- Tephro Archaeology in the North Pacific ed. by Gina L. Barnes and Soda Tsutomo
This excellent book provides an incredibly valuable introduction to the field of tephroarchaeology, particularly as practiced in Japan. "Tephroarchaeology" is a translation of the Japanese term kazanbai kōkogaku (lit. volcanic ash archaeology) and focuses on the role of volcanic ash (tephra) in forming, preserving, and expanding the potential to interpret the archaeological record. For a non-Japanese-speaker such as myself, the real interest in this volume comes not only from the methodological framing of the problem of how to integrate tephra and archaeology, but also from the introduction to ongoing and classic work in tephroarchaeology being done in Japan. Much of the latter has been published only in Japanese and thus has remained difficult for many scholars to fully access. Importantly, the book includes English translations of parts of the magisterial Atlas of Tephra in and Around Japan (Machida and Arai 1992), a compendium of the distribution, characteristics, age, and sources of tephra that are widely distributed across Japan and the surrounding regions (first published in 1992, it has gone through multiple subsequent editions).
Editors Gina L. Barnes and Soda Tsutomu dedicate the book to the authors of Atlas of Tephra in and Around Japan, Machida Hiroshi and Arai Fusao. Machida was also honored in a 2010 meeting sponsored by the International Union for Quaternary Research (INQUA) in southern Japan that was published as a special issue of the journal Quaternary International [End Page 221] (Lowe et al. 2011). (I was fortunate enough to take part in that 2010 meeting, which was particularly memorable because Sakurajima erupted during the conference visit to that volcano and the nearly simultaneous eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland delayed many attendees' return to Europe). As with that 2011 volume, the current one is the outcome of sessions from professional meetings, in this case the 2016 World Archaeological Conference in Kyoto and the 2017 meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Vancouver. However, the 2011 meeting (with very few exceptions) was strictly about tephra, whereas the present volume is very much about the integration of data from tephra and archaeology. Both of the editors did an excellent job in compiling a compelling list of contributors and chapters, and I would like to especially emphasize the extra effort of Barnes, who translated into English nearly all of the contributions from Japanese scholars.
The book itself is softbound, with glossy paper, totaling 329 pages rich with full-color illustrations, most, but not quite all, printed in sharp focus with natural coloring. The quality of the binding is fair; the pages are glued rather than stitched and pages from my copy did start to fall out during the course of my review. There are 15 chapters, and an impressive five appendices that include basic but important summaries of geography and general and Japan-specific syntheses of volcanic, tectonic, and soil forming processes relevant to understanding some of the discussions in the book, as well as an English translation of Machida and Arai's "History of tephra identification methods" section from the Atlas of Tephra in and Around Japan. There is also a useful glossary of terms that includes translations from Japanese and Korean into English.
The volume begins with a pair of introductory chapters from the editors that, among other things, define and argue for the need for "tephroarchaeology" as a distinct field of research, tracing its development and intensification following World War II. These are followed by a chapter by Kuwahata that expands on this definition through a focus on "Volcanic Disaster Archaeology," outlining methods for doing it and providing important spatial boundaries for considering the impacts of volcanic eruptions, from places close to and those far from the actual eruption. I am not a fan of jargon, and often worry that the academic cottage industry of terminological invention usually serves little purpose except to make our work obscure to...