Environment, Ecology, and Interaction in Japan, Korea, and the Russian Far East: The Millennial History of a Japan Sea Oikumene

Article excerpt


THIS ARTICLE MAKES THE CASE THAT THE SEA OF JAPAN, or East Sea as it is known in Korea, (1) is the center of a distinctive cultural zone within which interacting human societies have long shared both ecological and technological patterns and trajectories, and correspondingly have reacted in like ways to historical influences reaching them from outside. The account to follow attends to details of environmental settings, archaeological assemblages, and chronology in order to demonstrate the continuity and interplay of ecological and culture-historical factors that has characterized this region from the late glacial age into the modern era and given it an identity all its own. We argue that this "Japan Sea Oikumene" (Greek Oikos, "house"), is an interactive culture-historical unity in its own right, rather than an aggregate of "peripheries" to adjacent Chinese, steppe, and boreal cultures, as historians and earlier archaeologists have typically perceived it (Kuzmin and Orlova 1998). Table 1 offers a schematic overview of the relationships that are the subject of this article.

The wooded mountains, river valleys, and seacoasts of Korea, Japan, and the Russian Far East have been treated by historians since classical times as "barbarian land" that was ultimately "civilized" to varying degrees by Chinese influence. In his pioneering archaeological summary of the region Chard (1974 : xv, 56-108) presented a much deeper picture of these Northeast Asian cultures. He gave them a history and roots of their own as deep as China's, but continued to identify them as a congeries of individual entities, "independent hearths of culture" that were defined by external influences from bordering regions, or were perhaps simply the edges of those regions. Current research continues to recognize variation and distant relations, but also stresses environmental and developmental factors within the region as a whole (Nelson 2006 : 4-8).

With the progress of research, it is now possible to describe the Sea of Japan environs as a distinctive ecological and cultural interaction sphere (cf. Caldwell 1958) that has developed a long-lived and "specific, preponderant, interwoven, definable mass of culture" (Kroeber 1952 : 395) and has interactively sustained its unity over thousands of years. As Barnes (1993:7) stresses, the developmental trajectory of the lands east and north was much different from that of the China mainland until very late in the cultural history of what we now call East Asia. We essay here to present this trajectory in its own terms as the growth of a "Japan Sea Oikumene" that has long maintained its own organic and interactive unity. It is a unity in many ways analogous to those that developed over thousands of years in western Europe and eastern North America.


Upper Palaeolithic cultural remains can be traced from late Pleistocene times across the Russian Far East, Korea, and Japan, as the following review will show, with technologically and typologically similar lithic industries documenting thousands of years of cultural continuity and sharing across the Japan Sea Oikumene as a whole. Highly problematic and unconfirmed sites attributed to Lower or Middle Palaeolithic times, such as Filimoshiki and Diring Yuriakh in the Russian Far East; Sozudai, Hoshino and a series of fraudulent claims exposed in Japan; and Chongok-ni in Korea, among others, have been elsewhere considered and are not addressed here as credible pre-Upper Palaeolithic finds.

Within the Russian Far East, the Upper Palaeolithic horizon is identified by large blades and bladelike flakes made from flat, Levallois-like prepared cores, followed by leaf-shaped biface knives and points associated with wedge-shaped microcores and blades (Brantingham et al. 2004; Derevianko 1983; Derevianko and Tabarev 2006 : 44-51; Derevianko et al. …


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