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Origins Of The Ainu
Nova/PBS ^ | 2-2-2006 | Gary Crawford

Posted on 02/02/2006 4:16:59 PM PST by blam

A map of Japan showing the fateful site of Sakushukotoni-gawa on Hokkaido.

Origins of the Ainu

by Gary Crawford

The ringing telephone broke the evening silence. It was the fall of 1983, and my research partner, Professor Masakazu Yoshizaki, was calling from Japan.

"Gary, I have some news," Yoshi said. "We have a few grains of barley from a site on the Hokkaido University campus. I think you should come and look at them."

The Japanese language is notorious for its ambiguity, so I wasn't quite sure of the full meaning of what I had just heard. But I didn't need to know much more. Though it may sound like a trivial piece of news to you, I knew something was up, and it deserved closer scrutiny. My teaching schedule at the University of Toronto kept me from hopping on a plane for several months, but when I finally got to the lab on Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan, I realized the full import of Yoshi's news - namely, that the history of Hokkaido's indigenous people, the Ainu, was about to be rewritten.

Since the mid-1970s I had been investigating the relationship between plants and people in prehistoric northeastern Japan, particularly Hokkaido, using an archeological tool called flotation. The widespread use of this technique beginning in the 1960s sparked a quiet revolution in archeology. Flotation facilitates the collection of plant remains, mainly seeds and charcoal, preserved by burning in oxygen-poor environments such as the depths of a fireplace. Under these circumstances, seeds don't oxidize to ashy dust. One can recover the resulting carbonized seeds by sampling soil from ancient hearths, floors, pits, garbage dumps, and the like. One places the soil gently in water, stirs it so the carbonized material floats to the surface, and then decants the water and its floating contents through a fine mesh, which traps the floating plant material while allowing the water to pass through.

A flotation screen with a recovered sample.

Until the advent of flotation, we couldn't systematically explore early plant use, plant domestication, the local environmental impact of people, and so on. Archeologists had only a limited appreciation of this crucial aspect of prehistoric human life. Wherever we introduced flotation, our perspective on early human life changed, often dramatically. Little did I know just how dramatically it would change our interpretation of the archeology of northeastern Japan.

The archeological grain from Sakushukotoni-gawa ("gawa" means river), as the campus site is known, dated to A.D. 700 to 900. The site is contemporaneous with the medieval Japanese to the south, who had been forging a nation-state for several centuries. The immediate predecessors of the Ainu, who are the native people of northeastern Japan, occupied the site. Many archeologists consider the Ainu to be the last living descendants of the Jomon people, who lived throughout Japan from as early as 13,000 years ago. The Jomon are known for their elaborate earthenware, which they often decorated with cord (rope) impressions, and for their stone tools, pit-house villages, and, by 1500 B.C., elaborate cemeteries marked by stone circles or high earth embankments. To a large degree, the Jomon relied on hunting, fishing, and collecting plants and shellfish for their subsistence.

An early Jomon pit house.

Archeologists find it useful to interpret archeological cultures by relating what they find to existing or historically recorded direct descendants of those cultures. This is quite common in the New World, where many traditional Amerindian cultures known archeologically were also observed and recorded by Europeans. Even today many Amerindians continue to live much as they did in the past, so the continuity with the archeological record is usually indisputable and extremely informative.

To a large extent, this also seemed to be the case in northeastern Japan. Archeologists and historians have long described the Ainu, like the Jomon, as hunter-fisher-collectors and, because the two peoples lived in the same region, they had few qualms about assuming the Ainu were living representatives of Jomon culture. However, the Ainu, at least in the last few centuries according to historic records, lived in above-ground, rectangular dwellings and used metal tools as well as wooden and ceramic bowls, pots, and dishes. These characteristics contrast with those of the Jomon, but in the minds of historians and archeologists it was the lack of agriculture in both cultures that forged the link between the Ainu and Jomon cultures. Further bolstering this opinion, the skeletal biology of Jomon populations demonstrates a strong resemblance and therefore a close affinity to the Ainu. Justifiably, the Ainu seemed a relic of a primitive hunting-and-gathering people who had inhabited northeastern Japan for thousands of years.

