Ancient cultures and indigenous peoples

About one thousand archaeological monuments related to different cultural-chronological periods from the Paleolithic age up to the ethnographic modernity are known to be located in the Sakhalin Oblast. Excavations conducted by the Sakhalin archaeologists annually cover nearly every district of the Oblast. As many as 120 thousand artifacts from 250 archaeological monuments have been collected in the Sakhalin Regional Museums repositories so far. Since 1990 international archaeological expeditions involving scientists from Japan and the USA have been organized.

One of the main Far-Eastern archaeological issues is studying of the Sakhalin and the Kurile islands initial settlement by the ancient people during the Paleolithic period. Exhibited are the very ancient implements such as: choppers and chopping tools from Sakhalin and the northern Kuriles Paleolithic sites. Some of them are dated back to 25 or 30 thousand years ago. A set of the flake obsidian implements from the southern Sakhalin sites such as Sokol and Takoe II is attributed to the upper Paleolithic age and dates back to 11–18 thousand years ago. Photographs of the archaeological excavations process and sets of archaeological findings from the Imchin and Sadovniki sites represent the Neolithic monuments of Sakhalin dating back to 50001000 years B.C. These materials testify to the insular cultures particularity and also the existence of tight connections and reciprocal influences between ancient population of Sakhalin and the Kurile islands and that of the neighboring territories such as: Hokkaido, Primorye and Amur River regions. Set of artifacts made up of the stone and bone implements and ceramic vessels represents the Okhotsk culture (2 thousand years ago) common in the southern Sakhalin, the Kurile islands and Hokkaido. People of the Okhotsk culture were engaged in marine mammals harvesting, hunting, fishing and gathering of the coastal mussels. It was established that the metal objects from the northern China centers had been brought to the Japanese islands via Sakhalin and the Amur river during the Paleometallic period.

This ancient route connected the ancient cultures. Archaeologists have discovered traces or evidence of the ancient Mongolia and China representatives stay in the islands of the Sakhalin Oblast.

Of the unique value are the ancient monuments of Ainu — indigenous people of Sakhalin and the Kurile islands with remnants of the Ainu settlements and burial grounds being of a special interest. Displayed exhibits represent typical Ainu kitchen utensils such as: earthenware flat bottomed vessels and that with inner lugs and a set of the Ainu funeral rite artifacts from the Ainu XVIXVII centuries burial ground. Material culture of the Ainu people as represented in the exhibited collection and some archaeological findings correlate well with the ethnographic accounts of the XIX century in many aspects.


Ethnographic collections are a real crown jewel of the museum. Genuine objects of the XVIII early XX centuries testify to the existence of the unique traditional culture in the indigenous peoples of Sakhalin and the Kurile islands.

Three major ethnic groups lived on Sakhalin in the early XIX century such as: Nivkhs (lived mostly in the north of the island), Uilta (Oroks) — lived in the central part of the island — and Ainu who lived in the southern Sakhalin and the Kurile islands. Small number of Evenki was also registered.
Ainu are one of the most ancient and mysterious people of the planet. They differed greatly from the neighboring Mongoloid peoples not in their appearance only, but in specific language and many traits of material and spiritual culture. Light skinned and bearded Ainu men and Ainu women with tattoos around mouths and on the forearms were a belligerent people. Their main armament consisted of swords complete with plant fiber slings, heavy spiked war clubs, bow and arrows. Really unique exhibit of the Ainu collection is an armour of intertwined narrow straps made of the bearded seal skin. Armour of this type, very rarely found nowadays, fully covered warriors body. The armour was found in the Ainu village chiefs family by the Taraika (Nevskoe) lake in the 1930s.
The displayed fishing, hunting and marine mammals harvesting gear such as: spear, harpoons, bow and arrows testify to the islanders (Ainu) high degree of adaptability to natural conditions. Ainu used bows impregnated with aconite poison for hunting animals. One can see carved wooden household utensils (tableware) used during festivities. Displayed also are ritual objects such as: ikunis (sticks for drinking) with which men lifted their moustache during the ritual drinking of sake. Ikunis — are the mediators between human beings and the spirits serving as a sacrificial offering. They are decorated with pictures representing routine and ritual events for example: hunting grey seal or whale or the Bear festival.

