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Patterns of Mortuary Practice over Millennia in Southern Vanuatu, South Melanesia

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Patterns of Mortuary Practice over Millennia in Southern Vanuatu, South Melanesia

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Mortuary archaeology in New Zealand is a tapu ‘sacred, prohibited’ subject due to the special place that kōiwi tangata ‘human skeletal remains’ hold in Māori culture. Recognition of Māori rights over ancestral remains led to a near cessation of published studies in recent decades. But kōiwi tangata are frequently uncovered accidentally by development or erosion and, in collaboration with Māori, recorded prior to reburial. The resulting pool of unpublished data presents an opportunity to advance our currently stagnant archaeological understanding of the burial practices of past Māori communities, particularly given that some sites are demonstrating a higher level of complexity of burial process than has hitherto been discussed archaeologically. Although still a highly charged subject, there exist a number of examples of Māori groups voicing support for respectful, collaborative study of burials. As time and tide continue to expose kōiwi, it is time for appraisal of the archaeological literature on this subject. This paper reviews the history and current practice of mortuary archaeology in New Zealand, highlighting how current bioarchaeological perspectives offer valuable potential. In particular, the concept of the burial rite as an ongoing process, the various stages of which can result in different forms of burial, and the application of the principles of field anthropology (anthropologie de terrain) to identify stages of mortuary activity offer new frameworks for exploring the variety evident in Māori burial and the social and conceptual insight this can offer.
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Archaeological research on the island of Aneityum, the southernmost inhabited island of the Vanuatu archipelago (the former New Hebrides), began in 1963 under the direction of Richard and Mary Shutler. It was soon after this that William Dickinson began analysing pottery sherds from various sites across the archipelago. He ultimately went on to study hundreds of samples, including - most recently - 112 from the site of Teouma on Efate Island. Early pottery sites remained elusive in the southern islands for two decades after the Shutlers' pioneering work and on Aneityum for nearly 50 years. Assessments of the island's geomorphology, a key aspect regularly emphasised by Dickinson, coupled with perseverance and some serendipitous test-pitting finally led to the discovery of a Lapita site on Aneityum. Dickinson's petrographic expertise was once again called on some 50 years after research first started on the island, to contribute to initial identification of the site's significance. We examine the difficulty of finding Lapita on Aneityum through a historical lens in order to reflect back on other presumed Lapita "gaps" that remain today, such as in much of the main Solomons' chain and - with one current exception - in Samoa. Perhaps the gaps in other regions are not as extensive as is often argued.
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The Republic of Vanuatu, a small archipelago of island Melanesia, is home to 138 distinct Oceanic languages, for which we provide here a new list and map. This updated figure, obtained by combining earlier sources and more recent information from experts, makes Vanuatu the country with the highest language density in the world, whether compared to its land surface, or to its population. This modern density is not due to genealogical diversity, but reflects three millennia of in situ diversification from a single ancestor, Proto Oceanic. This historical process took the form of multiple linguistic innovations that spread across the dialect continuum in entangled patterns, bringing about the mosaic we know today. Vanuatu’s linguistic diversity is now increasingly threatened by the spread of the national language, Bislama. The various chapters in this volume describe and discuss some of the cultural and linguistic features that make Vanuatu such a diverse archipelago.
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Funerary treatments affect the course of decomposition of a corpse. Such treatments may involve inhumation or cremation, and sometimes segmentation of the cadaver or the skeleton. At the Lapita site at Teouma (Vanuatu, c. 3000 BP), where 68 funerary contexts have been found, intentional transformations of the deceased were performed at different times during the funerary sequence, using five different kinds of treatment and suggesting the intervention of several different operators. Two main “chaînes opératoires”, applied at the beginning and end of the funerary sequence, have been reconstructed. The first involves the dismemberment of the body, as identified by taphonomic analysis, followed by the deposition of the human remains in a pit. The second includes the removal of selected bones from a skeletonized body, followed in some cases by deposition of bones at the cemetery in an elaborate pattern. Analysis of the differences between the funerary contexts suggests that dismemberment was undertaken by specialists while deposition of the body and removal of the bones were carried out by several distinct operators.
