In the Shadows of Kuk: Evidence for Prehistoric Agriculture at Kana, Wahgi Valley, Papua New Guinea

By Muke, John; Mandui, Herman | Archaeology in Oceania, October 2003 | Go to article overview
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In the Shadows of Kuk: Evidence for Prehistoric Agriculture at Kana, Wahgi Valley, Papua New Guinea

Muke, John, Mandui, Herman, Archaeology in Oceania


Archaeological survey with limited excavation at the Kana site revealed evidence of prehistoric agricultural practices in the form of ditches and other cut features on an abandoned river terrace of the Minj River. Based on the stratigraphy and radiocarbon dating, the features have been cross-correlated to Phases 2, 3, 4 and 5 at Kuk Swamp, in the Upper Wahgi Valley. Peter Matthews identified exocarp fragments and seeds of a gourd collected from the fill of a ditch to be wax gourd (Benincasa hispida). The gourd exocarp fragments were radiocarbon dated to 2450 [+ or -] 200 BP (ANU 9487).


The wetland agricultural site at Kana, Minj District, Western Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea, is located approximately 5 km northeast of Minj town, about 2 km west of the confluence of the Wahgi and Minj Rivers, adjacent to the main Highlands Highway (Figure 1). The archaeological investigation of this site occurred in the southwest corner of the Korman Gilman Coffee Plantation in 1993-4. The plantation is a village enterprise utilising a small swamp on river terraces of the Minj River at the base of the main southwestern slopes of the Wahgi Valley. The river terraces stretch westwards from the river for more than half a kilometre and then turn northwards, where U-shaped embayments open to the east form a series of partly enclosed micro-swamps.


Drainage of the north and east parts of the swamp began in the late 1980s. The first coffee trees planted have long matured. The sides of the original drains have collapsed and some have developed into small gullies. As a result, archaeological visibility in this area is poor. The southwest corner of the plantation was not drained until the early 1990s. The drainage network in the southwest corner consists of twelve drains, each 80-100 m long and numbered SD1-12 from west to east, which run S-N across the slope above the lowest terrace to join with drain WD6, the southernmost of six W-E trending drains dug in the swamp proper (Figure 1). The six W-E trending drains (WD1-6), which are each approximately 60 m long and 5 m apart, join with SD12, the main N-S oriented disposal drain. SD12 originates at the mouth of a gully of an intermittent stream and flows northwards across the plantation, past the Timil Wahgi Mission and into the Wahgi River. The gully of a second intermittent stream enters the upper terrace from the southwest corner, and has been diverted along the artificial drain network to flow into an artificially maintained, if not made, channel to the northwest.

Field methods

During construction of the drainage network in the southwest corner of the plantation, a number of artefacts, including wooden digging sticks, were uncovered. The local landowners reported the finds to Muke and Mr. N. Araho, who were conducting an archaeological reconnaissance survey in the region. Muke and Araho conducted a brief inspection of archaeological features exposed in the modern drains and excavated a small test unit. A grindstone was collected from the test unit at 1 m below the surface near the interface between the main black and grey clay units (see below). This grindstone is currently stored at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, UPNG.

Muke directed the field seasons in 1993 and 1994, and Prof. Jack Golson assisted for a few days on both occasions. Additional fieldwork was undertaken in 1996 and 1997. Coffee trees had already been planted and were growing at the site when the archaeological investigations commenced. It was not possible to undertake open area excavation, but permission was granted to dig out, sample and record within the existing drain network. The field investigations were limited to two locations on drains WD3 (in 1993) and WD5 (in 1994) (Figure 1).

Site stratigraphy

The summary stratigraphy for the site is presented in Table 1 and discussed below.

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