Yet the relationship between the Jomon and the Ainu is anything but straightforward.
Sometime around A.D. 600 to 700 in Hokkaido, rectangular pit-houses suddenly appear, and a new type of earthenware called "Satsumon" pottery just as precipitately replaced traditional cord-marked pottery.

An Early Jomon Pot (Left) And Later Satsumon Pottery

Decorated with incised, geometric patterns, Satsumon pots are quite distinct from those of the preceding Jomon. Their shapes are different, and their walls show evidence of smoothing by pieces of wood having been scraped over the surface. So the Sakushukotoni-gawa site is not a Jomon village. Rather it represents a community of what, after its characteristic pottery, Hokkaido archeologists call the "Satsumon culture." Falling in time between the Jomon and the Ainu, the site is crucial to understanding Ainu development.

Rewriting the Ainu Story

Having slept fitfully after a nearly 20-hour journey to Sapporo, Hokkaido's capital, I made my way to the lab, where Yoshi took me to a table covered in sample jars. What I saw was not just a few grains of barley, but thousands of charred grains packed into dozens of jars. My Japanese colleagues had recovered the seeds from the initial series of flotation samples from Sakushukotoni-gawa, the first set of such samples ever collected from a Satsumon site. What Yoshi had not told me in that fateful telephone call was that he and his compatriots had only identified a few grains; thousands remained to be analyzed.

An archeological team works on an early Satsumon house on Hokkaido.

In the 1920s, a visitor had mapped hundreds of pit houses, still visible as depressions in the ground, in and around Hokkudai. Such a potentially large population of Satsumon people was hard to explain if they were hunter-gatherers. We now thought we knew what lay behind this dense settlement in Sapporo.

Over the next few years, our team examined nearly a quarter million carbonized seeds from Sakushukotoni-gawa. In addition to barley, the samples contained bread wheat, foxtail and broomcorn millet, bean (probably azuki, or Japanese red bean), hemp, rice, melon, and safflower as well as seeds of weeds and wild fruit. We explored many more Satsumon sites on Hokkaido, and all produced crop remains. Sometimes these sites contained only one or two types of grain; others like Sakushukotoni-gawa show a wide range of crops. The list of crops in use on Hokkaido at the time has since expanded to include buckwheat, barnyard millet, and sorghum. The conclusion is inescapable: The Satsumon ancestors of the Ainu were not solely hunter-fisher-collectors. They were farmers. Such a distinction may not sound very significant, but in studies of prehistoric societies, it makes all the difference in shaping a proper understanding of a people's identity, power structure, economy, social relations, and so on. It's as if you were researching your roots and discovered that your ancestors came from South America rather than Europe as you'd always thought; it would change the whole way you thought about your family history.

An electron microscope image of a grain of barley from the Sakushukotoni-gawa site on Hokkaido.

Although our research has shown that the Jomon did grow a few crops, they did not commit to agriculture to the extent the Satsumon did. Clearly Satsumon and Ainu ancestral roots had to be sought elsewhere, and Ainu culture could no longer serve as a living model of Jomon lifeways. We now believe a closer analogue, in fact, is the agricultural ancestors of the Japanese - an admittedly highly controversial link clinched in our minds by recognition of the importance of agriculture to the Ainu's Satsumon ancestors.

The general archeological record in Japan is consistent with this view. Starting about 400 B.C., the Jomon in southwestern Japan had given way to strong influences from China and Korea, including migration. Eight hundred to a thousand years later, most of Japan excluding Hokkaido had made a significant commitment to agriculture. This period (400 B.C. to A.D. 300) was the time of the Yayoi, a rice-farming culture named after the first site of its kind, which was discovered in Tokyo's Yayoi neighborhood. While known for being the first group in Japan to use irrigated rice fields for intensive food production, the Yayoi also grew other crops, including barley, wheat, and foxtail and broomcorn millet. In northeastern Japan, where attempts to grow rice met with little success, these other crops flourished. All the crops found in Satsumon Hokkaido were likely growing by A.D. 400-500 in Tohoku, the northernmost province of Honshu, Japan's main island that lies just to the south of Hokkaido.

Hokkaido Jomon cultures continued during the Yayoi period long after the Jomon ended in southwestern Japan, but these continuing (or Epi-Jomon) sites developed a new character. Most sites consist of simple cemeteries with associated, apparently seasonal encampments. Inexplicably, only a few Epi-Jomon pit-houses have ever turned up.

