Intriguing archaeological sites that may go back 15,000 years and a mountain lake pierced by a volcanic cone that has been isolated for at least 30,000 years are among the primary targets for an international team of researchers heading for the North Pacific in the sixth year of the International Kuril Island Project.
Scientists and students from the University of Washington, Russia and Japan will spend six weeks in July and August in the remote island chain that stretches for about 750 miles between the northern tip of Japan and Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula. Ted Pietsch, UW fisheries professor and curator of fishes at the UW's Burke Museum, says this is the first Kuril expedition to have a major archaeological component, following successful seasons studying the flora and fauna of the islands. All the expeditions have been funded by the National Science Foundation.
UW assistant archaeology professor Benjamin Fitzhugh, three UW students and other colleagues from the U.S., Russia and Japan plan to survey the region for clues about early residents of the islands and, perhaps, links to the peopling of the Americas. The possible spread of seafaring people from the Kurils to Alaska's Aleutian Islands intrigues scientists who theorize that the earliest Americans may have found their way to the continent by sea as well as via the Bering land bridge.
"We know people from Japan and Kamchatka interacted back and forth through the historic period," said Fitzhugh. "We suspect an even earlier Aleutian-Kuril connection. For example recent finds in the central Aleutians include prehistoric artifacts belonging to the Ainu culture of northern Japan or the Kuril Islands. These connections may have existed far into the past. People would have traveled by boat along the coast and we are looking for an old link between Japan and Kamchatka."
A site on Onekotan Island in the northern Kurils features a number of curious circular mounded earth rings 9 to 13 meters
Contact: Joel Schwarz
University of Washington