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Stone artefacts reveal long-distance voyaging among Pacific Islands

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Centuries before Europeans arrived in the Americas, Polynesian peoples had already gained widespread recognition for their sophisticated sailing technology and their ability to navigate to the planet’s most isolated islands.

Polynesian societies migrated rapidly towards the east and established settlements on almost every island in the region, including Samoa and Tonga to Rapa Nui/Easter Island in the east, Hawai’i in the north, and Aotearoa/New Zealand in the south. However, our knowledge about Polynesian migrations to the west of the 180th meridian remains limited.

A multidisciplinary study by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, has analysed the geochemical characteristics of stone artefacts known as Adzes, gathered from Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, and the Caroline Islands.

After comparing the geochemical and isotopic compositions of the artefacts against referenced natural rocks and archaeological quarries in the area, the researchers have been able to determine the geological source and gain a greater understanding of the interconnections between Polynesian societies in the Western Pacific, Melanesia, and Micronesia, commonly referred to as “Polynesian Outliers.”

Out of the eight adzes or adze fragments studied by the researchers, six were traced back to the Tatagamatau quarry complex located on Tutuila Island in American Samoa, which is over 2,500 kilometres away from the Polynesian homeland.

Aymeric Hermann, from the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, said: “Tatagamatau adzes were among the most disseminated items across West and East Polynesia, and the sourcing of Taumako and Emae adzes suggest bursts of long-distance mobility towards the Outliers similar to those that led to the settlement of East Polynesia.”

The team highlights that such inter-island contacts are signals that Polynesian sailors might have played an important role in the reappraisal of long-distance mobility and in the distribution of specific material culture items and technologies such as shell adzes, back-strap loom, and obsidian points among the mosaic of Pacific Island societies in the western Pacific during the last millennium A.D.

“A recent study describes an obsidian stemmed point as a chiefly heirloom found on Kapingamarangi Island with a geochemical signature matching an obsidian source on Lou Island in the Admiralties: this is an exciting find that echoes our identification of a basalt flake from mainland New Britain on that same atoll”, adds Hermann.

Long-distance mobility in the past

In the Pacific region, geochemical sourcing has been particularly successful at locating sources of stone artefacts and tracing the transport of specific items across distant islands and archipelagos. Such material evidence of long-distance inter-island voyaging shows that Pacific Island societies were never completely isolated from one another. These patterns of interaction are central to our understanding of the deeply intertwined history of cultural systems in the Pacific.

In this study, atomic emission spectroscopy and mass spectrometry were used to measure concentration of oxides, trace elements and ratios of radiogenic isotopes in order to identify geological provenances with a high level of accuracy. Thanks to the collaboration of experts in archaeology, geochemistry and data science, a cutting-edge approach to geochemical sourcing was developed, which involves the use of computer-assisted comparisons with open-access databases.

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

Header Image Credit : Aymeric Hermann

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Archaeology

Geophysical study finds evidence of “labyrinth” buried beneath Mitla

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A geophysical study has found underground structures and tunnels beneath Mitla – The Zapotec “Place of the Dead”

Mitla is an archaeological site associated with the Zapotec culture, located in the Oaxaca Valley in the present-day state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico.

The Zapotec civilisation emerged in the late 6th century BC, originating in the Central Valleys of the Etla. The culture was centred on the settlements of Oaxaca, San José Mogote, and Mitla, with the city of Monte Albán serving as the civic-ceremonial centre.

At its peak, the Zapotec had a population of more than 500,000 inhabitants, having developed sophisticated construction techniques, a writing system, two calendar systems, and complex agricultural cultivation.

In 2016, the Lyobaa Project, an institutional collaboration led by the National Institute of History and Anthropology (INAH) employed ground penetrating radar (GPR), electrical resistivity tomography (ERT), and ambient seismic noise interferometry (AIRSA) to explore potential archaeological features beneath the San Pablo Apóstol church, built atop the Zapotec ruins in Mitla.

Image Credit : Lyobaa Project

According to local legend, the church was constructed on an entrance way to an underground labyrinth, serving as a passage between the realm of the living to the realm of the dead, referred to as Mictlán in Nahuatl, meaning the “place of the dead” or “underworld.”

In 1674, the Dominican chronicler, Francisco Burgoa, described Spanish missionaries entering the labyrinth: “Such was the corruption and bad smell, the dampness of the floor, and a cold wind which extinguished the lights, that at the little distance they had already penetrated, they resolved to come out, and ordered this infernal gate to be thoroughly closed with masonry.”

As part of phase two of the Lyobaa Project, the researchers have identified buried architectural complexes and a series of corridors during a study of the Calvario, Arroyo, and del Sur groups within the archaeological zone.

The Arroyo group, located in the central area of the site has three quadrangle features connected by tunnels that likely date from AD 1200 during the Late Postclassic period.

The project also conducted a survey of the quadrangular plaza where the San Pablo Apóstol church was constructed on the remains of a pre-Hispanic temple. Beneath the plaza the researchers found that there are four mounds with clay internal cores.

Archaeologist, Denisse Argote, said: “We were able to determine that, although the core of the stepped structure is solid, the foundation of the historic church requires short-term intervention to guarantee its conservation, so measures must be taken to ensure its structural stability.”

“There are cracks in the historic building, since it does not have a foundation and, underneath, in what corresponds to the remains of the pre-Hispanic building, it seems that there are areas with small cavities,” added Argote.

Header Image Credit : Shutterstock

Sources : INAH

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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Archaeology

Discovery of a Romanesque religious structure rewrites history of Frauenchiemsee

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Archaeologists from the Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation have announced the discovery of a Romanesque religious structure on the island of Frauenchiemsee, the second largest of the three islands in Chiemsee, Germany.

According to the researchers, the structure holds important religious significance, suggesting it might have been erected to venerate Blessed Irmgard (also known as Irmengard), the daughter of King Louis the German and the great-granddaughter of Charlemagne.

During the mid-9th century, Irmgard was appointed the first abbess of Frauenwörth Abbey, who restored the decaying premises and founded a Benedictine convent for nuns. Because of her royal ancestry, she had the right to wear a thin golden hoop resembling a crown, often depicted on paintings and frescoes with her image.

Following her death in 866, Irmgard was venerated and her head reliquary was translated to Seeon Abbey in 1004. She was officially beatified in 1929 by Pope Pius XI, and a celebratory ceremony in 2003 saw her relics reunified.

A recent geophysical study to locate the demolished remains of the Church of Saint Martin has revealed the imprint of a Romanesque structure completely absent from all historical text and contemporary maps.

Image Credit : Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation

The structure is buried at a depth of 1 metre and measures 19 metres in diameter. The GPR results reveal the floor plan of an octagonal central building with an ambulatory formed by eight supports and four arrange in a cross shape.

Mathias Pfeil of the Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation notes that religious structures with pre-Romanesque or Romanesque architecture, particularly those with sacral significance, are exceedingly uncommon north of the Alps. Such edifices are often perceived as imitations of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

According to the researchers, the structure was likely built during the construction of the new monastery and Romanesque abbey church (of which the gatehouse and bell tower survive to this day) to venerate Irmgard as a destination for pilgrims

Header Image Credit : Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation

Sources : Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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