Qualitative visualization – Pottery of Jomon people

Prehistoric art

It is well known, that prehistoric people depicted things being of importance to them in their caves and rock shelters. The meaning of abstract symbols mostly remains unknown to us, However, objects of their daily life, like humans or animals can still be recognized by us today.

Further information:

In order to communicate the knowledge about phenomena in nature, like flows, from person to person and from generation to generation, which is necessary to extend the knowledge about such phenomena step by step, prehistoric people did not only need to be able to record the image of what they saw in nature, but also reduce the contents of their visualization to the essential features of the relevant flow phenomena, preferably as portable art.

Pottery of Jomon people, resembling vortices behind a cylinder

Of course, it is not known when this step has been achieved in the history of mankind. Nakayama and Fujisawa and co-workers. [1,2] studied ornamental decorations of the pottery of the Jomon people which had been made in 2500 BC and which have been excavated at the Umataka ruin in Niigata prefecture, Japan in 1931. The authors suggest that patterns from the lip and the side walls of the pottery are related to water flows. By flow visualization using the pollen of cedar and pine trees, and computer simulation they support their hypothesis that these patterns depict twin and Kármán vortices behind a cylinder.

Jomon pottery with patterns resembling vortices behind a cylinder, 2500 BC (from Nakayama et al. ISVF12, 2006 paper 217)

Definitely, the capability to depict the essential features of complex flow patterns on permanent and even portable material, would prove the ability of such people to extract the essential features of flow phenomena by visualization and their ability to communicate such knowledge to others.


  1. Nakayama, Y., Oki, M., Aoki, K., and Takayama, S., Jomon pottery observed from the point of view of fluid mechanics, Journal of Visualization, 2004, vol. 7, 349—356,
  2. Fujisawa, N., Brown, K., Nakayama, Y., Hyatt, J., and Corby, T., Visualization of scientific arts and some examples of applications, Journal of Visualization, 2008, vol. 11,  387—394,


Contents provided by Juergen Kompenhans, 20171012