Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Peopling of Japan

I find the subject of trying to piece together the puzzle of who arrived where and when, and from where, endlessly fascinating. With the advent of technology capable of analyzing DNA, more answers are being provided - and more questions! Old paradigms are falling by the wayside (kicking and screaming all the way). As we refine our technology and techniques of analysis, more answers will be found. Wish I'd be around 100 years from now. Drat! DNA sheds light on mysterious Okhotsk people BY NOBUYUKI WATANABE, THE ASAHI SHIMBUN 2009/2/24 Scholars using DNA testing hope to unravel age-old mysteries surrounding the Okhotsk people, who suddenly disappeared around the 10th century in northern parts of Hokkaido. And their research could shatter theories on the evolution of the indigenous Ainu people. The Okhotsk culture is believed to have originated on Sakhalin and spread south to northern Hokkaido around the fifth century, when Japan was in the kofun period of tumulus mounds. The culture eventually spread to eastern Hokkaido and reached the Chishima archipelago, before disappearing in the 10th century. Researchers in such various fields as archaeology, history and ethnology have tried to figure out just who the Okhotsk people were. Some scholars believe the Okhotsk people were the northern race referred to as Ashihase in the ancient chronicle Nihon Shoki, compiled in the eighth century. Studies have also led researchers to small ethnic groups scattered around Sakhalin, Siberia and the islands in the northern parts beyond Hokkaido. Still, no definitive answer has been found. However, Ryuichi Masuda, an associate professor of molecular phylogenetics at Hokkaido University, and Takehiro Sato, a graduate student, have shed more light on the Okhotsk people. They extracted DNA samples from 37 human remains that were discovered from ruins of the Okhotsk culture and kept at Hokkaido University Museum. Analyses of the characteristics of the mitochondrial DNA led Masuda and Sato to conclude that the Okhotsk people are closest to the Nivkhis, who now live in northern Sakhalin and near the mouth of the Amur river in Siberia. The two also concluded that the Okhotsk people shared a common ancestor with the Ulchis, who live downstream of the Amur river. The Nivkhis and Ulchis are small ethnic groups with only a few thousand survivors remaining. Little is known about the Okhotsk people, who lived along the coast and caught fish and whales while raising dogs and pigs. But studies of the Okhotsk could also help scholars trace the evolution of the Ainu. Rice cultivation did not spread in Hokkaido even during the Yayoi Pottery Culture (300 B.C.-A.D. 300). But a unique culture developed, described as a procession beginning with a Jomon Pottery Culture, followed by a Later Jomon Pottery Culture and a Satsumon Pottery Culture. Although the Ainu are believed to have inherited aspects of Hokkaido culture, they also have cultural factors not found in the Jomon strain, for example their ceremonies involving bears. Moreover, scholars have said that similar habits with bears were found in the Okhotsk culture. Masuda and his associates have confirmed that some Okhotsk people had genetic types similar to those of the Ainu, but these types were not found among the Jomon strain. Tetsuya Amano, an archaeology professor at Hokkaido University, believes the analytic results opened new doors. "It has now become clear that the Ainu are not simply the direct descendants of the Jomon people, but emerged after going through a very complicated process," Amano said. So if the closest people to the Okhotsk were the Nivkhis, what kind of people are they? According to Hidetoshi Shiraishi, an associate professor of linguistics at Sapporo Gakuin University, the Nivkhi language is independent in that it is not structurally related to other languages in the vicinity. The origins of the Nivkhi people are also unclear. While the Nivkhis are believed to have navigated sail boats and led a life centered on fishing, their unique culture has been encroached upon in recent years with gradual integration into Russian culture. "There has been a number of waves of immigrants to Japan, such as the arrival of the Yayoi people, but the southern advance by the Okhotsk people is likely the most recent of those waves," said Naruya Saito, a professor of population genetics at the National Institute of Genetics. However, scholars still do not know what brought those Okhotsk people to Hokkaido. Hiroshi Ushiro, a curator specializing in archaeology at the Historical Museum of Hokkaido, said climate change, or more specifically global warming, may have enabled the Okhotsk people to enter Hokkaido. The latter part of the kofun period when the Okhotsk culture reached northern Hokkaido was relatively warm. Sea levels were about 1 meter higher than they are now. In the early part of the Heian Period (794-1185), when the culture spread across Hokkaido, the average annual temperatures were about 2 to 3 degrees higher than they are today. At that time, on the opposite side of the Eurasia continent, another northern people, the vikings, increased their population due to the warmer weather. The vikings ventured out to sea, conquered various lands in Europe and spread their reach to as far away as Greenland. A similar tale of cultural expansion may have taken place around the same time in the northern parts of the Japanese archipelago. (IHT/Asahi: February 24,2009)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

...ola, dollinks, check out
tzopilotl wordpress for a
wordy dessert on the nivkhi
okhotsk, with ainu gloss,
your pipil of japan very helpful.
tks, carlangas(sp)=old clothes.

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