Clothes and footwear were made by women using pelts of marine and forest animals. Robe made of fish skin. The robe is decorated with colored cloth applique (cut outs) around the collar, cuffs and hem. According to the Ainu superstitious beliefs this protected humans from the evil spirits. Robes made of the grey seals pelts decorated with fir inserts and cloth cut-outs were used as a winter clothing. For the festive mens robes they wove cloth out of nettle and elm tree bast for everyday clothes. Displayed in a show case is a genuine loom of a horizontal type with nettle threads. Robes made of cloth are amply ornamented by the embroidery of colored threads. Headbands are made of cloth or woven from the willow sheaves.

Nowadays only the museum exhibits remind of a such geographical group of people as Sakhalin Ainu whose fate turned out to be tragic. 1200 Ainu left for Hokkaido as Japanese citizens after 1945.
Traditional culture of Nivkhs was based on fishing for migratory salmon fish, marine mammals hunting and gathering of the forest herbs and roots. One can see the displayed specimens of their fishing gear such as: netting needle, mock-up of a fishing net with sinkers, hook for catching Sakhalin taimen (Hucho perryi); tools for hunting marine and forest animals, for example wooden club for bloodless killing of grey seals and a spear.
Boats of different types were used for travelling on water. The Nivkhs collection on display contains a mock-up of a dug-out boat.
Displayed also are wooden tableware artifacts such as spoons, ladles and a trough for preparation of the mos — ritual mixture of fish, berries and seal fat splendidly ornamented with carving. The mos was based on the grey seals fat which was stored in the dried-out stomachs of sea lions.
Objects made of birch bark are especially graceful, as can be seen looking at replicas of various baskets, water bucket and boxes (caskets) for keeping small stuff. All of them are splendidly decorated with embossed spiral ornamental patterns.
Nivkh clothes differed from that of Ainu. The robes of the former were usually fastened on the left side. Among the exhibits are various robes made of cloth in the early XX century. Of original design is mens traditional hunting clothing — for example skirt made of grey seal skin. Womens robes are decorated with the Amur river style embroidery with metal medallions sewn to the hems. Winter hat with lynx fur flaps is sewn over with blue Manchurian silk — an indicator of its owners wealth and affluence.
Footwear made of grey seal and sea lions pelts (skins) possessed extreme strength and waterproofness. Nivkh women reached excellence in fish skin processing techniques they made footwear, clothes, tabaco pouches and handbags of the fish skin.
Many objects making up the Ainu and Nivkh collections were gathered by B. O. Pilsudski, Polish ethnographer who was sent to Sakhalin as a convict on political charges in 1887. Among the collections objects there are models of traditional dwellings of Nivkhs, inhabiting the northern Sakhalin. Internally heated winter dwellings were built in the forests and that of summer type were erected on stilts in the spawning rivers mouths.

