug 16, 2003  at  03:00 PM
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All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.