An Epi-Jomon Pot

A migration of the Satsumon from Tohoku into Hokkaido seems to have brought an end to the Epi-Jomon. Indeed, the Satsumon culture appears to have developed out of the Tohoku Yayoi, though little is known of the archeology of this transition. By the time the Satsumon appeared, the Japanese in southwestern Japan were well on their way to establishing a nation-state. Satsumon material culture resembles that of these early state peoples, particularly the Nara and Heian regimes (A.D. 710-1192). Clearly, Ainu culture was far removed from the Jomon.

An Electron Microscope Image Of A Grain Of Barley

How had this earlier characterization of the Ainu as hunters of the northern Japanese forests evolved? For one thing, few actually witnessed Ainu life before it was disrupted by Japanese colonization attempts, and those who did visit Ainu communities reported agriculture, but they generally assumed it to be a recent introduction by the Japanese, who had passed laws in the late 1800s requiring the Ainu to settle and take up agriculture. The government needed to take a census for taxation purposes, and men as hunters, women as farmers did not fit standard employment categories. So, by legislation, the government, in effect, deemed that men become farmers, even though, as our findings suggest, they had been farmers for some time.

A mass of millet (mixed grain) from a flotation sample.

A bleaker thought is that fostering a myth of simple hunter-gatherers made it easier for Japanese colonizers to appropriate Ainu lands and resources. In hindsight, the changes stem from a complicated mix of factors, cultures, and attitudes developed over many centuries. But the Ainu still exist and, despite extreme hardship, are slowly making progress towards gaining recognition as an indigenous people of Japan. Hopefully the results of that phone call back 16 years ago will aid that process.

Dr. Gary W. Crawford is a professor in the Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto, Canada. An archeologist specializing in palaeoethnobotany, the study of the relationships between plants and people in prehistory, he has conducted research in Japan since 1974. The author would like to thank Susan Rossi-Wilcox for her comments on earlier drafts of this article, and the following organizations for supporting his research: the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Earthwatch, the Japan Association for the Advancement of Science, the University of Toronto, and Hokkaido University.

TOPICS: News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: ainu; godsgravesglyphs; of; origins; the
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To: Ptarmigan
"I know many Japanese leaders, politicians, generals, and samurais were Ainus. I believe that Ainus came from Southeast Asia, mainly Indonesia. I have read that Ainus, Veddas, Bataks, Polynesians, Australian Aborgines, and Indians are all related to each other and came from Indonesia."

I confess, I lean heavily in that direction myself. Especially after reading, Eden In The East by Stepehen Oppenheimer.


At the end of the Ice Age, Southeast Asia formed a continent twice the size of India. The South China Sea, the Gulf of Thailand and the Java Sea, which were all dry, formed the connecting parts of the continent. Geologically, this half-sunken continent is the Sunda shelf of Sundaland. In Eden in the East Stephen Oppenheimer puts forward the astonishing argument that here in Southeast Asia was the cradle of civilisation that fertilised the great cultures of China, India, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Crete six thousand years ago. He produces evidence from ethnography, archaeology, oceanography, from Creation stories, myths and sagas, and from linguistics and DNA analysis, to argue that this founder-civilisation was destroyed by the catastrophic flood, caused by a rapid rise in sea level at the end of the last Ice Age.

From the Author

Eden in the East'overturns conventional ideas of the origins of western civilization in Mesopotamia. In this book I place Southeast Asia for the first time as the key to the first roots of civilisation. At the same time I provide scientific explanations for numerous, and previously unexplained, cultural links between early Eastern and Western cultures. Notable among these links are the hundreds of myths of a great flood which forced people into boats and left only a few survivors. I can now identify this flood as the dramatic rise in sea level at the end of the ice age that suddenly inundated vast areas of Eurasia. In other words the Biblical Flood really did occur. It had its most disastrous effects, however, in the continent of Southeast Asia - now a lost and half-sunken Eden.

