Subpolar Settlement in South Polynesia

By Anderson, Atholl | Antiquity, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Subpolar Settlement in South Polynesia


Anderson, Atholl, Antiquity


Introduction

The probable extent of Polynesian migration in prehistory reaches well beyond the conventional 'Polynesian Triangle', with its vertices at Hawai'i, mainland New Zealand and Easter Island. To the west of it, there were Polynesian outliers in Melanesia and a village site on Norfolk Island (Anderson & White 2001). Circular shell fish-hooks and associated subsistence changes along the east coast of Australia in contexts dating 1500-500 BP, together with the recovery there of stone adzes of Polynesian type (Thorpe 1929), have attracted conjecture about Oceanic influences (O'Connor & Chappell 2003). Similarly, the first-millennium AD appearance of planked canoes, and earlier of circular shell fish-hooks, in California and northern Chile has been associated with Polynesian or Oceanic influences (Heizer 1949; Heyerdahl 1952: 697-705), although American development of each is now argued respectively by Gamble (2002) and Rick et al. (2002). Further south, prehistoric colonisation seems to have been absent on the Juan Fernandez Islands (Anderson et al. 2002), but Amerindian architectural traits (Martinsson-Wallin 1994) and cultigens on Easter Island are held by Green (1998) to reflect substantial Polynesian voyaging along the coast of South America, and Ramirez-Aliaga (1992) has collated data suggestive of Polynesian contact with south-central Chile.

Two expeditions beyond the southern angle of the Polynesian Triangle have sought to elucidate the subpolar extent of Polynesian migration. The first expedition, to the Snares and Auckland Islands in 1998 (Figure 1), suggested that there had been prehistoric settlement on both (Anderson & O'Regan 2000), but key elements of the data remained uncertain. No artefacts were recovered in cultural stratigraphy, sparse shell and fishbone could have originated in seal scats, and questions remained about the extent of in-built age in radiocarbon-dated charcoal samples. A second expedition in 2003 sets those concerns to rest (Anderson 2003a). There is now unambiguous evidence of a thirteenth-fourteenth-century AD settlement on the Auckland Islands. The new data provide the first evidence of pre-European settlement on outlying islands in the Subantarctic zone (the other groups are Falklands and Gough Islands in the South Atlantic, Crozet and Prince Edward Islands in the South Indian Ocean and Bounty, Antipodes and Campbell Islands in the South Pacific). These results also complete a survey of the colonisation prehistory of the outlying archipelagos of South Polynesia (those lying at 500-800km around mainland New Zealand) and enable a review of some characteristics of that phase.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Auckland Islands archaeology

The Subantarctic islands lie between the sub-tropical and Antarctic convergence zones. Locations of these vary seasonally, but south of mainland New Zealand their mean positions are at about 47[degrees]S and 57[degrees]S, respectively. For this and other reasons outlined by Anderson (1981), Foveaux Strait and the Chathams, identified by Sutton and Marshall (1980) as 'Subantarctic', are not in fact subpolar. The largest subpolar archipelago (626[km.sup.2]) is the Auckland Islands, rising to about 650m asl, at 50[degrees]S. Cloudy (900 hours sunshine per annum), cool (mean annual temperature of 8[degrees]C) and humid (100-150cm annual precipitation), they support a narrow fringe of coastal forest and abundant marine life (Department of Conservation 1997).

The expedition in 2003 surveyed most of the east and north coast inlets and islands for signs of Polynesian occupation (the west and south coasts are cliffs up to 600m high). Shell and bird-bone deposits occurred in the only substantial cave encountered, at Tagua Bay, Carnley Harbour, but excavation showed them to be of natural origin and they were dated to 2555 [+ or -] 39 BP (Wk-13430). The other area was at Sandy Bay, Enderby Island. A boulder beach ridge there reaches about 2. …

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