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By La Poasa

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (Samoa News, August 19) - A group of volunteers headed by Dr. Suzanne Eckert and Dr. Fred Pearl of Texas A&M University assisted the American Samoa Historic Preservation Office with data recovery excavations of an ancient Samoan pottery site in the mountains of Aasufou.

Territorial Archaeologist David J. Herdrich found the site during a routine Project Notification Review System (PNRS) site visit of a proposed driveway and house project in Aasufou. Herdrich said he noticed basalt boulders that appeared to form a platform for a prehistoric house and also discovered ancient Samoan pottery in holes dug for planting taro.

Samoans used a type of pottery known as Polynesian Plain Ware between 3000 to 1600 years ago. The site is significant because of the presence of the pottery, its likely antiquity, and because it is the only known Samoan pottery site that has been found on top of a mountain. Under the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1990, such prehistoric sites are protected, which means that either they are to be avoided, or when that is not possible, the material remains of the site are collected before they are destroyed. Collecting prehistoric material remains in a controlled manner is known as "data recovery."

For projects that cost under $300,000 the protection of such sites is the responsibility of the PNRS Board, a responsibility that has typically been delegated to the ASHPO, which sits on the Board. Unfortunately, the ASHPO has limited personnel and funding to carry out such projects and feared that there would not be enough time to conduct enough data recovery work to gather a significant sample of such an important site.

Fortunately, the Texas A &M team was on island and they had just finished their own archaeological excavations at a lowland pottery site at the village of Aganoa, a hamlet in the eastern district.

The team graciously agreed to carry out volunteer data recovery excavations with the ASHPO in order to preserve the data and the information it contains from the Aasufou site. The material remains or artifacts found include Samoan pottery, stone tools, and charcoal for dating the site.

Dr. Eckert noted that some of the pottery is incised with previously unknown decorative styles. The artifacts have been temporarily sent to Texas A&M for analysis by Dr. Eckert who is a pottery expert.

Once the artifacts are analyzed and a report is written up, a copy of the report will be sent to the ASHPO to become a part of their permanent records available to students and scholars and the artifacts will be returned to the Territory to be curated at the Jean P. Haydon Museum.Herdrich said he is grateful for the assistance of the Texas A&M team in preserving important information about American Samoa's prehistory.

"Without their help, it would have been very difficult to adequately document the site," he said. Herdrich also said this is a good example of how the PNRS system can allow development in the Territory, but still preserve Samoan history and culture. He said that without the PNRS system, this site would not have been discovered and it would have been destroyed when the house was built.

Now, thanks to the PNRS system and the Texas A&M team, knowledge of the site's existence and a significant sample of the information it contains will be a part of our permanent inventory of historic properties in American Samoa.

August 22, 2006

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