Polynesian ancestors 3,000 years ago were hunter-gatherers rather than farmers

The transition from hunters to farmers did not happen overnight and did not happen at the same time around the world. Probably we were foragers and scavengers before we were hunters but we have never stopped foraging. Quite possibly some were growing plants and vegetables while still mainly hunting and long before tending crops became the fashion. Farming communities would still have augmented their diet by hunting. So to learn that 3,000 years ago some communities were still primarily foragers and hunter-gatherers rather than farmers is not so surprising. And there is little doubt that the settled life-style of farmers would have been less conducive to the colonisation of a series of islands than a more nomadic, beach-combing life-style!

A new paper in PLOS ONE considers the ancestors of the Polynesians- the Lapita.

Region where Lapita pottery has been found

Rebecca Kinaston, Hallie Buckley, Frederique Valentin, Stuart Bedford, Matthew Spriggs, Stuart Hawkins, Estelle Herrscher. Lapita Diet in Remote Oceania: New Stable Isotope Evidence from the 3000-Year-Old Teouma Site, Efate Island, VanuatuPLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (3): e90376 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0090376

Press Release:

Burial site Teouma site

One of the examples of a multiple burial from the Teouma site
Credit: Hallie Buckley

Researchers from New Zealand’s University of Otago studying 3000-year-old skeletons from the oldest known cemetery in the Pacific Islands are casting new light on the diet and lives of the enigmatic Lapita people, the likely ancestors of Polynesians. Their results—obtained from analysing stable isotope ratios of three elements in the bone collagen of 49 adults buried at the Teouma archaeological site on Vanuatu’s Efate Island—suggest that its early Lapita settlers ate reef fish, marine turtles, fruit bats, free-range pigs and chickens, rather than primarily relying on growing crops for human food and animal fodder.

…….. Study lead author Dr Rebecca Kinaston and colleague Associate Professor Hallie Buckley at the Department of Anatomy carried out the research in collaboration with the Vanuatu National Museum and researchers from the University of Marseilles and CNRS (UMR 7269 and UMR 7041) in France and The Australian National University, Canberra.

The researchers analysed the isotopic ratios of carbon, nitrogen and sulphur in adult human bone collagen and compared these with ratios in ancient and modern plants and animals from the location, which provided a comprehensive dietary baseline.

“Examining these ratios gave us direct evidence of the broad make-up of these adults’ diets over the 10-20 years before they died, which helps clear up the long-running debate about how the Lapita settlers sustained themselves during the early phases of colonising each island during their eastward drive across the Pacific.”

Dr Kinaston says it appears that the new colonists, rather than relying mainly on a “transported landscape” of the crop plants and domesticated animals they brought with them, were practicing a mixed subsistence strategy.

“The dietary pattern we found suggests that in addition to eating pigs and chickens, settlers were also foraging for a variety of marine food and consuming wild animals—especially fruit bats—and that whatever horticultural food they produced was not heavily relied on,” she says.

Isotopic analysis of the ancient pig bones found at the site also suggests that they were free-ranging rather than penned and given fodder from harvested crops.

Study of the human bones revealed a sex difference in diet compositions, showing that Lapita men had more varied diets and greater access to protein from sources such as tortoises, pigs and chicken than women did.

About ktwop

Scientist, technologist, salesman, manager, executive and now a consultant and author.
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1 Response to Polynesian ancestors 3,000 years ago were hunter-gatherers rather than farmers

  1. Vanalander says:

    Reblogged this on Vanaland.

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