A Collaborative Project at the University of Toronto Mississauga

Jomon Period Archaeology: The Yagi Project


The Yagi Project website is a collaborative project between Professor Gary Crawford at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) in the Anthropology Department, Dr. Chen Shen, Senior Curator, Bishop White Chair of East Asian Archaeology at the Royal Ontario Museum, and the Hazel McCallion Academic Learning Centre at UTM (HMALC).

The purpose of this website is to provide online information about the international research projects that were conducted at the Hamanasuno and Yagi excavation sites from 1973 to 1980, and to present the materials that form the archival collection preserved in the HMALC. 

The goal of the Yagi Project was to study life in a northern community during the Early Jomon Period, a time frame that covers approximately 1500 years of Japanese prehistory (~5000 – 3500 BCE). This website offers an opportunity to view a portion of this valuable collection of articles, artifacts, documents, photographs, maps, and 3D scans.


Photo: Yagi Excavation Site, 1979. Source: Box 3 Index Cards, UTM Archives


The UTM Archival Collection

In the summer of 2011 a collection of eleven boxes (containing rolls of film, black and white photographs, card files, printed sheets of the Fortran analysis of pottery fragments, designs and codes by William Hurley, site maps, catalogues of codes and abbreviations and on-site notes) were donated to the University of Toronto Mississauga Archives in the Hazel McCallion Academic Learning Centre by Professor Gary Crawford. The collection was inventoried and scanned in the Visual Resource Library. In the same year, collaboration between the UTM Library, Professor Gary Crawford, the ROM, and Arius 3D Technology Inc. in Mississauga began to create 3D scans of the pottery fragments from these Jomon sites. Today, the fragments excavated from the Yagi site in 1978-1980 are preserved at the Royal Ontario Museum under the supervision of Dr. Chen Shen. This archival collection is particularly valuable as the only extant record of the excavations after a fire destroyed records preserved in Japan.

The Excavation Sites

The Yagi and Hamanasuno sites are located in the modern day Minamikayabe, a small town on the Pacific coast of the Oshima Peninsula in Southwestern Hokkaido.  During the Jomon Period, this region was populated by multiple communities along a broken coastal terrace.  Each site would have had access to a series of low mountains covered in forest, river valleys with fresh water, the rocky coast, and the Pacific Ocean through Uchiura Bay. The area today is primarily rural, with fishing towns near the shore and shared farming plots along the upper terraces that the Jomon people had favoured for settlement. 

The Hamanasuno Site

The Hamanasuno site was the earlier project, with field seasons occurring from 1973 to 1975.  Located 37 kilometers northeast of Hakodate City, the site sits on a broad coastal terrace about 17 meters above sea level.  In total, the team lead by Prof. William M. Hurley uncovered 36 m2, which revealed 8 pit houses, ceramic fragments, chipped stone items, and ground stone objects dating from approximately 5500 B.P. More information on the excavation and subsequent analysis can be found in  William M. Hurley, "The Hamanasuno Project" Arctic Anthropology 11 (1974): 171-176.

The Yagi Site

At the prompting of Dr. Masakazu Yoshizaki , Prof. William M. Hurley first visited the Yagi site in 1977 to participate in test excavations carried out by local archaeologists.  Yoshizaki was interested in seeing a greater collaboration between Japanese and North American archaeologists, and was excited by the potential for an exchange in ideas, information, and practices with foreign researchers.  Thanks to the liaising efforts of Yoshizaki, preliminary excavations commenced at Yagi in July of 1978, followed by more intensive operations in the summers of 1979 and 1980.  By the end of the project, the team had uncovered 734 m2 of the site, and surveyed a further 1.58 ha with a proton magnetometer (see Peter Bleed et al. 1989 for details).

Members of the project were drawn from the University of Hokkaido, the Minamikayabe Board of Education, the University of Nebraska, and the University of Toronto, making this one of the first co-directed international endeavours since the archaeological work of Edward Sylvester Morse in the 1880s. The team included:

  • Masakazu Yoshizaki (director, University of Hokkaido)

                        -four students from the University of Hokkaido

  • Tadahisa Ogasawara (chief archaeologist, Minamikayabe Board of Education)

                        -two experienced local excavators

  • William M. Hurley (director, University of Toronto)

                       -Gary Crawford, Clare Fawcett, Theresa Fergusson, Susan Rowley, David Johnson

  • Peter Bleed (director, University of Nebraska)

                        -John Weymouth, Ann Bleed, Carl R. Falk, Akira Matsui

Today the majority of the Yagi site has been covered by highway construction, however, several decades of excavations have ensured that little archaeological evidence has been lost (see the Map section for more details).  After the international project ended in 1980, excavations by local archaeologists continued well into the 1990s at the Yagi site.  In 2010, the Hakodate City Archaeological Organization conducted one more brief excavation at the site, and uncovered some remains associated with the original Yagi Project.  Information on these later excavations is available in Japanese from the Hakodate Jomon Culture Center

Institutional Support for the Excavations

Preliminary excavations commenced at Yagi in July 1978 with the support of the National Geographic Society, followed by two major excavations in the summers of 1979 and 1980 with the support of the National Geographic Society, the National Science Foundation and the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The Hamanasuno excavation was funded by the Royal Ontario Museum, and the Humanities and Social Sciences Committee at the University of Toronto.