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Reviewed by:
  • Hunter-Gatherers of the North Pacific Rim
  • C. Melvin Aikens
Hunter-Gatherers of the North Pacific Rim. Junko Habu, James M. Savelle, Shuzo Koyama, and Hitomi Hongo, eds. Senri Ethnological Studies No. 63. Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology, 2003. 277 + iv pp.

This volume is made up of selected papers from academic sessions and public symposia held in Aomori, Japan, 21–25 October 1998. The Aomori conference followed [End Page 383] sessions at the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka and preceded additional sessions in Hokkaido, each part of the traveling Monbusho International Symposium "Foraging and Post-Foraging Societies: History, Politics, and the Future."

The editors introduce the book in a chapter titled "Complex Hunter-Gatherer Studies in Japan and the North Pacific Rim." Thence, it falls out in three parts: "Evolutionary Changes in Hunter-Gatherer Cultures: Theoretical Perspectives"; "Pacific Rim Hunter-Gatherers in Different Environments: Ecology, History, and Diversity"; and "Jomon Hunter-Gatherers at Sannai Maruyama and its Vicinity: Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherers in Northeastern Japan." The editors aptly trace the genealogy of this collection back to Affluent Foragers, published in 1981 as volume 9 of Senri Ethnological Studies (Shuzo Koyama and David Hurst Thomas, eds.). Following up on that beginning, the key themes variously explored by the different authors of the present volume are long-term change in hunter-gatherer sociocultural complexity and cultural variability in relation to environmental and historical contexts. Sites and localities from Okinawa to northern California figure in these discussions.

Beginning Part I, Ben Fitzhugh discusses the evolution of complex hunter-gatherers on the Kodiak archipelago. He traces out a trajectory from colonization and expansion about 7,000 years ago to a subsequent advent of territoriality and reduced foraging ranges. This was fostered by mass-harvest fishing technology after about 4,000 years ago, and led on to increased population density, competition and the emergence of social inequality by about 2,000 years ago. Serious competition and warfare by about 1,000 years ago, and a consolidation of political power and social inequality within the last few centuries, lead up to the ethnographically known situation.

William Prentiss and James Chatters follow Fitzhugh. They characterize in broad fashion the evolution of socioeconomic systems on both the northwest coast and interior parts of North America, envisioning an explicitly selectionist dynamic. As they read the evidence, an early array of diverse subsistence-settlement systems—mostly of the foraging type—was decimated by severe pressures of Neoglacial cooling about 4,000 years ago. The economies that survived this period of selective stress were logistically organized collector systems, which then flourished with ameliorating climate after about 3,500 years ago to spread the logistically organized and socially complex systems that have characterized the region ever since. It is an appealingly reasonable and straightforward perspective that can help focus much further investigation.

Part II of the volume, which addresses the considerable cultural diversity that exists within the fairly homogeneous North Pacific environmental zone, appropriately begins with a paper by Peter Schweitzer. His thoughtful account, focused on the higher Beringian latitudes, demonstrates that there is yet reason to take account of cultural tradition and continuity (amidst our current preoccupation with ecological and sociocultural models) if we are to fully understand the uneven distribution of social inequality along the edge of the North Pacific. James Savelle and George Wenzel follow with an insightful interpretation of Thule social structure in the eastern Canadian arctic that also weaves together ethnographic, archaeological, and environmental considerations, but in a different way. Their task, which they accomplish very well, is to relate the social institutions of the Inuit whaling crew leader and men's house to the structuring of corporate groups in the eastern Arctic. The paper is both theoretical and concrete, anchored with reference to variably complex community patterns seen among eight Thule period archaeological sites on Somerset Island.

The last three papers of Part II work with geographical extremes of the region under consideration. Carolyn Dean Kuhn Dillian uses obsidian source data to reexamine an old ethnographic question about territorial relationships among the Karok, Modoc, and other tribes of northern California. In adducing substantial geochemical evidence that the Modoc, rather than the [End Page...


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