Expedition 2007

The 2007 expedition was conducted in July and August under the scientific directorship of Dr. Ben Fitzhugh and in partnership between the University of Washington, the Russian Academy of Sciences Far East Branch, the Sakhalin Regional Museum of Local Lore, and Hokkaido University. The ship "Iskatel-4," based out of the port of Korsakov, was contracted to carry the expedition to and from the islands.

The project was fortunate this summer to be able to take advantage of partnernership with the Institute of Marine Geology and Geophysics (IMGG) in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Russia. IMGG launched its own field expedition between July 1 and July 15 under the leadership of KBP partner Alexander Rybin to explore aspects of Kuril Geology. The Kuril Biocomplexity Project then supported a second expedition from July 18th to August 14th with NSF support. Several members of the KBP team participated in both expeditions, expanding the time that field research was conducted this summer.

Research Activities during the 2007 Expedition:


1. An advance team joined the IMGG expedition for approximately 14 days of continued research at in southern Urup Island. This region has several interesting archaeological sites with Epi Jomon and Okhotsk culture periods. At least one site appears to have more recent occupation of late Ainu or even perhaps of the Russian American Aleut/Alutiiq occupation. The primary goals of this visit were to further test these sites, especially the Ainu Creek site, which has one of the best preserved deposits of Epi-Jomon and Okhotsk fauna and organic tools yet identified in the archipelago. Recent disturbance at the site due to road construction through a midden area meant that much of this year's effort was devoted to salvaging materials exposed by the disturbance and excavating below the road level to understand the basic stratigraphy of the site. A large sample of faunal material, lithic artifacts, and ceramics were recovered, including some well-preserved bone tools and potential artistic artifacts.

2. When the KBP expedition arrived in the central Kurils in the 3rd week of July the first target was the Vodopadnaya sites of northern Simushir Island. A series of three sites on a terrace above the beach were examined in 2006. Each contained numerous house pits, suggesting large villages occupied this stretch of the islands in Epi-Jomon and Okhotsk times. From the 2000 and 2006 research there is a surprisingly sparse archaeological record of Ainu occupation and possibly even a gap of some 400+ years after the end of the Okhotsk period, before the first Ainu sites are dated (shortly before the first Europeans and Japanese delegates began to document the islands). Our main focus in this investigation, however, was continued testing of the Vodopadnaya 2 site, which in 2006 was found to have good preservation of fauna and organic tools, at least in patches. In addition to re-opening and continuing work in the 2006 test unit, two 2m x 2m excavation units were opened adjacent to the 2006 unit outside of a house pit depression. A number of interesting features including potential storage pits were excavated, and a larger sample of lithic, ceramic, and faunal materaials were recovered from the site. The overall Vodopodnaya site was mapped using a GPS to record the location, number, and dimensions of the numerous house pits spread out across the terrace.

3. Following the ten days spent at the Vodopodnaya site on Simushir Island, the archaeology team moved north to the Drobnyee site on Shiashkotan Island. This site was discovered in 2006, and at that time over 42 house pits depressions were mapped and a couple of test units excavated which indicated a multicomponent site with deep occupation. This year, in addition to re-opening and expanding the 2006 test unit, several other test units were dug in different areas of the site to expand our sample.

4. In addition to more intensive testing of the Vodopodnaya and Drobnyye sites, new archaeological surveys and testing were conducted on the islands of Ekarma, Chirinkotan, Ryponkicha, and Yankicha, snd several new sites on these islands were discovered and may be further tested during the 2008 field season.


The geological work begun in 2006 seeks to document the history of earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions in the Kurils during the past several thousand years, to better understand how these events might have effected people and the ecosystems on which they relied. To facilitate the correlation of geological and archaeological records, part of the work involves geoarchaeological analyses of the stratigraphy of archaeological sites.

In 2007 this work continued with the added incentive to document the character and effects of two historically unprecedented earthquakes and tsunamis that occured in the past year (November 15, 2006 and January 13th, 2007). These quakes occurred in an area of the central Kuril subduction zone that has been inactive since the beginning of modern historical documentation. The rupture of this "central Kuril gap" changes geological understanding of the plate tectonics of the Kuril region. Documenting the tsunami wave effects on the central Kuril islands, one year after similar research documented the "pre-quake" coastal geomorphology was a unique opportunity to understand tsunami processes in the Kurils and to better interpret paleo-tsunami evidence retrieved from the same regions.

Geological work was conducted on Northern Simushir, Ushishir, Matua, and Shiashkotan.