Towards a prehistory of the Great Divergence:

The Bronze Age roots of Japan’s premodern economy

  • Mark J. Hudson Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Keywords: agriculture; globalisation; mode of production; Great Divergence; Bronze Age; Japan


This essay argues that the primary socio-economic formations of premodern Japan were formed in the Bronze Age via processes of ancient globalisation across Eurasia. Multi-crop cereal agriculture combining rice, millet, wheat and barley with a minor contribution from domesticated animals spread from Bronze Age Korea to Japan at the beginning of the first millennium BC. This agricultural system gradually expanded through the archipelago while engendering new economic niches centred on trade, raiding and specialised fishing. From the fifth century AD the horse became widely used for warfare, transport and overseas trade. While alluvial rice farming provided staple finance for the early state, it is argued here that the concept of the ‘maritime mode of production’ better explains economic processes in the nonstate spaces of Japan until the early seventeenth century. Despite this diversity in socio-economic formations, the post-Bronze Age globalisation of food in Japan appears to have been delayed compared to many other regions of Eurasia and to have been less impacted by elite consumption. Further research is required to confirm this suggestion and the essay outlines several areas where archaeological research could contribute to debates over the ‘Great Divergence’ and the economic development of the modern world.


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How to Cite
J. HudsonM. (2019). Towards a prehistory of the Great Divergence:. Documenta Praehistorica, 46, 30-43.