By Colin Renfrew

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Sea lions, fur seals, and harbor seals are the most common species today, especially in the central islands, where they haul out in large numbers and raise pups in the summer. Sea otters are abundant in some areas—especially around the northern and southern islands—while absent in others. Their distribution seems to reflect the ecological differences in shellfish and fish productivity and diversity, which are also highest in the northern and southern ends of the chain compared to the center. The resulting ecological picture is one of higher taxonomic diversity in both terrestrial and marine resources in the southernmost and northernmost 21 Ben Fitzhugh islands, which are also the largest and closest to “mainland” sources.

Archaeological evidence of direct volcanic impacts is difficult to confirm. Many archaeological deposits contain volcanic ash lenses preserved within archaeological layers, suggesting that small eruptions had minimal impact on occupation. In cases where archaeological deposits are capped by relatively thick volcanic layers, it is tempting to imagine a cataclysmic destruction of settlements and the abandonment of the location or death of the occupants (see Dumond 2004; Dumond and Knecht 2001). Geoarchaeologically, such conclusions are rarely warranted.

It is in the context of this emerging synthesis that we seek to draw preliminary conclusions about the hazards affecting human settlement and lifestyle in the Kurils. Kuril Island Archaeological History The oldest dated archaeological site in the Kurils is located in central Iturup Island and dated to about 8,000 years ago (ca. 6000 BC)* (Vasilevsky and Shubina 2006; Yanshina and Kuzmin 2010; Zaitseva et. al 1993). It was occupied by a culture known as the Early Jomon. This one dated site and surface finds of Early and Middle Jomon pottery indicate the presence of people in the southern Kurils (closest to Hokkaido) during the Middle Holocene (ca.

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