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Despite a consistent presence in the archaeological record of the Lapita cultural complex, and their omnipresence in the associated literature, the nature and range of shell artefacts recovered from Lapita sites has only been partially summarized at best. Considering the categories of raw material choice, working techniques, formal artefact types and curation, this article summarizes our current knowledge and points to areas for further research.
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New discoveries and previously-unpublished data on burials from south, central, and north Vanuatu are reviewed in this paper, offering a synthesis of mortuary practices over three millennia, from Lapita to the early European contact period. Relying on five attributes describing the practices and behaviours (body and bone treatment, position and orientation of the body, ornaments and associated artefacts, and use of single or multiple burial), the analysis emphasizes two major episodes of structural changes in the overall funerary system following initial settlement of Vanuatu. The first occurred towards the end of the Lapita period and the second is indicated by the distinctiveness of the second millennium aD burials. A possible interpretation of these changes, following the lines of Thomas's 'genealogical ap-proach' (2001) is proposed.
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Excavation of the 3,000-year-old Lapita cemetery of Teouma (Efate, Central Vanuatu) has allowed the first detailed investigation of mortuary practices of these initial colonizers of the Vanuatu archipelago. Focusing on one component of funerary practice: the adult corpse and bone treatment of 25 mortuary contexts recovered at the site during excavations in 2004 and 2005, the present study reveals that beyond a complex procedure common for all the deceased, there is marked diversity of funerary behavior. Utilizing current knowledge and practice regarding the method of field anthropology or archaeothanatology, including the chronology of joint disarticulation sequences, we were able to establish the following practices: treatment of corpses by inhumation in a container—pit or wrappers—not immediately filled with sediment, followed by exhumation of the skull and other bones of the upper part of the skeleton, and secondary deposition of bones, including the cranium. The identified variations reflect particular attitudes toward human remains which might be connected to the social position of the deceased and/or individual choice.
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Extr. de res. d'A. (...) Les articulations labiles, plus precocement rompues, apportent les meilleurs arguments pour demontrer le caractere primaire d'une sepulture et discuter son evolution. L'anthropologie de terrain vise a restituer l'attitude originelle du corps, l'agencement des pieces d'habillement, des elements de parure et du mobilier; elle contribue aussi a definir l'architecture de la tombe en precisant le milieu de decomposition (espace vide ou colmate) et en montrant les effets du contenant sur la position des ossements. Sont egalement discutes dans cet article les criteres d'identification de depots secondaires, les reinterventions consecutives a la reouverture de la tombe, et les methodes specifiques d'analyse des sepultures multiples et collectives
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The archipelago of Vanuatu has been at the crossroads of human population movements in the Pacific for the past three millennia. To help address several open questions regarding the history of these movements, we generated genome-wide data for 11 ancient individuals from the island of Efate dating from its earliest settlement to the recent past, including five associated with the Chief Roi Mata’s Domain World Heritage Area, and analyzed them in conjunction with 34 published ancient individuals from Vanuatu and elsewhere in Oceania, as well as present-day populations. Our results outline three distinct periods of population transformations. First, the four earliest individuals, from the Lapita-period site of Teouma, are concordant with eight previously described Lapita-associated individuals from Vanuatu and Tonga in having almost all of their ancestry from a “First Remote Oceanian” source related to East and Southeast Asians. Second, both the Papuan ancestry predominating in Vanuatu for the past 2,500 years and the smaller component of Papuan ancestry found in Polynesians can be modeled as deriving from a single source most likely originating in New Britain, suggesting that the movement of people carrying this ancestry to Remote Oceania closely followed that of the First Remote Oceanians in time and space. Third, the Chief Roi Mata’s Domain individuals descend from a mixture of Vanuatu- and Polynesian-derived ancestry and are related to Polynesian-influenced communities today in central, but not southern, Vanuatu, demonstrating Polynesian genetic input in multiple groups with independent histories.
