Australian Study Reveals Pre-Historic Tongan

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Entire archipelago under one political system, influenced other

By Wallace Kiala

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, July 14, 2014) – A new study by Australian researchers has stated that Tonga was the only prehistoric state in Oceania to encompass an entire archipelago and extend its influence to other island groups.

The study "Stone tools from the ancient Tongan state reveal prehistoric interaction centres in the Central Pacific" was written by Dr Geoffrey Clark and Dr Christian Reepmeyer of the Australian National University and published in notable scientific journal "PNAS".

The study concluded that "The Tongan state was the only maritime polity in Oceania to encompass an entire archipelago and, through long-distance voyaging, to extend its influence to other island groups through political and economic exchanges."

Their conclusions were drawn from the analysis of hundreds of "lithics" (Stone tools/artefacts) excavated in Tonga.

According to the study, much of the lithics found in Tongatapu were made in other Pacific Islands such as Samoa, Fiji, ‘Uvea and the Society Islands (French Polynesia). The origins were determined by geometric analysis, a five step process involving radio genic and statistical analysis.

The study stated "To establish the extent of Tonga’s maritime polity, we geochemically analyzed stone tools excavated from the central places of the ruling paramounts, particularly lithic artifacts associated with stone-faced chiefly tombs. In the Tongan state, 66% of worked stone tools were long-distance imports, indicating that inter-archipelago connections intensified with the development of the Tongan polity after A.D. 1200. In contrast, stone tools found in Samoa were from local sources, including tools associated with a monumental structure contemporary with the Tongan state."

"Based on our geochemical analyses, there was extensive movement of lithics into the Tongan state, with stone tools sourced from volcanic islands in the Tonga archipelago as well as Fiji, Samoa, and remarkably Tahiti, 2,500 km east of Tongatapu."

The study described the uniqueness of Tonga’s prehistoric state and its role in spreading information about political organisation across prehistoric Polynesia.

"Exotic lithics were an important source of political capital used by Tongan elites, and an important consequence of centralization was the development of interaction centers through which people, products, and information about political organizations reached many parts of the prehistoric Pacific."

"In the first half of the second millennium A.D., a powerful and complex society emerged in the Tonga Islands that was unique in the Pacific for the way it aggregated an entire archipelago under a single political system. Considered a maritime empire/chiefdom, Tonga has recently been categorized as a primary/archaic state that, along with the late-prehistoric polities of the Hawaiian Islands, were the most complex societies in prehistoric Oceania."

There was also a detailed description of Tonga’s old capital "Lapaha". According to the study "Lapaha has 27 stone-faced burial structures that contain more than 2500 tons of quarried and transported carbonate stone. Radiocarbon dates, architectonic features, and chiefly genealogies indicate the first royal tombs were built A.D. 1300–1400, with the last constructed A.D. 1760. Additional constructions marking the chiefly center include ditch systems, roads, earth burial mounds, sitting platforms, bathing wells, standing stones, and a large area of reclaimed land containing a canoe harbor and wharf, which highlight the importance of maritime transport to the polity."

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