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Ancient arrowheads returned to Misawa after 60 years

Back in the day

Former U.S. Air Force Sgt. Alan R. Stephenson poses for a photo during the 1950s. Stephenson served in Japan from 1950 to 1954. Upon his return to the states, he dedicated himself to education and received a Bachelor and Master of Arts from Albany State University as well as a Ph.D. in communications from Ohio State University. Stephenson found ancient arrowheads during a Misawa Air Base renovation in Japan. Before his death, he wished to have the artifacts returned to their original place. (Photo Courtesy of the Stephenson estate)

Eyes right

Former U.S. Air Force Sgt. Alan R. Stephenson in a candid moment. Stephenson served in Japan from 1950 to 1954. Upon his return to the states, he dedicated himself to education and received a Bachelor and Master of Arts from Albany State University as well as a Ph.D. in communications from Ohio State University. Stephenson found ancient arrowheads and obsidian tools on Misawa Air Base renovation. Before his death, he wished to have the artifacts returned to Japan. (Photo Courtesy of the Stephenson estate)

Ancient pieces

Arrowheads estimated to be between 2,300 and 15,000 years old were found at Misawa in 1954 by an Air Force electronics specialist. For years, the Airman kept these artifacts in his possession, but after his death in 2017, the executor of his will arranged for them to be sent back to Japan. They were returned to the wing historian earlier this year and repatriated to Misawa City Oct. 23, 2018.(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Xiomara M. Martinez)

Giving back

U.S. Air Force Col. Kristopher Struve, left, the 35th Fighter Wing commander, returns historical arrowheads and other artifacts to Kazumasa Taneichi, right, the Misawa City Mayor, in Misawa City, Japan, Oct. 23, 2018. With the return of these ancient obsidian artifacts, Japanese historians and other scholars have the opportunity to add more historical information on the very early history of Northern Japan and the Misawa area. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Xiomara M. Martinez)

Ancient artifacts

Kazumasa Taneichi, the Misawa City Mayor, pauses for a photo with historical artifacts in Misawa City, Japan, Oct. 23, 2018. Shortly after the Korean War, an Airman stationed at Misawa Air Base in 1954 found chipped obsidian arrowheads and other ancient artifacts from the Neolithic era estimated to be between 2,300 to 15,000 years old. After a successful life and before his passing, Dr. Alan Stephenson had one final wish: that his arrowheads would return to Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Xiomara M. Martinez)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan --

At the end of the Korean War, Airman 1st Class Alan R. Stephenson received an assignment to Misawa Air Base, Japan, as an electronics specialist on what is known today as Security Hill. It was here in 1954 that he discovered 13 obsidian tools, spear points, and arrowheads. At the time, he thought nothing of collecting them and kept them as souvenirs from his time in northern Japan. For the next 64 years, these artifacts sat in an old Kodak movie film box in his office, protected and preserved from time.

 
After his return to the United States, Stephenson dedicated himself to his education and excelled at Albany State University, receiving his Bachelor of Arts in 1955 and his Master of Arts in 1958. He would later earn a Ph.D. in communications from The Ohio State University, too. He credited his career path to his electronics training and experience he received while serving in the United States Air Force and operating theatrical lighting for Page Hall presentations.

 
Stephenson worked in the new medium of television, becoming the Director of School Television for the State of Massachusetts for three years. He then returned to Ohio to work at a local television station in Cleveland. Stephenson also worked briefly as the executive vice president of a small cable company before becoming an associate professor (1985-2002) and professor (2002-2015) in the Tim Russert Department of Communications and Theater Arts at John Carroll University in Ohio. He had a passion for life and many wonderful experiences. He traveled extensively, including more than three trips to Africa and a trip behind the Iron Curtain to report on the Holocaust. This report garnered him a regional Emmy Award.

Stephenson also served as the lead author of the Broadcast Announcing Work text and was instrumental in developing the North East Ohio Broadcast archives at the university. Later, he received the Lower Great Lakes Chapter of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences President’s Award for “Outstanding Contributions Made to the Development and Advancement of Educational Television and for Dedication to Preserving Cleveland’s Television History Archives.”

 
It was his love of education and his work with the Holocaust documentary and Television History Archives that eventually brought him to the realization the artifacts he collected so long ago in Japan were probably culturally significant to the Japanese people, similar to the significance of Native American artifacts to the tribal cultures of the United States.

 

As he grew older, he determined he would find a way to return these artifacts to the people and Government of Japan. Sadly, Dr. Alan R. Stephenson passed away on Aug. 10, 2017, before he could accomplish his goal, but the executor of his estate, Dr. Mary E. Beadle, followed through with his final wishes. She contacted Mr. James Burrett, the 35th Fighter Wing Historian, who ensured the safe delivery of the artifacts to Japan.

After examining the artifacts and consulting with historical agencies throughout Japan, Burrett and local historians determined they were from the Neolithic era, estimated to be between 2,300 and 15,000 years old. These artifacts are particularly significant, as tools from that era had not found in this area before and helped to establish new knowledge about the Aomori prefecture history.

 
On Oct. 23, 2018. Col. Kristopher W. Struve, the 35th FW commander, officially repatriated the arrowheads and tools to the Government of Japan and the Japanese people, thus fulfilling Dr. Stephenson’s dying wish to have them returned to their homeland and people for future generations to study and learn from them.