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Reconstructing routes of ancient long-distance voyaging, long a topic of speculation, has become possible thanks to advances in the geochemical sourcing of archaeological artifacts. Of particular interest are islands classified as Polynesian Outliers, where people speak Polynesian languages and have distinctly Polynesian cultural traits, but are located within the Melanesian or Micronesian cultural areas. While the classification of these groups as Polynesian is not in dispute, the material evidence for the movement between Polynesia and the Polynesian Outliers is exceedingly rare, unconfirmed, and in most cases, nonexistent. We report on the first comprehensive sourcing (using a portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometer) of obsidian and volcanic glass artifacts recovered from excavations on the Polynesian Outlier island of Tikopia. We find evidence for: (1) initial settlement followed by continued voyages between Tikopia and an island Melanesian homeland; (2) long-distance voyaging becoming much less frequent and continuing to decline; and (3) later voyaging from Polynesia marked by imports of volcanic glass from Tonga beginning at 765 cal yr BP (±54 yr). Later long-distance voyages from Polynesia were surprisingly rare, given the strong cultural and linguistic influences of Polynesia, and we suggest, may indicate that Tikopia was targeted by Tongans for political expansion.
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Historical narratives on Oceania have over the last two centuries mainly focused on the second half of the eighteenth century as the significant period of first encounters between Pacific Islanders and Western explorers. However, the first crossing of the region by Fernando de Magallanes (Ferdinand Magellan) was in 1521. More importantly, it has been widely neglected that during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese explorers navigated through parts of Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia, making regular landfalls and contact with many islands and archipelagos. The potentially devastating consequences of these early encounters (i.e., with interpersonal violence between natives and newcomers as well as the potential introduction of new deadly diseases) are well known for islands like Guam. They possibly also influenced the cultures and traditions of other archipelagos of Oceania before the better known voyages of Cook, La Perouse, and others more than 150 years later. Drawing on historical data and the scarcely available archaeological evidence, this paper aims to show that there is an urgent need to reconsider the early phase of Pacific-Western contacts as a key period in the shaping of the “traditional” indigenous cultural behaviors in parts of Oceania. This assessment has the potential to profoundly change our understanding of the ethnographical observations of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that have been produced and used in the last two centuries to define a baseline of the beginning of Western impacts on Indigenous societies in the region.
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Archaeological constructions of past identities often rely more or less explicitly on contemporary notions of culture and community in ways that can sometimes oversimplify the past and present. The archaeology of European colonialism has shown the proliferation of ‘hybrid’ identities that emerged from relatively recent cross-cultural encounters (though this concept is not without its critics). We argue that this perspective can also inform interpretations of the deeper past, with specific reference to ongoing research in the Polynesian Outliers of Futuna and Aniwa, south Vanuatu. Polynesian Outliers represent precisely the kinds of cross-cultural spaces where hybrid identities likely emerged during the pre-European era. A theoretical approach drawing on archaeological approaches to hybridity and ethnogenetic theories applied to the south Vanuatu Outliers allows for a clearer understanding of the roles difference and familiarity played in identity formation in the past.
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South Vanuatu was an important hub of settlement and interaction in the tropical southwestern Pacific. A recent field project, the South Vanuatu Archaeological Survey, has begun carrying out field research, focusing initially on the islands of Futuna, Aniwa, and Tanna. This work builds upon pioneering research carried out in the 1960s, which in these islands has not been followed up until the last five years or so. We present initial findings from survey and test excavations carried out in 2016, including new radiocarbon dates for the region and the discovery of pottery on Tanna.
