Okhotsk culture

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Okhotsk culture
HokkaidoMapCurrent en.png
Alternative namesProto-Ainu
Geographical rangemainly Hokkaido and the Kurils, parts of southern Sakhalin and northern Honshu
Followed byAinu culture[1]
The Moyoro Shell Midden at Abashiri, Hokkaidō, the ruins of the Okhotsk culture

The Okhotsk culture is an archaeological coastal fishing and hunter-gatherer culture of the lands surrounding the Sea of Okhotsk and northern Japan. The historical Okhotsk people were related to the Chukotko-Kamchatkan peoples and were one of the diverse people living during the Jōmon period in (northern) Japan. The Okhotsk are one of the ancestral components of the Ainu people and probably contributed the Ainu languages and significant cultural elements.[2][3] It is suggested that the bear cult, a practice shared by various Northern Eurasian peoples, the Ainu and the Nivkhs, was an important element of the Okhotsk culture but was uncommon in Jomon period Japan.[4]

A study by Lee and Hasegawa of the Waseda University concluded that the direct ancestors of the later Ainu people formed from the combination of Hokkaido Jōmon (Epi-Jōmon) and from Okhotsk people, long before the arrival of contemporary Japanese people. From Northern Hokkaido, Ainu-speakers expanded into large parts of Honshu and the Kurils. Lee and Hasegawa presented evidence that the Ainu language originated from the Okhotsk population, which established themselves in northern Hokkaido and had significant impact on the formation of the local Jōmon culture and ethnicities. They further concluded that the "dual structure theory" regarding the population history of Japan must be revised and that the Jōmon people had more diversity than originally suggested.[5]

A distinctive trait of the Okhotsk culture was its subsistence strategy, traditionally categorised as a specialised system of marine resource gathering.[6] This is in accord with the geographic distribution of archeological sites in coastal regions and confirmed by studies of animal remains and tools, that pointed to intensive marine hunting, fishing, and gathering activities.[7] Stable nitrogen isotope studies in human remains also point to a diet with rich protein intake derived from marine organisms.[8][9][10] Collagen analysis of human bones revealed a relative contribution of marine protein in a range of 60 to 94% for individuals from Rebun Island and from 80 to 90% for individuals from eastern Hokkaido. However, there is enough evidence to suggest that the Okhotsk people's diet was much more diverse than isotopic data suggests. Their diet was probably complemented with terrestrial mammals, such as deer, foxes, rabbits, and martens. Cut marks in domesticated dog bones suggest they were also part of the diet, and remains of domestic pigs are limited to the north of Hokkaido. There is also evidence of the use of cultivation of barley and foraging of wild plants, including Aralia, Polygonum, Actinidia, Vitis, Sambucus, crowberry, Rubus sp., Phellodendron amurense, and Juglans. Little is known about the role of these plants in the economy or if they had dietary or ritual roles.[11]

Kisao Ishizuki of the Sapporo University suggests that the people of the Okhotsk culture were recorded under the name Mishihase on the Japanese record Nihon Shoki,[12] while others suggest that the term Mishihase described a different group or one of the Nivkh tribes.[13]

According to Kikuchi Toshihiko from the Hokkaido University, the Okhotsk people, which were mainly based in northern Hokkaido, are direct ancestral to the Ainu and can be considered as "proto-Ainu". The Ainu ethnicity finally formed through the combination of these proto-Ainu Okhotsk and Satsumon tribes from further south. Later the Ainu rapidly expanded into Sakhalin and Kamchatka as well as northern Honshu.[14]

The Okhotsk culture appears directly ancestral to the following Ainu culture.[15]

The Okhotsk people, an ancient people of the North, formed the Okhotsk culture unique to Hokkaido from the 5th to 9th centuries. They lived as hunters who caught and ate fish from the sea, and at times caught sea creatures that drifted here along with the sea ice, as the natural bounty found in the Okhotsk Sea was indeed a heavenly blessing. Their expansive living and cultural territory is evidenced by the pit dwelling ruins excavated along the coast of the Okhotsk Sea. They left behind fascinating carvings and earthenware, while evidence suggests that they shared a common belief system with the Ainu culture such as the spiritual worship of the natural world and respect for bears as a sacred animal.

