Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

A Commanding View of the Pacific: Highland Land Use as Viewed from Vainu'u, a Multi-Component Site on Tutuila Island, American Samoa

Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

A Commanding View of the Pacific: Highland Land Use as Viewed from Vainu'u, a Multi-Component Site on Tutuila Island, American Samoa

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

We discuss recent findings from Vainu'u (AS-32-016), a multi-component highland site on Tutuila Island, American Samoa. Vainu'u is of interest for at least three reasons. First, as the earliest recorded highland site in the Samoan archipelago, this site changes our understanding of the Samoan cultural chronology. Second, as a ceramic-bearing site, material culture recovered from Vainu'u complements assemblages recovered from lowland and coastal sites. Third, the post-ceramic occupation observed at Vainu'u provides interesting insights into residential occupation during the Monument Building Period.

Keywords: Samoa, chronology, radiocarbon, highland settlement, Polynesia.

INTRODUCTION

In this paper, we examine the occupation of Vainu'u (AS-32-016)--a multi-component site located on Tutuila Island, American Samoa--and interpret the site in light of our broader understanding of Samoan prehistory. Archaeological work at Vainu'u is of interest for at least three reasons. First, as the earliest recorded highland site in the Samoan archipelago, this site changes our understanding of the Samoan cultural chronology. Evidence from Vainu'u shows that the highlands were being occupied, at least for resource procurement and possibly for residence, as early as 2270 BE Vainu'u is also the first ceramic-bearing site located in the highlands (Figure 1) to be recorded and systematically excavated in the Samoan archipelago. At the time of Vainu'u's discovery, the understanding of the ancestral Samoan cultural sequence had pottery production occurring during 3100-1700 BE prior to residential settlement of the highlands (Davidson 1969, 1974, 1979; Pearl 2004); previously recorded ceramic-bearing sites had all been located along the coast or in the foothills.

Second, as a ceramic-bearing highland site, material culture recovered from Vainu'u provides an important complement to the assemblages recovered from excavations at lowland and coastal sites. Our evidence suggests that cultural activities practised at Vainu'u were somewhat different than those practised at coastal sites. As such, more archaeological work needs to be done at ceramic-period highland sites so as to be able to understand the full range of behaviours practised by the earliest settlers of Tutuila Island.

Third, and finally, the post-ceramic occupation at Vainu'u provides interesting insights into residency during the Monument Building Period. Unlike the larger, more well-known archaeological sites of this period, residents of Vainu'u do not appear to have been at the centre of any prestige building or production specialisation activities. Examination of Monument Building Period sites that were not politically central, as seems to be the case at Vainu'u, has the potential to provide important data to help explain how social complexity developed, was organized and was maintained in late-period Samoan prehistory. Interpretation of such data provides a clearer understanding of the lifeways of ancestral Samoans than we have at present.

VAINU'U AND ITS CULTURAL SETTING

Vainu'u is located at approximately 1100 feet (335.28 m) above sea level on a ridge between two forks of the Leaveave Stream. First identified as a prehistoric site by David Herdrich, American Samoa territorial archaeologist, Vainu'u was mapped and excavated by a Texas A&M University archaeology crew in 2006 and 2007 (Eckert & Welch 2009). Combined, the 2006 testing and the 2007 archaeological investigations at Vainu'u resulted in the excavation of 23 1 x 1 metre units with a volume of ~17 cubic metres as well as 14 shovel test pits (Figure 2).

The material culture recovered includes 718 basalt artefacts, 24 volcanic glass artefacts and 755 ceramic sherds. Only a subset of artefacts could be assigned to stratigraphic layers (Table 1); we focus on this subset to interpret cultural activity during each component. The majority of artefacts could not be assigned to a stratigraphic layer because these artefacts were surface finds, were recovered from four excavations units where stratigraphy was not well recorded or were recovered from three excavation units disturbed by historical activity. …

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