Culturally Modified Human Remains Recovered from an Earth-Oven Interment on Waya Island, Fiji

By Cochrane, Ethan E.; Pietrusewsky, Michael et al. | Archaeology in Oceania, April 2004 | Go to article overview

Culturally Modified Human Remains Recovered from an Earth-Oven Interment on Waya Island, Fiji


Cochrane, Ethan E., Pietrusewsky, Michael, Douglas, Michele T., Archaeology in Oceania


Abstract

The incomplete skeletal remains of a young adolescent (10-12 years of age) were recovered from the uppermost 1ayer of ah earth-oven at the Qaranicagi Site (Y2-39), Waya Island, Fiji. Analysis of the remains revealed minimal tire of heat alteration. Cut marks are distributed across several elements and suggest at least partial butchering of the individual.

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During the 2001 University of Hawai'i Archaeological Field School in Fiji, the partial skeletal remains of a juvenile were excavated from the Qaranicagi Site (Y2-39), Fiji. The remains were recovered from an earth-oven feature approximately 0.7 m below the present cave floor. The remains consist of a single individual and show evidence of burning and cut marks. EEC and the 2001 field school students excavated the remains. MP and MTD performed the osteological analysis, assisted by Scott Reinke. A detailed osteological analysis is presented in Pietrusewsky et al. (2003). This report summarizes the excavation results, osteological analysis, and preliminary interpretations.

Excavation and feature description

The Qaranicagi site is located on Waya Island in the Yasawa Group, the westernmost islands in Fiji (Figure 1). The cave is approximately 100 m above sea level overlooking Yalobi Bay on the southern coast of Waya. Three test units have been excavated in the cave revealing, at greatest depth, approximately 2.6 m of stratified cultural deposits containing abundant pottery, faunal material, and a few historic artifacts in the upper levels. Additional non-cultural deposits were excavated in one of the test units to a depth of 3.3 m below the ground surface. Preliminary artifact analyses, site formation, and dates of occupation are presented in Cochrane (2002; in press) and Hunt et al. (1999).

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Humans first began using the cave around 750 B.C. and a continuous human presence up to the very recent past is documented through the deposition of earthenware pottery throughout the cultural sequence. Fish, bird, reptile, and mammal bone was recovered from various levels. This midden contains human bone as well, including a few fragments of unidentified long bones from spit 4 (30-40 cmbs) in test unit 1, and a maxillary fragment and several loose teeth from spit 6 (50-60 cmbs) and spit 7 (60-70 cmbs) in test unit 2. The long limb bone fragments from test unit 1 and the remains from test unit 2 were not articulated or deposited in a manner that suggests components of a burial. A sample of wood charcoal from spit 6 in test unit 1 has been dated to cal AD 1400-1700 (93%) and 1750-1800 (1.9%) at 20 (Beta-53179, Cochrane 2002). Some of the numerous unidentified "medium mammal" bones recovered from Qaranicagi may be human as well.

The earth-oven feature with human remains was uncovered in test unit 3 near the back of the cave where the ceiling slopes towards the cave floor. Test unit 3 (1 [m.sup.2]) was excavated to culturally sterile sediments approximately 2.5 m below the ground surface (Figure 2). Five stratigraphic layers in test unit 3 (including the culturally sterile layer V) attest to slight changes in the depositional environment over time, but there is no evidence of post-depositional mixing.

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

The basin-shaped earth-oven was approximately 26 cm deep, roughly circular in plan-view, and 70 cm in diameter. The top of the feature was encountered 68 cm below the present ground surface. Excavation of test unit 3 bisected the earth-oven, but all contents of the earth-oven were removed by excavating into the sidewalls.

The earth-oven was internally stratified. The uppermost 4 centimeters consisted of a horizontal layer of fine, gray ash that contained the human remains. Beneath this, the earth-oven was filled with over a hundred angular, small cobbles of basalt, many broken and friable as a result of intense heating. Wood charcoal was also present within this layer of oven stones, with charcoal abundance increasing toward the base. …

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