The First Samoans Project Complete!

Samoapresentation

We’ve completed our project focusing on the early deposits of southeastern ‘Upolu. Below is the non-technical summary or our work:

Archaeological and geological research was conducted along the southeast coast of ‘Upolu Island, Sāmoa over three short field seasons in 2013 and 2014. The goal of the research was to answer the question: where are the earliest Sāmoan settlements? The current earliest settlement is located at Mulifanua and is dated to about 750 BC, near the time that Tonga was first colonised by ancient sailors and perhaps 200 years after Fiji was first colonised. These earliest sites in Samoa, Tonga and Fiji all have a distinctive form of highly decorated pottery called Lapita. While, both Fiji and Tonga have many archaeological sites with Lapita pottery dating to about 950-750 BC, only the Mulifanua site in Sāmoa has Lapita pottery and is this old. A key question for archaeologists is ‘are there more Lapita sites in Sāmoa that are as old as Mulifanua?’ Answering this question is complicated by the fact that the coastlines of ‘Upolu Island have been submerged over the last three thousand years by changes in sea-level and by the geological “sinking” of the island, drawn down by the weight of Savai‘i. Therefore the areas where ancient Sāmoans may have settled at 750 BC may now be offshore and underwater, or buried under metres of sediment. Previous research by geologists indicates that the coastlines of eastern ‘Upolu may have been the least affected by island sinking. Therefore, the research reported here explored this area for 750 BC archaeological sites.
Four archaeological excavations, each 2 x 1 metres in area, and 59 hand-driven auger cores examined the underground deposits along the coastal plain between Lalomanu and Malaelā villages. The geological results indicate that this coastal plain likely did not exist until about AD 800. Before this the area would have been a rocky coast with few or no beaches. After AD 800 relative sea-level retreated and a reef sand beach was exposed. This beach grew toward the current shoreline over time.
The earliest human presence in the area occurs around AD 1400, evidenced by a fire hearth built upon the reef-sand beach, associated artefacts and microscopic plant fossils. The artefact assemblage is small and includes three pottery sherds, a small shell fishhook, broken stone adzes, and stone debris from tool-making. There are also food remains including faisua and other shellfish eaten by Sāmoans, fish such as wrasse and tuna, sharks or rays, and pig. Microscopic plant fossils identified in the archaeological layers show that after humans arrived in the area parts of the forest were burned, likely for plantations, and there was an increase in plants that grow in disturbed forests.
No archaeological sites as old as Mulifanua were found in the study area suggesting that the earliest Sāmoan population at about 750 BC may have been limited to only a few settlements. Limited Lapita settlement may have been caused by a lack of coastal plains on which to build villages, as the coastal plain between Lalomanu and Malaelā in south-eastern ‘Upolu did not form until AD 800. Even after this time, the coastal plain was not used by people for another 600 years

 

And in Samoan:

O suesuega i mataupu tau Talaeli ma Agnuu Tuufaasolo a Samoa faapea le suesuega i le mataupu tau le Eleele, sa faatinoina lea  i Aleipata i le itu i sasae o Upolu, i le tausaga 2013 – 2014. O le manulauti o nei suesuega ina ia mafai ona tali le fesili; Pe o fea tonu le vaega o le atunuu na uluai nofoia e tagata Samoa?

Ua māua i suesuega i talaeli o Mulifanua na uluai faamauina, na uluai nofoia, e tusa ma le 800 TLM,  tusa lea ma le taimi na uluai nofoia ai e tagata folau atunuu o Toga ma Fiti pe tusa ma le 200 tausaga talu ai. O ia nofoaga taua i Samoa, Toga ma Fiti na maua ai ipuele ua faaigoaina o Lapita. E tele nofoaga i Toga ma Fiti sa maua ai ipuele ma pe tusa ma le 800TLM. Na o Mulifanua le nofoaga i Samoa na maua ai lenei ipuele. E le o mailoa i le taimi nei, pe o iai se isi afioaga o Samoa na uluai nofoia e tagata e pei o Mulifanua.  O le taliina o lenei fesili e fai si faigata tele ona o le mea moni e tusa ai ma suesuega i talaeli ma suesuega tau le eleele, ua faalia ai, mai le 3000 tausaga talu ai ua tafia le talafatai o Upolu ma ua  lofia se vaega o le atunuu. O lona uiga o le vaega o nofoaga o Samoa sa uluai nofoia e tagata pe tusa nei ma le 800 tausaga talu ai ua tele ina ufitia e le suasami. O suesuega i mataupu tau le eleele sa faatinoina muamua i le talafai i le itu i sasae o Upolu ua faalia ai e lei magoto tele lea vaega o le atunuu, peitai o loo fai pea i ai suesuega i le taimi nei

