Ancient Ryukyu: An Archaeological Study of Island Communities
416pp. November 2013
Ancient Ryukyu: An Archaeological Study of Island Communities
Author: Pearson, Richard;
Recipient of 2015 ICAS Book Prize Reading Committee Ground-Breaking Matter Accolade (Humanities)

Who are the people of the Ryukyu Islands? How could they survive and prosper on small, isolated islands? How did the independent Ryukyu Kingdom become a major player in East Asian medieval trade?

Ancient Ryukyu explores 30,000 years of human occupation in the Ryukyu Islands, from the earliest human presence in the region up to A.D. 1609 and the emergence of the Ryukyu Kingdom. It focuses on the unique geopolitical position of the islands, their environment, and the many human communities whose historical activities can be discerned. Drawing on the impressive work of dozens of local archaeologists who have brought the islands’ early history to life, Richard Pearson describes explorers and sojourners and colonists who arrived thousands of years ago, and their ancient trade links to Japan, Korea, and China. Through a case study focused on the medieval castles and palaces of the Ryukyu Kingdom, he demonstrates the vigorous trade taking place in East Asia before the arrival of the Europeans in the sixteenth century A.D. He also shows how archaeologists have sought to reconstruct monuments on Okinawa Island that were obliterated in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945.

Through analysis of work completed at about 120 sites described in dozens of rare Japanese government reports with limited circulation, Pearson is able to show that many modern features of the culture, politics, and economy of the Ryukyu Islands have very deep roots. The book concludes with a discussion of aspects of Ryukyu archaeology that are significant for world archaeology and the archaeology of islands. Ancient Ryukyu offers an up-to-date treatment of an unusually long span of human history in the Ryukyu Islands and will become the definitive work in English on the pre-modern era.

36 illus., 20 maps
“There is no scholar more qualified to synthesize the long and fascinating history of the Ryukyu archipelago than Richard Pearson, who has devoted more than half a century to the task. Beginning with the first human arrivals in the late Pleistocene, Pearson traces the rich archaeological record of these islands, including their complex interactions with Japan and other regions of East Asia. This book belongs in the library of every East Asian archaeologist and historian, but will also be of interest to students of island societies anywhere in the world.” —Patrick V. Kirch, University of California, Berkeley

“This extremely important study in Pacific and island archaeology makes use of the huge database generated by Okinawan archaeology in the postwar era and places the Okinawan islands in the context of current theoretical debates within island archaeology in the Pacific and beyond. It is also a major study of premodern Okinawa. With its many valuable overviews and discussions, as well as its original analyses and interpretations, it will undoubtedly become the definitive text in English.” —Mark Hudson, Nishikyushu University

“Anyone reading this important book will be quickly convinced of the significance of Ryukyu archaeology for the field of island archaeology. It demonstrates many of the unique aspects of the Ryukyu islands, as well as the richness of its archaeological data, much of it drawn from largely inaccessible Japanese excavation reports.” —Hiroto Takamiya, Sapporo University
Author: Pearson, Richard;
Richard Pearson is professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia.