Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

The Archaeology of Rock Art in Fiji: Evidence, Methods and Hypotheses

Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

The Archaeology of Rock Art in Fiji: Evidence, Methods and Hypotheses

Article excerpt


We present results from four field seasons in Fiji focused on rock art research. We recorded previously noted sites and surveyed particular areas in search of new ones. The results tend to confirm the scarcity of Fijian rock art, as our research has produced a total of 23 sites. Nonetheless, this fact implies some interesting aspects. First, there are at least two different traditions of rock art in Fiji, which we have broadly defined as a Polynesian-based tradition and a collection of unique cases. In spite of the small size of the sample, the Polynesian-based tradition shares a series of conventions that allow us to detect patterns. The group of unique cases is formed by particular and unique actions, and is likely later in time. Fiji is an exception in the broader Oceanic context in terms of rock art, since it is generally quite abundant in this area. This discontinuity is used to argue that rock art was probably not an inherited cultural practice carried out by people during the colonisation process but, rather, a relevant activity associated with different historical developments in different archipelagos.

Keywords: Fiji, patterns, rock art.


Until recently, Fijian rock art has been poorly known. Most research was limited to the depictions described in a few old and sketchy publications (Hill 1956; O'Reilly 1954; Paine 1929; Palmer & Clunie 1970; Parke 1960; Phillipps 1951; Snow 1950; Vogan 1937). Except for Ewins' (1995) work on Vatulele, there is no global account or in-depth analysis on any of the sites. But a thorough investigation of rock art in Fiji is important for more than merely filling in a gap in the archaeological record. Fiji is an "in between" archipelago, "situated geographically closer to Western Polynesia ... yet usually classified as a 'Melanesian' culture" (Kirch 2002:155). Therefore it is particularly relevant when tracing Oceanic cultural manifestations back to their origins. Given that rock art is abundant throughout most of Oceania, the dearth of a similar tradition of rock art making in Fiji should be explained, rather than assumed.

Our first approach to the topic (Millerstrom & Cruz Berrocal 2009, 2010) was to produce comprehensive surveys, since neither surveys nor site excavations with a focus on rock art had previously been performed in Fiji. This is an archipelago located in the South-Central Pacific, composed of over 300 islands scattered over 18300 [km.sup.2]. We undertook fieldwork for four consecutive years between 2007 and 2010, carried out by the authors in 2007, 2008 and 2009, and by Maria Cruz Berrocal, Antonio Uriarte Gonzalez and Juan Gaspar Leal Valladares in 2010.

Due to the extent and difficulty of accessing most Fijian islands, we developed different strategies to study the rock art: (a) We collected published or oral references of all real or potential rock art sites in Fiji. (b) We revisited and re-recorded known sites, exploring the surroundings in order to test the accuracy of the available information. It is questionable whether some of the sites mentioned in the bibliography exist or whether some marks were mistaken as rock art. In other cases, some confusion may exist as to the location of some of the figures and what they depict. (c) We developed an intensive survey on Moturiki Island, in order to test different hypotheses related to rock art. We intended to understand how landscape and rock art are linked, and how the underlying processes of increasing social complexity might have played a role in the making of rock art in Fiji.

The results are summarised in Tables 1-3. Table 1 presents the sites that we recorded through forms, pictures and tracings, including three boulders with polishing grooves (one in Uluibau, unnamed; Menawai; and one in Rukuruku Bay, unnamed) that we do not include in our count of rock art sites (for the distribution of the sites, see Figure 1). Table 2 synthesises the iconographic information from the sites that we recorded. …

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