Stone artefacts reveal long-distance voyaging among Pacific Islands
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
Nazca geoglyphs discovered used AI deep learning
Archaeologists from the Yamagata University have used AI deep learning to discover new geoglyphs in the northern part of the Nazca Pampa in the arid Peruvian coastal plain.
Geoglyphs in the Nazca Pampa were first identified during the 1920’s, with ongoing studies since the 1940’s revealing various figurative geoglyphs of zoomorphic designs, geometric shapes, and linear lines.
Geoglyphs can be categorised into three main types: figurative, geometric, and lineal. Archaeologists suggest that the lineal geoglyphs were created by the Nazca, a culture that developed during the Early Intermediate Period and is generally divided into the Proto Nazca (phase 1, 100 BC to AD 1), the Early Nazca (phases 2–4, AD 1 to 450), Middle Nazca (phase 5, AD 450 to 550) and the Late Nazca (phases 6–7, AD 550 to 750).
The relief type dates from the Late Formative period (400 to 200 BC), as the iconography of the geoglyphs are similar to that of Formative petroglyphs found on outcrops of rock. During this period, the region was inhabited by the Paracas Culture, an Andean people that emerged around 800 BC until 100 BC.
Since 2004, Yamagata University has been conducting geoglyph distribution surveys using satellite imagery, aerial photography, airborne scanning LiDAR, and drone photography to investigate the vast area of the Nazca Pampa covering more than 390 km2.
In 2016, the researchers used aerial photography with a ground resolution of 0.1 m per pixel to create a detailed survey of the region. Overtime, the team have identified various geoglyphs, however, the process is very time consuming, so they have adopted AI deep learning to analyse the photographs at a much faster rate.
The results of a study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, has revealed the discovery of four new Nazca geoglyphs using this new method by creating an approach to labelling training data that identifies a similar partial pattern between the known and new geoglyphs.
The four new geoglyphs depict a humanoid figure, a pair-of-legs, a fish, and a bird. The humanoid geoglyph is shown holding a club in his/her right hand and measures 5 metres in length. The fish geoglyph, shown with a wide-open mouth measures 19 metres, while the bird geoglyph measures 17 metres and the pair-of-legs 78 metres.
According to the study authors: “We have developed a DL pipeline that addresses the challenges that commonly arise in the task of archaeological image object detection. Our approach allows DL to learn representations of images with better generalisation and performance, enabling the discovery of targets that have been difficult to find in the past. Moreover, by accelerating the research process, our method contributes to archaeology by establishing a new paradigm that combines field surveys and AI, leading to more efficient and effective investigations.”
Header Image Credit : Yamagata University
Archaeologists study fortress in southern Georgia to understand community resilience
A team of archaeologists led by Cranfield University is conducting a detailed study of the fortress of Dmanisis Gora in the Kvemo Kartli region of Georgia.
The study is part of a project to understand why communities in the region were more resilient than other parts of the world during the transition from the Bronze to the Iron Age around 1200 BC.
Dmanisis Gora is located at the north-eastern edge of the highland zone between two such gorges. The site consists of a compact defensive core that has two defensive walls with an enclosed area of 3.7 acres.
On the plateau behind the citadel area, a third wall, extending about 1000 m from edge to edge on the plateau, encloses a much larger area of about 138.3 acres that contains numerous circular and linear stone features.
During the so-called ‘12th Century BC crisis’ and its aftermath, the majority of Middle Eastern regions underwent a period of significant turmoil characterised by the disintegration of empires, famine, crop failures, armed conflicts, and mass migration.
In contrast, the Caucasus region (consisting of present-day Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan) appears to have been shielded from this tumultuous period, exhibiting only gradual transformations in material culture and patterns of settlement.
Either the region managed to entirely avoid the widespread disruption, or it did not experience the same cultural, economic, and political repercussions as other areas. This suggests that the communities in the region might have been more resilient, enabling them to withstand and adapt to the challenges in a comparatively effective manner.
Dr Erb-Satullo, from Cranfield University, said: “The key to understanding why the Bronze Age-Iron Age transition is different in the Caucasus is to study the fortress communities that dot the landscape during this period. We’re looking for clues about life in the Late Bronze Age through examining areas such as ceramics, burial rituals, farming practices, tools and social structures.”
“Given the upheaval at that time in other nearby regions, we are intrigued to find out more about one of these sites and determine what underlies their apparent resilience,” added Dr Erb-Satullo.
The project expands upon earlier pilot excavations carried out at the site prior to the pandemic, along with a thorough survey conducted in Autumn 2022 using drone-based photogrammetry. This is done by using the latest forensic technologies including isotopic analysis of animal remains, metallurgy, magnetometry and deploying drones to scan the area.
“What’s really exciting about this site is its size, preservation, and the fact that it has layers dating precisely to the years around the 12th Century BC crisis,” continued Dr Erb-Satullo. “Many fortresses are on hills which are prone to erosion. But this one has relatively flat topography, so the sediment will have built up in layers over time, helping to preserve artefacts and archaeological clues from the Late Bronze age.”
Header Image Credit : BING Maps
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