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Prehistoric Ryūkyūan Seafaring: A Cultural and Environmental Perspective

  • Naoko KinoshitaEmail author
Chapter
Part of the The Archaeology of Asia-Pacific Navigation book series (AAPN, volume 1)

Abstract

Prehistoric peoples who lived in the Ryūkyū Archipelago actively traveled between neighboring islands that were mutually visible, but not between islands that cannot be seen from each other. In cases where an island was only visible from one direction, these early voyagers showed little volition to travel to the more distant island. For example, on the southwestern tip of the Ryūkyū Archipelago Taiwan is visible from the Yaeyama Islands, but not vice versa, and there was little interaction between these islands until the end of prehistoric times. This means that visibility was an essential condition for sailing between islands, at least initially. Later, however, certain cultural differences and similarities between island groups that were caused by geographic factors also influenced people’s decisions about whether to initiate or continue mutual relations. For example, within the coral areas or non-coral areas continuing cultural interaction was easily perpetuated, but between coral areas and non-coral areas interaction was often more difficult to preserve, even though these peoples may have had some initial knowledge of each other. The former case has been observed both in relations within the Ryūkyū Archipelago and the relations between Taiwan and Southeast China, while the latter has been observed in relations between Taiwan and the Yaeyama Islands. In this way, the Ryūkyū Archipelago was relatively isolated from Taiwan and the various cultural resources connected with it. After the eleventh century this situation changed when Yaeyama’s relative cultural isolation was overcome by Japanese and Chinese economic imperatives in the region.

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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Humanities and Social ScienceKumamoto UniversityKumamotoJapan

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