— Hokkaido Museum Abashiri

A study in 2021 (Sato et al.) analyzed the indigenous populations of northern Japan and the Russian Far East. They concluded that Siberia and northern Japan was populated by two distinct waves: "the southern migration wave seems to have diversified into the local populations in East Asia (defined in this paper as a region including China, Japan, Korea, Mongol, and Taiwan) and Southeast Asia, and the northern wave, which probably runs through the Siberian and Eurasian steppe regions."

The Okhotsk culture was found to be an important contributor to the formation of the modern Ainu people: "Archaeologists have considered that bear worship, which is a religious practice widely observed among the northern Eurasian ethnic groups, including the Ainu, Finns, Nivkh, and Sami, was also shared by the Okhotsk people. On the other hand, no traces of such a religious practice have ever been discovered from archaeological sites of the Jomon and Epi-Jomon periods, which were anterior to the Ainu cultural period. Bear worship in the Ainu culture is seen in iomante, a ceremony in which a bear is sacrificed and its spirit is sent to the world of kamuys (a kamuy is a divine being in the Ainu culture). For the Okhotsk culture, the enshrined skulls of brown bears have been discovered in some dwelling sites, suggesting a religious custom associated with bear worship. This implies that the Okhotsk culture contributed to the forming of the Ainu culture."[16]

A genetic study in 2021 (Sato et al.) found that the Ainu derived about ~49% of their ancestry from the Hokkaido Jōmon, ~22% from the Okhotsk (samplified by Chukotko-Kamchatkan peoples), and ~29% from the Yamato Japanese.[16]