As the Ice Age ended, there were three catastrophic and rapid rises in sea level. The last of these, which finished shortly before the start of civilization in Mesopotamia, may have been the one that was remembered. These three floods drowned the coastal cultures and all the flat continental shelves of Southeast Asia. As the sea rolled in, there was a mass emigration from the sinking continent. These flood-driven refugees, carried their domestic animals with them in large ocean-going canoes in all directions. The networks of sea trade, created by their settlements around the Indian Ocean, fertilized the Neolithic cultures of China, India, Mesopotamia and Egypt.

The Southeast Asian contributions to the building of the first cities in Mesopotamia may not have been solely technological. While they may have brought the new ideas and skills of megalithic construction cereal domestication, sea-faring, astronomy, navigation, trade and commerce, they may also have introduced the tools to harness and control the labour of the farmers and artisans. These included magic, religion, and concepts of state, kingship and social hierarchy.

The evidence:

While most alternative prehistories are based more on speculation than fact, I have found some very solid evidence; and have built on the work of specialists in many fields in addition to my own research, to support a comprehensive new picture.

The most solid facts come from oceanographic research of the last decade. It now appears that the great rise in sea level after the last ice age, known about for many years, was not gradual; three sudden ice-melts, the last of which was only 8000 years ago, had catastrophic effects on tropical coasts with flat continental shelves. Rapid land loss was compounded by superwaves, set off by cracks in the earth s crust as the weight of ice shifted to the seas.

Archaeology holds the most accurately dated clues to the past. I have devoted two chapters to archaeological evidence found on coasts and in caves throughout the Indo-Pacific region. All of the technological 'firsts' which signalled man's emergence from the long Palaeolithic era towards the end of the Ice Age come from the Pacific Rim islands. These include evidence of deliberate long-distance sailing and grinding of cereal flour in the Solomon islands from 30,000 years ago. The world's first pots, 12,500 years old, come from Japan. The first evidence that swamps were drained for agriculture comes from the New Guinea Highlands 9,000 years ago.

These snapshots hint at a much older history to the discovery of Neolithic skills in the East. The better archaeological preservation of the later stages of human development in Mesopotamia and Egypt, however, has given rise to the view that civilization started in the West.

I review the evidence of the spoken word in the two linguistic chapters. Experts in the history of language now recognise that Southeast Asia not Europe or West Asia was the centre of language dispersal at the end of the Ice Age. The ancestral language of the Micronesians and Polynesians did not come out of China, as has been recently assumed, but further south over 8000 years ago out of the drowning islands of Indonesia. As the Flood engulfed Indo- China and separated Sumatra from Malaysia the ancestral languages of the Khmers, whose descendants built Angkor Wat, moved west into India.

The most dramatic new findings in this book come out of my own research field. I have published more than 25 scientific papers on the genetic prehistory of the Indo-Pacific region over the past 15 years. Building on my initial work, in Eden in the East I have shown that genetic disorders can be used as people-markers revealing a new view of prehistoric migrations in the Indo-Pacific region. My latest finding, made in collaboration with the Oxford Institute of Molecular Medicine, was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics in October 1998. This paper arose directly out of my research for Eden in the East. It provides compelling evidence that Polynesians and other argonauts of the Indian and Pacific Oceans originated in eastern Indonesia back in the Ice Age rather than in China, as previously thought. This finding alone forces the realisation that the Polynesians' skills of sailing, navigation, astronomy and agriculture had their origins, back in Indonesia, during the Ice Age.

Another objective tool that I use to explore ancient East-West cultural influence in the last part of the book is comparative mythology. Uniquely shared folklore shows that counterparts and originals for nearly every Middle Eastern and European mythological archetype, including the Flood, can be found in the islands of eastern Indonesia and the southwest Pacific. Southeast Asia is revealed as the original Garden of Eden and the Flood as the force which drove people from Paradise.

My multidisciplinary approach to prehistoric enquiry has been recognised in the academic fields of linguistics and comparative folklore. I have been invited to present papers on my work on prehistory at international linguistic meetings. This year I contributed a chapter to a book on Flood myths in the Moluccas published by the Department of Languages and Cultures of Southeast Asia and Oceania, Leiden University (Netherlands).

41 posted on 02/03/2006 11:55:58 AM PST by blam
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To: Ptarmigan

Mysterious Giant Human Remains Found In Fiji

42 posted on 02/03/2006 12:08:29 PM PST by blam
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To: Ptarmigan

It is geographically not possible for Indians to have come from Indonesia. You may be right on the others though...makes sense.

