Marsden Research on Ancient Samoan Agriculture and Political Complexity

We’ve kicked off field work for our research on the development of Samoan agriculture and political complexity in the Falefa Valley, ‘Upolu, working with the villages of Falefa and Falevao. Last week Associate Investigator Matt Prebble and I had National University of Samoa Students working with us as part of their HSA380 Field Archaeology course. The upcoming week we will have a new batch of students on the course. University and Centre for Samoan Studies staff, lead by Matiu Matavai Tautunu and Dionne Fonoti, have also helped behind the scenes and in the field.

Samoan archaeology student Vinimua captures the discussion of something important over there.

Our first goals is to map the extent of agricultural features such as rock walls, ditches, and terraces through a combination of lidar-based feature extraction and ground-truthing. We are working with the feature extraction data produced by Associate Investigator Seth Quintus at the University of Hawaii. With our field data, Seth should be able to tweak his extraction procedures to get better results. One obvious issue we are encountering is the use of rocks from old walls to build new structures. The old wall are visible in the field as exposed base-courses, but don’t show up very well in the lidar.

Samoan archaeology student Rachel records a rock wall.

We use a combination of Bad Elf GNSS Surveyor units, bluetoothed to iPads with ArcGIS Collector to collect field data. This is a really slick system and allows us to upload data every day to our ArcGIS enterprise cloud where Seth (currently in Hawaii) can check on our work, offer advice and ask for corrections. The Bad Elfs are working surprisingly well. I was nervous about their accuracy in heavy canopy, but they are consistently getting sub-5 metre accuracy and down to a metre or less with clear sky. Trimble has got a serious competitor here.

Some of the features recorded thus far include walls, starmounds, and stratigraphic relationships.

Our field data after just five days at work is pretty extensive. Although the valley is huge, I think that after a couple more month long sessions over the next year we will have generated an impressive amount of spatial data on agricultural infrastructure.

It’s hot surveying in the Samoan bush.

In a little over a week’s time we will be working with the D-section corer in the inland lake-caldera. For more check out the Centre for Samoan Studies, Research Gate, Google Scholar and Twitter.

Recording Ideas for Marsden Falefa Project

Seth Quintus, Mat Prebble and I have been planning upcoming field work associated with our Marsden project in association with the National University of Samoa, Centre for Samoan Studies (https://samoanstudies.ws)

One direction we will likely travel is down the path of full digital recording with iPADs/tablets and various GPS technology. This article in Internet Archaeology http://intarch.ac.uk/journal/issue47/1/index.html is informative, to a degree, but also bogged down in “reflexive”-speak. However, access to various levels of recording in real-time has great promise.

 

 

 

 

Archaeology at Tiavea-tai

Jack Golson worked at Tiavea-tai in the 1960s and we returned last year to explore the deposits that Jack first identified.

Tiavea-tai beach ridge.

We dug a couple of 2 x 1 m test pits and several cores to identify basic stratigraphy. Excavation results were similar to our work earlier in the year, and in 2016, at several sites in Fagaloa. Deposits appear to be in the range of 400-600 years old, lack ceramics, and in relative terms, represent fairly low-intensity occupation (compared to, say, Tula, on Tutuila).

Flying the old IARII colours as I stand in a pit.

This makes me think that there may be low-intensity, late occupation of the northeast  and east ‘Upolu coastline from Fagaloa to Lalomanu, in line with Cochrane et al., 2016 and Kane et al. 2017.

Dr Mat Prebble standing next to a rock wall at Tiavea-tai, an abandoned village in northeast ‘Upolu

Cultural Evolution Society 2017 conference, Jena, Germany

It’s been a week since the end of the inaugural CES conference in Jena, part-hosted by the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. It was great to be at a conference where everyone was playing with the same rules: evolution is a general framework used to explain human and animal behavioural and artefact variation. I’m not sue how much CES differs from the Human Behaviour and Evolution Society meetings (HBES).

Ethan talking about evolution and agriculture

I gave a talk with my co-author Fiona Jordan that was well-received. We use Bayesian phylogentic analyses to examine the evolution of agricultural traits in the Pacific. Major conclusion thus far: new environments encountered in Polynesia explain the radiation of diverse techniques.

Ethan Cochrane, Joe Brewer, and Jamie Tehrani talking shop.

A highlight of the conference was seeing old colleagues and meeting new ones. The excellent German beer and food didn’t hurt.

Next year’s conference will be in Tempe, Arizona, at ASU. I encourage more archaeologists to attend, especially those interested in macroevolutionary studies, as these were somewhat lacking in Jena.

Land and Agriculture in 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.”

Falefa viewed from Lemafa pass.

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.

Evolution and the Colonization of the Pacific

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.

Cochrane_UCLtalk

South American Demography Study

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…