Prehistoric OkinawaWho were the first humans to arrive in the Ryukyu Islands? How did they get there? What was life like? How did they survive? When did they become “Okinawans”?
The word “prehistoric” refers to the time from when humans first appeared until written records started. The significance of this is that we must search for clues left behind (human remains, tools, and other artifacts) to figure out the answers to these questions. For Okinawa, prehistory is thought to extend from about 7,000 B.C. to 1200 A.D.
The First Arrivals
Research about these early days still continues. By knowing how people travelled, and by comparing archaeological findings, the following picture emerges as one possibility. This summary is based mainly on the writings of Pearson and Sakihara.
Ocean travel in Dugout Canoes
From Kyushu to Okinawa Island lies a string of small islands close enough together that land was always in sight. Likewise, Yaeyama and Miyako are linked to Taiwan by another series of islands. People from Japan in the north could work their way to Okinawa by canoe. Travelers from Southeast Asia and China in the south could reach Yaeyama and Miyako.
Between Miyako and Okinawa lies 175 miles of nothing but ocean. The long distance, combined with typhoons in that region, made the journey between the north and south Ryukyu Islands tough and risky. These travel restrictions led to separate developments in the two island groups. See my post "Okinawa - Location is Destiny" for more on geography.
Northern Islands and Okinawa Settlements came from Japan
Northern Island Lifestyle
Homes were built from large coral rock, away from the sea. Houses were generally rectangle-shaped. Each had a small hearth and pit for cooking.
Tools for cutting and hammering were made of stone. Bones were used to make pins and needles. Pottery jars had simple designs. Shells were crafted into ornaments.
Southern Island Settlements came from Southeast Asia and Taiwan
Differences between North and South Cultures
Contacts with the Outside World
Sporadic trade with China started around 200 B.C.
Contact between the north and south islands began around 200 A.D. Trade with China and Korea also increased and became more regular.