IMO, the migration would have been the other way round, from India to South East Asia and Australia (considering the fact that Indonesia is a bunch of islands in the middle of nowhere).

43 posted on 02/03/2006 3:01:02 PM PST by indcons
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To: indcons
"IMO, the migration would have been the other way round, from India to South East Asia and Australia (considering the fact that Indonesia is a bunch of islands in the middle of nowhere)."

It wasn't that way during the Ice Age. There was a land area there (Sundaland) that was twice the size of present day India. Also, it was nice and warm and humans, of all sorts, must have thrived while the Neanderthals over in Europe were taking a 'beating'.

44 posted on 02/03/2006 4:37:52 PM PST by blam
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To: pganini

This thread may interest you.

45 posted on 02/03/2006 4:39:57 PM PST by blam
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To: blam

I saw your other post (with the details) after I sent my previous reply, blam. VERY interesting stuff indeed.....

46 posted on 02/03/2006 4:41:38 PM PST by indcons
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To: muawiyah
Another view from the Asia Wind web site.

" Some claim Hakka as "pure" Han people. But pure Han really does not exist. Recent archaeological studies have shown that China had multiple centers of civilization, developed rather independently of each other. Yangshao ‹Âèî (Henan), Banpo ”¼š± (Shaanxi), Hongshan gŽR (Liaoning) , Liangzhu —Ǐ (Jiangsu/Zhejiang), Sanxingdui ŽO¯‘Í (Sichuan), Longshan —´ŽR (Shandong) all eventually merged into the Han culture.
Han people are thus the integrated composite of several different tribes. In a way, the definition of Han is just as difficult as the definition of American. Hakkas as Han cannot be ethnically pure. Hakka have been at the interface of ethnic conflicts for many dynasties. Genetically speaking, some Hakka people have clearly inherited some non-Han features such as wavy hair and high nose bridge. Hakka must have incorporated these features from the different ethnicities along the migration path through out the 2000 years of history.
The characteristic of Hakkas can only be recognized by the dialect and the adamant preservation of ancient Chinese custom."

47 posted on 02/03/2006 5:03:24 PM PST by blam
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To: blam
Blam, beware of Chinese claims regarding ethnicity. The Period of Warring States saw genocidal fury that makes Hitler and his Nazis look like pussy cats.

Shortly before the organization of the Red Guard the Red Chinese hierarchy began discussing the "Period of Warring States". Then the Guard was released to kill enemies of the state.

No wonder the Chinese prefer to forget this happened!

48 posted on 02/03/2006 5:09:06 PM PST by muawiyah (-)
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To: indcons
"VERY interesting stuff indeed....."


Take this Journey Of Mankind and notice what happened to India 74,000 years ago.

49 posted on 02/03/2006 5:26:13 PM PST by blam
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To: blam

I have seen that article before. I am convinced that Ainus were Samurais. I know during WWII I saw American propaganda which tells what a Japanese person looks like. One way to tell someone was Japanese was Ainu features, especially the generals and admirals. I would not be surprised if Japan's Shinto priests are Ainus. Mt. Fuji, Hokkaido, and Sapporo are Ainu words. I think Ainu is related to Polynesian language. Ainus are seen as downtrodden and poor, but turns out they were not. In fact, they likely ruled Japan and had a profound influence. I have read that before Japanese people of today came, Ainus fought each other within tribes. It would not surprise me if some Ainus collaborated with the invading Japanese and killed other Ainus. Ainus were mercernaries for Japan when they invaded Korea. I suspect these Ainus became samurais eventually, especially in feudal Japan.

50 posted on 02/03/2006 9:45:15 PM PST by Ptarmigan (Proud bunny hater and killer)
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To: blam

I forgot, I think Sumerian could be related to Ainus too. In Iraq, I have seen Marsh Arabs or M'adans and their culture looks very similar to Sumerian/Polynesian/Ainus. My guess is Ainu had a worldwide presence and possibly they had a huge empire we don't know of.

51 posted on 02/03/2006 9:47:32 PM PST by Ptarmigan (Proud bunny hater and killer)
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To: blam

Sometimes I think I have Hakka in me. I am Korean by the way. I like to have my genes tested.

