Sakhalin was inhabited in the Neolithic Stone Age. Flint implements, like those found in Siberia, have been found at Dui and Kusunai in great numbers, as well as polished stone hatchets, like European examples, primitive pottery with decorations like those of the Olonets, and stone weights for nets. Afterwards a population to whom bronze was known left traces in earthen walls and kitchen-middens on the Aniva Bay.
Among the indigenous people of Sakhalin are the Ainu on the southern half, the Oroks in the central region, and the Nivkhs on the northern part. Chinese chronicled the Xianbei and Hezhe tribes, who had a way of life based on fishing.
The Mongol Empire did some efforts to subjugate the Guwei (Sakhalin) people from 1280s. By 1308, all inhabitants of Sakhalin had surrendered to the Mongols. They paid tributes to the Great Khans until the end of their regime in China (1368). The Chinese in the Ming dynasty knew the island as Kuyi (Chinese: 苦兀; pinyin: Kǔwù), and later as Kuye (Chinese: 庫頁; pinyin: Kùyè). There is some evidence that the Ming eunuch admiral Yishiha reached Sakhalin in 1413 during one of his expeditions to the lower Amur, and granted Ming titles to a local chieftain. If that was the case, the island would at least nominally be included under the administration of the Nurgal Command Post, which was set up by Yishiha near today village of Tyr on the Russian mainland in 1411, and operated until the mid-1430s. A Ming boundary stone still exists on the island.