Trade and Entanglement in Precolonial Hokkaido: The Formation of the Okhotsk Culture.

Erin Gamble: Doctoral Dissertation Research: Trade and Entanglement in Precolonial Hokkaido: The Formation of the Okhotsk Culture. National Science Foundation. 2053348, 2021-2023.

This dissertation research examines the impact of trade and culture contact on precolonial foraging societies on Rebun Island in Northern Hokkaido, Japan, and contributes to broader understanding of maritime foraging adaptations in the North Pacific. The proposed work explores the formation of Okhotsk culture, a subarctic maritime-adapted society found along the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk circa 400 to 1000 CE. The PIs hypothesize that the Okhotsk culture arose amidst increased interactions between Epi-Jomon communities in Hokkaido and Susuya communities on Sakhalin Island in the mid-first millennium CE. Okhotsk people became key players in trade networks connecting Japan and mainland Asia, and contributed to the formation of the Indigenous Ainu of Hokkaido, Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands. Patterns in the circulation of non-local materials will shed light on the degree of syncretism among once-distinct cultural traditions, while pottery, burial practices, and household structures will provide data on changing social identities. This research advances global understanding of maritime adaptations and modes of interaction and exchange in the North Pacific, with implications for archaeologists working in coastal and island contexts worldwide.

This research will employ two lines of evidence: excavated pottery from the multicomponent site of Hamanaka 2 on Rebun Island, Hokkaido, and the secondary analysis of published data. The Hamanaka 2 pottery assemblages derive from cultural strata dating from the Epi-Jomon to the historic Ainu. The proposed work will seriate pottery from sequential household occupations and build an absolute chronology using thermoluminescence dating. Geochemical analysis of pottery, via X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy and plasma-mass spectrometry, will enable the PIs to differentiate clay sources and track trade networks. Thin-section analysis of pottery will provide data on mineral composition, grain size, and porosity. Finally, formal analysis of wall thickness, shape and size will contribute data on production methods. In addition to pottery analysis, the PIs will review archival data and published reports on Epi-Jomon and Okhotsk archaeological sites from North Hokkaido, focusing on burial practices and house structure in order to evaluate degree of social differentiation and markers of social identity.