Uilta (Oroks) and Evenki are representatives of the Tungus — Manchurian language family. Reindeer herding is a distinctive feature of their material culture. Domesticated reindeers have been used as the main means of transportation. In summer time reindeers have been used for riding with special saddles and as pack animals and in winter time they have been put in sleighs. In winter the above-mentioned indigenous people wandered about the forests of the North of Sakhalin and in summer their nomadic travels covered the Okhotsk Sea and the Terpeniya Bay coasts. One can see a replica of a pack reindeer complete with essential items of nomadic life such as: saddle, pack bags made of birch bark and buck skin, big pack bags of reindeer skin, round boxes decorated with multi-colored geometrical ornament and embroidered in white reindeer underneck hairs. One can see here a genuine reindeer sleigh used for carrying cargo during wanderings. It was designed for travelling across rugged terrain. Displayed in this part of the exhibition are hunters implements such as: cross bow trap for fur animals, spear tips, carving knives , and wide buck skin padded skies. Winter hunting provided material for trading.
Uilta craftswomen were good at fabricating very nice buck skins for clothes out of reindeer pelts. The buck skins were cut on special cutting boards using special knives. Articles made of buck skin were decorated with embroidery in floral design and the Amur river ornaments made using the chain stich technique. Winter clothes were sewn of reindeer fur — one can see fur coat, fur hat, mittens and high winter boots decorated with mosaic of fur inserts.
As was the case with other indigenous peoples of the Sakhalin island, in summer time Uilta (Oroks) and Evenki were engaged in fisheries making food stock of salmon fish. On the shores of the Sea of Okhotsk they lived in summer dwellings of frame type covered with larch tree bark. Winter dwellings were in the form of conical portable tents covered with reindeer skins. The picture by the Japanese artist Kimura shows dwellings and household structures of Uilta.

Religious beliefs of the Sakhalin and the Kurile islands peoples were based on animistic, totemic and superstitious ideas of the surrounding world involving animals, plants and water bodies et cet. Bear cult was the most important for Sakhalin and the Amur river peoples. Big tribal festivals used to be organized to worship the cult. A bear cub was put into a special log corral (enclosure) and kept there for 2 or 3 years. The mock-up of the corral can be seen in the show case. Here one can see also a ritual scoops used for feeding of the ritual bear. The scoops are decorated with carvings that look like the most simple pictographs. Special arrows with a quiver were used for killing bear on a ritual ground. Mock-up (model) made of bread (XIX century) features the ritual bears killing scene during the Ainu Bear Festival.
Photographs show the ceremonies of feeding and killing of the ritual bear and the bears grave yards — which were considered the sacred tribal places of worship.

Peoples of Sakhalin visualized bear as a mountain man or spirit — thats why many amulets were made in the form of bear figurines. The amulets were believed to possess supernatural force — some of them had been kept by families for centuries. Family protection amulets, hunting amulets to help in hunting or sea harvesting and curing amulets are represented in the collection. Amulets were fabricated either by the shamans engaged in curing, or the people affected by an illness. In the museum the shamans paraphernalia such as: shaman s ritual drum, sash with heavy metal medallions, headgear made of inau shavings or sacred stick and bear skin mask. These objects helped shaman to exorcise an evil spirit from the body, make travels to the Upper and Lower Worlds and help tribesmen in their harsh life.
Objects used in funeral rites testify to the existence of differences in spiritual culture of the peoples of the region in question. Photographs show open air burials common with Evenki and Uilta (Oroks). Nivkhs burnt corpses erecting ritual house where cremation took place. They placed flat wooden figurine thought of as being a dead persons soul repository and regularly performed a rite of feeding. Ainu buried their dead in the ground. Objects used in practicing of the rites are displayed in a special part of the exhibition.
Trade between China and Japan in which indigenous peoples of Amur and Sakhalin were involved played an essential role in life of those peoples. By the XVII century a trade route from the northern China over the Lower Amur via lands of Nanai, Ulchi to Nivkhs and Ainu of Sakhalin and further on to Hokkaido had formed. Silk fabric, metal objects, adornments and other objects had become subjects of exchange. Displayed are the Japanese lacquered tableware used by the Sakhalin Ainu, fragments of the Chinese silk fabric on a hat and so on.
At present Nivkhs, Uilta (Oroks) and Evenki live on Sakhalin, its numerical strength amounting to appr. 3 thou. people.


Exposition of the museum

Ground floor
Historical geology
The fauna of the Far Eastern seas
First floor
Plant and animal life
Ancient cultures and indigenous peoples
In the depths of the ocean
Second floor
Postwar period. Modernity
The discovery and development of the islands
Before the war. World War II
Penal servitude

Kommunisticheskiy prospekt - 29
Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Russia, 693010
+7 (4242) 727555