2,000-YEAR-OLD BURIAL SITE FOUND IN AMERICAN SAMOA

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By B. Chen-Fruean

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (Samoa News, Nov. 8) - After nearly three months of excavation work in Fatumafuti the American Samoa Power Authority (ASPA) now has the okay to lay a wet well for a waste water sewer line, going into the Utulei treatment plant.

ASPA senior archaeologist David Addison, who led the excavation project, said yesterday that all the archeological finds, including the remains from a 2,000-year-old human burial site, have been transported to the ASPA archaeological laboratory where they will be studied by a specialist from Hawaii.

A final analysis, according to Addison, could take up to a year to complete.

Until then, the 6-year ASPA senior archaeologist has declined to offer a solid conclusion, although he stated that as an initial opinion, the Fatumafuti site is "perhaps one of the most important archaeological sites in American Samoa.

"What we have been able to uncover at this site over the past several weeks, date back to a time period that is unknown in American Samoa history, as far as archaeology is concerned," Addison explained.

Most of the uncovered items have been estimated to be as old as 2,000 years, during a time period that Addison says the current chiefly structure was developed, and the Tongan wars broke out. Some of the stone tools that were found are believed to be of Tongan origin.

Altogether, the excavation and archaeological investigation covered a total area of 36 square meters in two separate areas (next to the grocery store and several yards from the SPICC campus).

The excavation was carried out by Addison and bone expert Professor Frederique Valentin, who is a researcher from the Center for National Research and Science (CNRS), both of whom were assisted by volunteer archaeology graduate students Sandra Menut of France, Chandra Gioiello of Connecticut, Carly Mailhot of Washington, Whitney Anderson of Florida, Ian Randall of Pennsylvania, Adam Thompson of Texas, Tom Jones of Delaware, Amber Horne of Arkansas, Tautala Asaua from the University of Auckland, and local ASPA intern Sima Tuimaleali'ifano of Tafuna.

The volunteers departed three weeks ago, after uncovering finds including a human burial site, about 50 post holes (used to install corner support for a Samoan fale), a pair of turtle skeletons, faisua shells, alili shells, pule shells, coral rocks, an ancient carving tool (adze), a chisel, a pavement made up of large flat pieces of coral and rocks, a fireplace used for cooking or nighttime light source, paving stones (including layers of 'ili'ili rock or paving pebbles), and thousands of fish bones - the most ever to be found in an archaeological deposit in American Samoa - all of which have been estimated to be 700-2,000 years old.

The only lab results that are available concern the human remains found in the burial site, which have been determined to belong to a male over 50 years old. Addison said that lab tests revealed no special diseases, and they are still uncertain if the male was a Samoan.

"At this point, this is all we know. We were able to prove that there was nothing particularly wrong with him, as far as health, although he was an old man," Addison offered.

The human remains were found, minus the head and neck, which Addison suspects may have been disturbed during the installation of one of the three telephone poles which were found in the same area.

Because of the numerous post holes found, Addison and the remaining six local ASPA archaeologists will now work on analyzing the information to determine a pattern, although Addison said that the feat may prove to be difficult, as the post holes were found on different ground elevations, meaning different houses during different time periods.

Beginning later this week, excavation will begin in the area next to the SPICC campus, which will be affected by the new ASPA wet well.

"There will be a lot of pipelines laid across the village," Addison explained.

He expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the nearby residents whom he says have been "very understanding" and supportive of their work.

Addison and his team have received some criticism from some residents, who questioned the purpose of the excavation and wondered if it was necessary. "There have been a lot of people who have asked us why we are digging in this area. They just don't understand that this project is mandatory, as it is in every federally assisted project," Addison said.

ASPA receives federal funding for building utility infrastructure in American Samoa, requiring all federally funded construction projects consult archaeologists and they be present at the construction site. The excavation is mandated under the National Preservation Act, Section 106, which deals with the protection of archaeological, historical, and scientific data, which may be damaged or destroyed by federally assisted projects.

ASPA has its own in-house archaeology team who, before construction is started, perform a surface survey of the areas which will be dug to record any archaeological and historic sites.

"There are some people I have come across who are curious about their history. Some people don't even know that Tutuila used to be a major export center for stone tools 1,000 years ago," Addison added.

Tutuila is a volcanic island and it has rich and acidic soils, which don't preserve bone and shells well, thus making it rare to find human remains here, except for the skeletons occasionally found in sandy areas.

November 9, 2005

The Samoa News: http://www.samoanews.com/

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