Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

Settlement Patterns-Social and Ritual Space in Prehistoric Samoa

Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

Settlement Patterns-Social and Ritual Space in Prehistoric Samoa

Article excerpt


This paper explores the extensive prehistoric settlement pattern at the Letolo plantation. Using the results of earlier research we use a correspondence analysis to investigate variation in the settlement pattern, particularly differences between coastal and inland locations.

Investigation of archaeological sites in Samoa in the 1960s and 1970s resulted in several suggestions about the prehistoric settlement pattern (Davidson 1969, Davidson 1974:242; Jennings et al. 1982). The first archaeological excavations investigated a variety of sites, and an important conclusion of this research was that prehistoric settlement was established at both coastal and inland locales in early prehistory (at least by c. 2000 BP). It was also found that house pavements were an early component of the settlement sequence, but raised stone and earth platforms/mounds for occupation or ritual space are, to current knowledge, confined to the last millennium (Wallin, Martinsson-Wallin and Clark, this publication). A temporal shift in material culture in Samoa is thereby evident. Roads and stone walls were frequently associated with large platforms/mounds. The roads were often clearly defined by stone walls and connected house hold units.

Settlement pattern studies

Jennings et al. (1982) based their discussion of Samoan prehistoric settlement patterns on data from ethnohistorical records, extensive archaeological survey data and excavations, which they compared with the layout of the contemporary village of Fa'a'ala on Savai'i. The results of the Letolo archaeological survey were employed to interpret the prehistoric settlement pattern, but other settlements at Mt Olo on Upolu, and the Sapapali'i settlements on Savai'i were also brought into the discussion. Using the ethnohistoric settlement data as a backdrop, Jennings et al. (1982) concluded that prehistoric settlements consisted of a household unit (HHU) made up of a few individual house platforms, with a cooking area separated from the other units by walls or walkways (more than 75% were enclosed by walls), and a possible garden area within the enclosure (Jennings et al. 1982:82). Several HHU grouped around a chief's dwelling unit, which was identified by a larger platform. Collectively these chiefly clusters constituted a unit called pito nu'u (residential wards). Several pito nu'u clusters constituted a larger unit called nu'u (village) with a mala'e (village green) and a fale tele (community house). Larger platforms were identified as a chief's dwelling or a community meeting house, and through the use of statistical methods the Letolo settlement pattern was divided in to five village wards (pito nu'u) by Jennings et al. (1982:84) (Figure 1).

Roger Green subsequently put forward a sequence in which the settlement pattern has various phases, but there is strong cultural continuity evident throughout the prehistoric sequence (Green 2002:135-146):

1. Settlement patterns during the period of the decorated Lapita ceramics (c. 2900-2700 BP)

2. Settlement patterns during the period of Polynesian plainware (c.2700-2000/1500? BP)

3. An interval for which settlement pattern evidence is extremely limited (c. 1500-1000 BP)

4. Settlement patterns between 1000 and 200 years ago (c. 1000-200 BP).

The earliest archaeological evidence for the settlement pattern came from a house site with Polynesian plainware at Sasoa'a which was dated to c. 1800 BP (Green 2002:138139). The house comprised a principal dwelling (PPN *fale) with its posts (PPN *pou, tulu), and other features including an earth oven (PPN *umu), stone pavement (PPN *paepae), storage pit (PPN *lua) and boundary fence (PPN *lotuqaa). The house layout and features were seen by Green as similar to those of the later household units (HHU), suggesting that there was continuity in the social formations expressed in the Samoan settlement pattern. Green also suggests that Ancestral Polynesian societies were house societies and HHU were tied to a social group (PPN * kainga) 'aiga probably lead by a family elder (PPN * fatu). …

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