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Remains of pit dwellings used 1,800 to 2,300 years ago found in Northern Territories

In this photo provided by Hokkaido Museum the remains of the pit dwellings can be seen on the island of Kunashiri in the Northern Territories. The Shiretoko Peninsula of Japan's northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido can be seen in the distance.

NEMURO, Hokkaido -- The remains of about 100 pit dwellings believed to have been used between 1,800 and 2,300 years ago have been found on the island of Kunashiri in the Russian-held Northern Territories off Hokkaido, Japanese researchers have announced.

The discovery was made by a team including Hiroshi Ushiro, principal curator at Hokkaido Museum in Japan's northernmost prefecture. The homes are believed to be from the post-Jomon period in Hokkaido, making them precious finds. During that period, a culture of hunting and gathering continued as rice-farming had not been passed down.

Researchers found the remains near a lake in central Kunashiri near the Sea of Okhotsk when six people including specialists visited the island as part of a visa-free exchange program of experts between Japan and Russia from May 24 to 27. Kunashiri is one of the four islands in the Northern Territories claimed by Japan but occupied by Russia.

The research team named the area the Yanbetsu dune remains, after the Japanese name of the lake. (The lake is named Ilinskoe in Russian.) The remains are well preserved as they are in a cold region, and they can be spotted with the naked eye, researchers say.

The depth of the pits is between 1 and 1.5 meters, and from their shape, researchers estimated that they came from the post-Jomon period that began around 300 B.C. Nearby, researchers also found the remains of homes from the Okhotsk cultural period that flourished in northeastern Hokkaido from around the fifth to 13th centuries. It is believed that sand dunes formed in an area that was once covered by the sea, and that a community was formed there.

"This is an extremely important discovery based on how well they (the remains of the dwellings) are preserved and their size. We have not seen any other examples of such a large settlement, even in Hokkaido," Ushiro said.

(Japanese original by Hiroaki Homma, Hokkaido News Department)

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