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Ancient DNA from Vanuatu and Tonga dating to about 2,900-2,600 years ago (before present, BP) has revealed that the "First Remote Oceanians" associated with the Lapita archaeological culture were directly descended from the population that, beginning around 5000 BP, spread Austronesian languages from Taiwan to the Philippines, western Melanesia, and eventually Remote Oceania. Thus, ancestors of the First Remote Oceanians must have passed by the Papuan-ancestry populations they encountered in New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, and the Solomon Islands with minimal admixture [1]. However, all present-day populations in Near and Remote Oceania harbor >25% Papuan ancestry, implying that additional eastward migration must have occurred. We generated genome-wide data for 14 ancient individuals from Efate and Epi Islands in Vanuatu from 2900-150 BP, as well as 185 present-day individuals from 18 islands. We find that people of almost entirely Papuan ancestry arrived in Vanuatu by around 2300 BP, most likely reflecting migrations a few hundred years earlier at the end of the Lapita period, when there is also evidence of changes in skeletal morphology and cessation of long-distance trade between Near and Remote Oceania [2, 3]. Papuan ancestry was subsequently diluted through admixture but remains at least 80%-90% in most islands. Through a fine-grained analysis of ancestry profiles, we show that the Papuan ancestry in Vanuatu derives from the Bismarck Archipelago rather than the geographically closer Solomon Islands. However, the Papuan ancestry in Polynesia-the most remote Pacific islands-derives from different sources, documenting a third stream of migration from Near to Remote Oceania.
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Bayesian models have proved very powerful in analyzing large datasets of radiocarbon ( ¹⁴ C) measurements from specific sites and in regional cultural or political models. These models require the prior for the underlying processes that are being described to be defined, including the distribution of underlying events. Chronological information is also incorporated into Bayesian models used in DNA research, with the use of Skyline plots to show demographic trends. Despite these advances, there remain difficulties in assessing whether data conform to the assumed underlying models, and in dealing with the type of artifacts seen in Sum plots. In addition, existing methods are not applicable for situations where it is not possible to quantify the underlying process, or where sample selection is thought to have filtered the data in a way that masks the original event distribution. In this paper three different approaches are compared: “Sum” distributions, postulated undated events, and kernel density approaches. Their implementation in the OxCal program is described and their suitability for visualizing the results from chronological and geographic analyses considered for cases with and without useful prior information. The conclusion is that kernel density analysis is a powerful method that could be much more widely applied in a wide range of dating applications.
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Demographic Patterns Distinctive of Epidemic Cemeteries in Archaeological Samples, Page 1 of 2 Abstract Some ancient burial grounds are valuable testimonies of past epidemics. For both funerary archaeologists and paleobiologists, such archaeological sites offer a remarkable research framework to reveal unfamiliar aspects of these historical events, especially those that occurred during periods for which very few or no written sources exist. The multiplicity of congresses, articles, and syntheses on this topic in recent years illustrates the interdisciplinary research that has progressively emerged over the past two decades.
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Small populations are dominated by unique patterns of variance, largely characterized by rapid drift of allele frequencies. Although the variance components of genetic datasets have long been recognized, most population genetic studies still treat all sampling locations equally despite differences in sampling and effective population sizes. Because excluding the effects of variance can lead to significant biases in historical reconstruction, variance components should be incorporated explicitly into population genetic analyses. The possible magnitude of variance effects in small populations is illustrated here via a case study of Y-chromosome haplogroup diversity in the Vanuatu Archipelago. Deme-based modelling is used to simulate allele frequencies through time, and conservative confidence bounds are placed on the accumulation of stochastic variance effects, including diachronic genetic drift and contemporary sampling error. When the information content of the dataset has been ascertained, demographic models with parameters falling outside the confidence bounds of the variance components can then be accepted with some statistical confidence. Here I emphasize how aspects of the demographic history of a population can be disentangled from stochastic variance effects, and I illustrate the extreme roles of genetic drift and sampling error for many small human population datasets.
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