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Definition: The Ainu are modern hunter-fisher-gatherer group of the Hokkaido region of northeastern Japan. Scholars have long debated the Ainu's ties to the Jomon Tradition. Genetic studies suggest the Ainu are biologically descended from the Jomon, but their cultural practices are more closely allied to Okhotsk culture, Yayoi, and medieval Japan.

Current research suggests that the Ainu can be confidently linked to the Satsumon culture, who are believed to have displaced the epi-Jomon about AD 500; Satsumon may be a descendant of the Jomon rather than a replacement.

The Ainu are also considered by some scholars a strong candidate for the ancestral populations of some of the people who colonized the American continents, although geneticist Rebecca Cann has stated that there is no compelling evidence to support that.


The Smithsonian Institution has an excellent Ainu exhibit.

Cann, R. 2001 Genetic Clues to Dispersal in Human Populations: Retracing the Past from the Present. Science 291:1742-1748.

Crawford, G.W. in press. Geographic Overviews, Asia (East)/Prehistoric Hunter-Fisher-Gatherers Low-Level Food Producers of the Japanese Archipelago: The Jomon. Encyclopedia of Archaeology, Deborah Pearsall, editor. Elsevier, London.

Dodo, Y. 1986 Metrical and non-metrical analyses of Jomon crania from Eastern Japan. In Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherers in Japan. Takeru Akazawa and C. M. Aikens, eds. Pp. 137-161. Tokyo, Japan: University of Tokyo Press.

Omoto, K. 1997 Ethnicity survived: the Ainu of Hokkaido. Human Evolution 12(1-2):69-72.

Watanabe, H. 1983 Occupational differentiation and social stratification: The case of Northern Pacific Food-Gatherers. Current Anthropology 24(2):217-219.

This glossary entry is part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Also Known As: Utari

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