Few cultural practices are more fundamentally tied to the environment than agriculture. Because of this, archaeological explanations for the development of food production systems throughout the world have privileged the concept of adaptation. Adaptation in this context has referred to the functional role played by agricultural techniques in an environmental context, for instance the development…
Our third week in the field was taken up with a variety of projects: working in the crater lakes to extract paleoenvironmental cores, continuing to map drainage ditches in Falevao and more D-section coring in Falevao. Plus we had several rain days.
We’ve now mapped an impressive network of ditches in Falevao and these mostly seem to connect to the river and likely served to channel water off the plantations during river flooding—we’ll do an elevational and hydrological analysis to test this idea.
PhD student Ron Lloren from the Swiss ETF (Institute of Technology) is here to collect water samples for Hydrogen isotope analysis. The proportion of H isotopes in various water bodies can tell us about periods of aridity over millenia. We’ll correlate these data with our work on the field systems, flora, and insect fauna to generate as complete a picture of changing ecosystems as we can.
We’re now in our last week or so of fieldwork and back to Falefa mapping landscape features, including massive walled walkways that predate living memory and perhaps represent early divisions of the landscape. Excavations next year will help us determine this.
Our second week of field work had us training another set of NUS Centre for Samoan Studies students, boys this time. We moved inland a bit to survey the lands of Falevao village (some of our Falevao survey area is the banner image), primarily noting and correcting drainage ditches identified in lidar.
We recorded a “fortified site” or at least a set of ridgeline features with platforms, terraces, and “umi ki”. It’s not on any of the Green and Davidson maps, so there’s still some discovery left out there.
We’ve also been facing river sections and taking charcoal and sediment samples. There is a consistent burn layer at about 1.2 m deep across the area with massive charcoal chunks suggesting a big burn of forest. We’ve also found coconut and candlenut endocarp and seeds in the burn layer.
There is a similar burn layer in nearby by Fagaloa Bay that we recorded last year with breadfruit charcoal, and which dates to about 1000 BP.
An interesting question for Falefa: why would populations burn off a presumably productive forest? Perhaps (raised-field) taro agriculture became more advantageous? We’ll return to this area in the upcoming weeks for D-section coring and more sampling. Dating should be interesting as well.
Speaking of D-sections: we hiked into a crater yesterday (on maps, Mt. Savaii) to take cores for pollen, micro- and macro-fossils, invertebrates and other goodies to begin reconstructing the paleoenvironment. It was a successful day with an easy 4 m core. We’ll go back to get down to 5 m and do some more collecting.
For the next two weeks we’ll be making more GIS based maps and coring several locations, all to ultimately figure out the processes that explain agricultural and socio-political change in ancient Samoa.
Here’s the 100 word summary of my recent grant submisstion:
“Despite being the archetype of socially stratified and hierarchical ancient cultures, we do not know how the Polynesian chiefdoms arose from less complex societies. The untested orthodox theory proposes that innovations in land tenure and agriculture lead to chiefly control of populations. Our international team will test this theory through new drone-based mapping and innovative soil analyses that track changes in land boundaries and agricultural productivity. Our research will discover the origins of the Polynesian chiefdoms with significant results for explanations of Polynesia prehistory, the functioning of stratified societies, and the global rise of persistent, institutionalized inequality.”
This is very much a LKFS type of project where we will try to determine the chronology of agriculture and different types of land use in Falefa Valley, ‘Upolu, Samoa. My grant collaborators are Seth Quintus and Matthew Prebble.
It’s a long way from the tropical Pacific, but an excellent flintknapping course availabe through my colleagues in Brazil. Please check it out at the link below:
Giving a talk at UCL on Monday, and also at the University of Bristol on Wednesday, has forced me to think a lot about relevant evolutionary and ecological processes that explain “mass” human movements: proximate triggers such as climate change, selection and the cost of migration, and other issues. All very relevant today.
Helene Martinsson-Wallin’s book is available for ordering.
A new study in Nature by Goldberg et al. (http://rdcu.be/haRk) examines demographic patterns after initial colonization of South America. They rely on radiocarbon dates (summed probability distributions) and site distributions. I wonder if a similar procedure could be used for Lapita colonization of Remote Ocean and later East Polynesia. We do not have enough “clean” radiocarbon dates however ( http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/long/108/5/1815).
However, the explanation of the South American pattern is interesting: rapid dispersal and low impact on the enviroment through hunting/gathering and low level food production. Later agriculture increases and population growth turns exponential–sounds like Oceanic colonization to me…