  1. ^ "Theme C: Learning about and enjoying the symbiosis between humans and nature from history". Mt. Apoi Geopark Promotion Concil. Japan.
  2. ^ Sato, Takehiro; Amano, Tetsuya (2007). "Origins and genetic features of the Okhotsk people, revealed by ancient mitochondrial DNA analysis". Journal of Human Genetics. 52 (7): 618–27. doi:10.1007/s10038-007-0164-z. PMID 17568987.
  3. ^ Jeong, Choongwon; Nakagome, Shigeki; Rienzo, Anna Di (1 January 2016). "Deep History of East Asian Populations Revealed Through Genetic Analysis of the Ainu". Genetics. 202 (1): 261–272. doi:10.1534/genetics.115.178673. PMC 4701090. PMID 26500257 – via www.genetics.org.
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  5. ^ Lee, Sean; Hasegawa, Toshikazu (April 2013). "Evolution of the Ainu Language in Space and Time". PLOS ONE. 8 (4): e62243. Bibcode:2013PLoSO...862243L. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0062243. PMC 3637396. PMID 23638014. In this paper, we reconstructed spatiotemporal evolution of 19 Ainu language varieties, and the results are in strong agreement with the hypothesis that a recent population expansion of the Okhotsk people played a critical role in shaping the Ainu people and their culture. Together with the recent archaeological, biological and cultural evidence, our phylogeographic reconstruction of the Ainu language strongly suggests that the conventional dual-structure model must be refined to explain these new bodies of evidence. The case of the Ainu language origin we report here also contributes additional detail to the global pattern of language evolution, and our language phylogeny might also provide a basis for making further inferences about the cultural dynamics of the Ainu speakers [44,45].
  6. ^ Hudson, Mark J. (2004). "The perverse realities of change: world system incorporation and the Okhotsk culture of Hokkaido". Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. 23 (3): 290–308. doi:10.1016/j.jaa.2004.05.002.
  7. ^ Leipe, Christian; Sergusheva, Elena A.; Müller, Stefanie; Spengler, Robert N.; Goslar, Tomasz; Kato, Hirofumi; Wagner, Mayke; Weber, Andrzej W.; Tarasov, Pavel E. (2017). "Barley (Hordeum vulgare) in the Okhotsk culture (5th–10th century AD) of northern Japan and the role of cultivated plants in hunter–gatherer economies". PLOS ONE. 12 (3): e0174397. Bibcode:2017PLoSO..1274397L. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0174397. PMC 5371317. PMID 28355249.
  8. ^ Aikens, C. Melvin; Rhee, Song Nai; Circum-Pacific Prehistory Conference, eds. (1992). Pacific northeast Asia in prehistory: hunter-fisher-gatherers, farmers, and sociopolitical elites. Pullman, Wash.: WSU Press. ISBN 9780874220926. OCLC 26403218.
  9. ^ Yoneda, Minoru; Ono, Hiroko; Amano, Tetsuya; Ishida, Hajime; Dodo, Yukio; Honch, Noah V.; Shibata, Yasuyuki; Mukai, Hitoshi; Ohkouchi, Naohiko (2010). "Dietary Reconstruction of the Okhotsk Culture of Hokkaido, Japan, Based on Nitrogen Composition of Amino Acids: Implications for Correction of 14C Marine Reservoir Effects on Human Bones". Radiocarbon. 52 (2): 671–681. doi:10.1017/S0033822200045690.
  10. ^ Yoneda, Minoru; Ishida, Hajime; Naito, Yuichi I.; Tsutaya, Takumi (2014). "Carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses of human and dog diet in the Okhotsk culture: perspectives from the Moyoro site, Japan". Anthropological Science. 122 (2): 89–99. doi:10.1537/ase.140604.
  11. ^ Leipe, Christian; Sergusheva, Elena A.; Müller, Stefanie; Iii, Robert N. Spengler; Goslar, Tomasz; Kato, Hirofumi; Wagner, Mayke; Weber, Andrzej W.; Tarasov, Pavel E. (29 March 2017). "Barley (Hordeum vulgare) in the Okhotsk culture (5th–10th century AD) of northern Japan and the role of cultivated plants in hunter–gatherer economies". PLOS ONE. 12 (3): e0174397. Bibcode:2017PLoSO..1274397L. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0174397. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 5371317. PMID 28355249.
  12. ^ "第4回 北海道と胆振地方の古代史" [The 4th Ancient History of Hokkaido and the Iburi Region] (in Japanese). Tomakomai Komazawa University. Retrieved 22 February 2011.
  13. ^ "ウェブマガジン カムイミンタラ ~北海道の風土・文化誌 :オホーツク文化人とモヨロ貝塚 網走 流氷とともにやってきた古代民族の謎とロマンに魅せられた父子三代と研究者たち" [Web Magazine Kamui Mintara-Hokkaido's Climate and Culture: Okhotsk Culture People and Moyoro Shell Midden Abashiri Three generations of fathers and sons and researchers fascinated by the mysteries and romance of the ancient people who came with the drift ice]. kamuimintara.net (in Japanese). Retrieved 14 May 2019.
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  15. ^ "The Northern People | ROAD EAST". www.road-east.com. Retrieved 16 December 2020.
  16. ^ a b Sato, Takehiro; Adachi, Noboru; Kimura, Ryosuke; Hosomichi, Kazuyoshi; Yoneda, Minoru; Oota, Hiroki; Tajima, Atsushi; Toyoda, Atsushi; Kanzawa-Kiriyama, Hideaki; Matsumae, Hiromi; Koganebuchi, Kae (1 September 2021). "Whole-Genome Sequencing of a 900-Year-Old Human Skeleton Supports Two Past Migration Events from the Russian Far East to Northern Japan". Genome Biology and Evolution. 13 (9): evab192. doi:10.1093/gbe/evab192. ISSN 1759-6653. PMC 8449830. PMID 34410389.

External links[edit]

  • Ohyi, Haruo (1975). "The Okhotsk Culture, a Maritime Culture of the Southern Okhotsk Sea Region". In Fitzhugh, William (ed.). Prehistoric Maritime Adaptations of the Circumpolar Zone. pp. 123–58. doi:10.1515/9783110880441.123. ISBN 978-3-11-088044-1.
  • Okada, Atsuko (1998). "Maritime Adaptations in Hokkaido". Arctic Anthropology. 35 (1): 340–9. JSTOR 40316474.