52 posted on 02/03/2006 9:49:07 PM PST by Ptarmigan (Proud bunny hater and killer)
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To: muawiyah

I have seen Samis before. They kinda look Asian, but not really. I guess they mixed with them.

53 posted on 02/03/2006 9:50:30 PM PST by Ptarmigan (Proud bunny hater and killer)
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To: blam
I have never actually seen anything about it but it has to be obvious to many the similarity between Finnish words and Japanese.

For instance Sako rifles,

54 posted on 02/03/2006 9:56:48 PM PST by yarddog
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To: yarddog
The Japanese language has a large Uralic-Altaic component. So does Finnish. So does Estonian. So does Turkish.

They are all related languages ~ to a degree brought to their present speakers through the instrumentality of the Mongol Empire (or, in the case of the Japanese, the 6th century Korean invasion).

Sa'ami, on the other hand, has a large Uralic-Altaic vocabulary, but the 9 current Sa'ami languages have a grammar much more consistent with Sumerian and the Dravidian languages of Southern India.

They "look" vaguely Asiatic simply because "white folks" looked like that before breeding with non-European peoples to their South.

55 posted on 02/04/2006 6:55:01 AM PST by muawiyah (-)
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To: muawiyah

This is again, a ridiculous statement. They weren't much crueler than say, the Romans did with defeated soldiers. Your claims is just plain stupid and have no historical basis.

Have you even BEEN to China and just LOOK at the different "Han" Chinese from one region to the next? That along will show just how ignorant you are.

56 posted on 02/04/2006 11:46:31 AM PST by pganini
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To: blam
Just looking at the Ainu, they seem like cousins to the Inuit (Eskimos).

Just an amateur opinion, not to be taken for more than that.

57 posted on 02/04/2006 11:52:24 AM PST by LibKill (Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. - Benjamin Franklin)
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To: muawiyah

My dna says I'm likely Sa'ami, but they said it was of Finnish descent on my mother's side. Too strange as her mother was Cherokee.

58 posted on 02/04/2006 12:01:50 PM PST by zeeba neighba
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To: pganini
Just to set you straight, the ancient Romans actually conducted a war-crimes trial against one of their own generals for having killed off an entire tribe of Celto-Iberians during the Punic wars.

I think we are still waiting on the far older Chinese civilization to catch up with that level of humanity and justice.

But, to go further, there's a period in Roman history called "The Social Wars". For the most part Rome rose to ascendancy on the Italian peninsula by "merging" with defeated states ~ I don't think even the blindest China apologist would argue any such thing happened in China during the Period of Warring States.

As a brief, I pretty much follow the sort of time-line and opinions about events expressed in this website: ~ which is a very, very common timeline.

The Qin emperor was definitely into genocide ~ both BEFORE he became the first emperior, and after he formed his empire.

This is the one period in ancient times that has a death toll due to war anywhere near that regularly experienced in the twentieth century.

59 posted on 02/04/2006 12:20:16 PM PST by muawiyah (-)
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To: zeeba neighba
Could be. The Cherokee are pretty much your regular old humdrum American Indians, but they lived at Cahokia up until the arrival of the horse. Then their civilization was destroyed.

They moved West. They then relocated East all the way to the Carolinas in the late 1500 to early 1600 period.

This sort of movement was fairly typical in North America since local climates can change abruptly and make life intolerable. (You have undoubtedly visited Europe and discovered they don't really have weather reports).

Anyway, the Spanish had a fort in South Carolina where they held prisoners of war seized in their Mediterranean wars with the Turkish empire.

It was common for the prisoners to escape to the Cherokee, and sometimes beyond. It was a common belief that Turkish was spoken on the American East Coast back then since every tribe had a Turkish speaking former POW.

The POWs actually came from everywhere the Turks held territory. That included the Balkans, portions of Southern Poland, Ukraine, etc. It is conceivable that more than one silly Sa'ami, on a Finnish or Swedish boat, sailed up the Volga too far, and right into the hands of the Turks.

So, yes, you could very well have a Cherokee ancestor who had a forebear who was a Sa'ami.

Another possibility here is that a Sa'ami serving on a whaling boat simply jumped ship and ran off with the Cherokee.

60 posted on 02/04/2006 12:29:35 PM PST by muawiyah (-)
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