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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

Archaeologists may have discovered the lost city of Tu’am

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Excavations in the Umm Al Quwain area of the UAE have revealed 6th century ruins that could be the lost city of Tu’am.

The ruins are situated on Al Sinniyah Island, part of a collection of small islands on the western part of the Khor Al Bidiyah peninsula.

Previous studies on the island have revealed a pearling village and monastery, which has been the focus of the latest season of excavations.

Archaeologists have discovered evidence of a larger settlement, with the earliest signs of occupation dating back to the 4th century AD and peaking in the 5th or 6th century.

The team uncovered traces of large semi-urbanised tenement buildings measuring 30 square metres, which are tightly packed around narrow walkways. According to the researchers, the settlement could be the lost city of Tu’am as described in Ancient Arab texts.

Tu’am was a regional capital on the Gulf coast that was famed for its pearl fishing industry and trade in precious gems.

The population went into decline following a plague and regional tensions, and subsequently was abandoned. Mass graves in the vicinity support the historical account of plague, as the skeletal remains show no evidence of trauma or a violent death.

“Our archaeological work has discovered the largest settlement by far ever found on the Gulf coast of the Emirates,” said Prof Tim Power of UAE University.

“And it’s exactly the right period for the city described in the early Islamic geographical sources. It’s clearly a really important place. No one has ever found it.”

Professor Power explained that while they have not found irrefutable evidence (such as an inscription bearing the town’s name), no other major settlements from this period have been discovered on the coast, strengthening the argument that the settlement is Tu’am. “It’s a process of elimination,” he explained.

Header Image Credit : Umm Al Quwain Department of Tourism and Archaeology

Sources : NUAE

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

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Archaeology

New findings in North America’s first city

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Cahokia was the largest urban settlement of the Mississippian culture, a mound-building pre-Columbian civilisation that emerged in the Midwestern, Eastern, and South-eastern United States.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the city was founded around AD 1050 along the banks of the Mississippi River, located near present-day St. Louis, Missouri.

The city covered an area between six to nine square miles (notably larger than many contemporary European cities such as London) and was home to up to 20,000 inhabitants at its peak.

Following the tradition of the Mississippian culture, the people of Cahokia constructed large earthen mounds – ranging from raised platforms, conical, and ridge-top designs – involving the movement of 55 million cubic feet of earth over a period that lasted several decades.

The largest mound is known as “Monks Mound,” named after a group of Trappist monks, which rises to a height of 290 metres and was once the tallest building construction in North America.

Image Credit : MattGush – iStock

Archaeologists and students from Saint Louis University (SLU) have recently conducted a series of excavations on the western periphery of the Cahokia Mounds.

The team unearthed 900-year-old ceramics, microdrills, structures, and wall trenches dating from around AD 1100 to 1200, during the Sterling Phase of the Mississippian Period. According to the archaeologists, the finds offer new insights into a crucial period in the chiefdom’s development, coinciding with Cahokia’s rapid population growth.

The excavations follow an aerial survey by SLU and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency using Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) to conduct Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) to determine whether further mounds or archaeological features lie within the acres of thick forests and swampy land near the site’s main complex.

Header Image Credit : Alamy

Sources : KSDK

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

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