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Guest Post: A View on Archaeology From Japan - Hakai Institute

Guest Post: A View on Archaeology From Japan

Working across the Pacific neighborhood.

Thanks to our Japanese colleagues, archaeologists Naoto Yamamoto, Tomonori Kanno, and Rika Shinkai, who wrote this post for us. It was our pleasure to have them visit us at the Hakai Institute.

In May 2015, American wet site archaeology specialist Dr. Dale Croes and we three Japanese archaeologists arrived at the Hakai Institute to participate in field research on Triquet Island (EkTb-9) being directed by Dr. Duncan McLaren, the Hakai Archaeology Project director.


You might wonder why Japanese archaeologists came and joined the dig. Let me tell you why. We all specialize in the ancient Japanese culture known as Jomon (15,000 cal BP–2,500 cal BP). Jomon people were one of the earliest pottery and lacquer ware makers in the world. Jomon literally means “cord-marked” pottery—because they made a lot of decorative pottery on which are the impressions of twisted cords.

Though there are differences between the Jomon and the Northwest Coast peoples (in particular, pottery and lacquer manufacturing), they were both cultures focused economically on fishing, hunting, and gathering, and there are a lot of similarities in their ways of life. It is very important for us to study both across the Pacific.

Dale, Naoto, Tomonori, and Japanese zooarchaeologist Professor Akira Matsui (my boss, who passed away in June 2015) have worked together for years on comparative studies across the Pacific. (We are so sorry Akira could not join the research this year because of his illness. As Dale often says “we are the Pacific neighborhood.”)

We are also the project members of Dr. Junko Habu’s (a professor at the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Japan/concurrent at University of California, Berkeley) program entitled Long-term Sustainability through Place-Based, Small-scale Economies: Approaches from Historical Ecology. She supported our research.

Dale found a nice chiton.

Arrival at the Hakai Institute

The first thing that surprised us was the Hakai Institute on Calvert Island. It was so unique and beyond our imagination. A lot of experts from various fields were gathered for field research. At dinner, they talked well, ate well, and laughed. How wonderful to share the same place and discuss points of view from various disciplines! It is amazing the Institute provided us with such a nice lab (dining hall) for interdisciplinary activity. All the dishes in the dining hall were excellent, and the best spice was the academic stimulation.

Field Research on Triquet Island

Excavations at Triquet Island were focused on wet site remains dating between 8,000 and 5,000 years old. Preserved artifacts include those made from stone, bone, shell, and wood.

Triquet is a beautiful uninhabited island and a great place for experimental archeology. Well-preserved mussels and butter clams were recovered from the archaeological site, and we also enjoyed getting mussels and clams when the tide went down, exactly the same way as the old inhabitants did. By comparison, there are about 1,000 Jomon shell middens in Japan, but the destruction of ecosystems has made it very hard for us to get clams in this way.

We learned the spruce roots were very useful and good for baskets. Dale found a nice spruce tree and showed us how to collect the roots, peeled off their barks, and made me a bracelet on Mother’s Day!

Rika, Naoto, and Tomonori digging clams.
John Maxwell built tripods for screening material.

We camped out in the forest and saw a lot of spruce cones on the ground. During excavation of wet site deposits, we also saw many preserved cones. We were fascinated by the ancient cones (over 5,000 years old) preserved so well they appeared as if they had fallen down just a couple of days ago.

Our campsite in the forest.
Guess which of these spruce cones is modern and which is 5,000 years old.

This island is the territory of the Heiltsuk people. We heard many stories from the nice couple Joshua Vickers and Andrea Walkus. Josh shared herring roe on hemlock branches and Andrea pickled them with soy sauce and onion. They are so delicious and reminded us of our homeland. Herring roe is also popular in Japan for a traditional New Year’s food as the eggs are symbols of fertility and abundance.

Herring roe is a British Columbia delicacy also prized in Japan.
Heiltsuk field assistant Andrea is also a fantastic cook.

We enjoyed cross cultural experience through this research, learned a lot from Hakai archaeology, and also told the crews about ancient Jomon culture.

We really appreciate the great help provided by Dr. Duncan McLaren and all crew members. They are ALL very kind and truly hard workers.

Tomonori delicately brushes sand off the peat.

I would like to express our heartfelt appreciation to the Hakai Institute, Dr. Eric Peterson and Ms. Christina Munck. When I was at Hakai, I wondered many times why they could make such a great facility, why they created such an amazing environment for scholars and students? I was told that Eric Peterson followed his grandmother’s teachings:

“Do well, and make sure you do good.”

What great words! I will share the story with my children.


August 4, 2015, Duncan and Dale came over to Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Japan, and gave lectures for a Japanese audience.

Duncan delivering a talk in Nara following the field season.

本ブログ内容は、2015年5月、総合地球環境学研究所;羽生淳子教授によるプロジェクト「地域に根ざした小規模経済活動と長期的持続可能性」の一環として派遣された3名、名古屋大学:山本直人(教授)、東北大学:菅野智則(准教授)、奈文研:真貝理香(客員研究員) が、カナダ・ブリティッシュコロンビア州、トリケット島における考古学調査に参加した際のエピソードをまとめたものです。