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  • In MemoriamYosihiko H. Sinoto (3 September 1924 – 4 October 2017)
  • Patrick V. Kirch

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Kenneth P. Emory (left) and Yosihiko H. Sinoto (right) at the Pu‘u Ali‘i sand dune site, South Point, Hawai‘i Island, in 1954, examining a remaining block of the thick midden layer that Emory had been excavating in arbitrary 6-inch levels. (Photograph courtesy of Y. H. Sinoto)

yosihiko h. sinoto (1924–2017) and his contributions to polynesian archaeology

Yosihiko H. Sinoto, known to his friends and colleagues as Yosi, passed away on 4 October 2017, at the age of 93, having spent a remarkable 62 years of his life in pursuit of the Polynesian past. His long career spanned virtually the entire history of modern [End Page 325] archaeology in the Pacific, beginning with the inception of stratigraphic excavation after World War II. Although he also carried out brief field projects in Micronesia and Western Polynesia, most of his research was focused on Eastern Polynesia, especially in Hawai‘i, the Society Islands, and the Marquesas. In these key archipelagoes, Sinoto discovered and excavated some of the most iconic of Polynesian sites, including Pu‘u Ali‘i and Wai‘ahukini at South Point, Hawai‘i, Hane on Ua Huka in the Marquesas, and Vaito‘otia-Fa‘ahia on Huahine in the Society Islands. Guided by his material culture-centered approach to archaeology and drawing upon erudition gained from decades of meticulous study of the hundreds of fishhooks, adzes, ornaments, and other artifacts he excavated, Sinoto substantially revised our understanding of the course of human migrations into and across the Pacific. That not all of his theories have withstood the test of more recent research is not surprising, for science is always self-correcting, but our current interpretations would not be what they are if Sinoto had not led the way with his pioneering efforts.

Sinoto was born on 3 September 1924 in Kyoto, Japan, where his father was a professor of genetics and later the president of International Christian University. Young Sinoto was educated at the exclusive Jiyu Gakuen school in Tokyo; while there, he read a book by anthropologist Kinji Imanishi that convinced him he wanted to become an archaeologist (Sinoto and Aramata 2016:1–3). Sinoto spent most of the war years in Japanese-occupied Beijing working at the North China Agricultural Experiment Station, but returned to Japan in December 1944, when his family fled Tokyo to avoid the massive Allied firebombings. For several years after the war, Sinoto cultivated sweet potatoes on his uncle’s farm in Nirasaki Village.

That Sinoto should have worked in Polynesia at all was a matter of sheer happenstance. In the early 1950s, Sinoto had the good fortune to meet the Dutch Catholic priest and archaeologist Gerard Groot, who had established The Archaeological Institute of Japan in abandoned Japanese military quarters in Ichikawa City. Groot hired Sinoto, who assisted in the excavation of the Jomon-period Ubayama shell mound, 15 km east of Tokyo (Groot and Sinoto 1952). Advised by Peter Throckmorton—an American acquaintance and archaeological enthusiast—that he should pursue further study in the United States, Sinoto applied to and was accepted at the University of California, Berkeley. When the SS President Wilson docked at Honolulu en route to San Francisco on 4 July 1954, however, Sinoto was handed a telegram from Throckmorton that read: “DR. EMORY OF THE BISHOP MUSEUM IS CONDUCTING AN EXCAVATION AT KA LAE ON THE SOUTHERN END OF HAWAII ISLAND. GO THERE AND MAKE OBSERVATIONS” (Sinoto and Aramata 2016:11).

Kenneth Pike Emory had joined the staff of the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in 1920 and over the course of more than three decades had become one of the leading ethnologists of Polynesia (Kirch 1992). Most of Emory’s prior archaeological field research had consisted of mapping the stone foundations of ancient temple ruins in Hawai‘i, the Society Islands, and the Tuamotus. Beginning around 1949, however, Emory began to excavate sites on O‘ahu and Moloka‘i using the method of “artificial stratigraphy,” or digging by arbitrary 6-inch levels.1 He had been amazed to find that careful...