E 4 lua sa eli i Satitoa i Aleipata, ma pe tusa ma le lua mita le umi, ae tasi le mita le lautele (2×1), le telē o le vaega na eli. Sa faaaogaina foi le masini faapitoa (hand – driven auger) mo lenei galuega, e eli ai ni pu e 59 i le talafatai o Aleipata mai le afioaga o Lalomanu i Malaela. O le taunuuga o lea elieliga/suesuega ua faalia ai, e lei iai se matafaga i lea vaega o le atunuu talu mai le 800TA sa na o le papa maa sa iai i le talafatai i lea vaega o Samoa. O lona uiga i tua atu o le 800TA na faatoa iai le matafaga mai oneone o le aau seia oo lava ina olaola pea e oo mai i le taimi nei.

O le vaitau na uluai nofoia ai e tagata lea vaega o le atunuu pe tusa ma le 1400TA. O le pinefaamau o lea mau o tainafi sa maua i lenei elieliga/suesuega, o atigi figota, mātau, to’ima’a, o nutigāma’a sa fai ai aupega i aso anamua. Sa maua ai foi atigi faisua ma atigi figota, o ivi ia ma ivi o moa ma puaa. Na māua foi i lenei suesuega ina ua uluai nofoia e tagata lenei ogaeleele na agai loa e fa’ato’a, susunu ma toto ai la’au ua mafua ai ona afaina le eleele lelei sa iai muamua.

E lei iai se nofoaga o Samoa ua umi ma leva ona nofoia e pei o Mulifanua ua faamauina i lenei suesuega, e faailoa mai ai le faitauaofai o tagata sa nofoia lenei eleele pe tusa ma le 800 tausaga talu ai Ua mafua lea tulaga ona o le leai ose nofoaga maualalo i le va o Lalomanu ma Malaela e faigofie ona nofoia e tagata. E oo foi i lena vaitau, e lei toe nofoia e tagata lenei ogaeleele tusa ma le 600 tausaga talu ai.

Coconut shell charcoal sent for dating

Rod Wallace (University of Auckland) identified some Cocos nucifera nutshell amongst the charcoal in our fire feature that sits on the basal beach sand in excavations from Aleipata.

Fire feature on basal sand

This charcoal has been sent to the Waikato lab for dating. The results will be excellent no matte the date, as we might presume the date will give us a good indication of first use of the area. Will it be synchronous with beach formation? With Lapita colonization?

C14 sample

 

Upland Forts, Paleobeaches, and no Lapita.

It’s almost all over for us here in Aleipata, investigating the coastline’s prehistory. Our final archaeological test pit uncovered the paleobeach we’ve been seeing in most places, with a silty-sand layer on top that had a few midden shells, a lithic, and a piece of plainware pottery.

I think that's a pretty nice looking paleobeach. Coring down through this after excavation we got to a layer with increased basalt sands suggesting we were approaching the Pleistocene bedrock.

I think that’s a pretty nice looking paleobeach. Coring down through this after excavation we got to a layer with increased basalt sands suggesting we were approaching the Pleistocene bedrock.

We’ve made a pretty good go of it: four 2 x 1 m controlled units, about 60 auger cores (since 2013). We are consistently getting a thin cultural layer with minimal artefacts and plainware pottery on top of carbonate beach, likely on top of basalt (Pleistocene?) bedrock. If the UH geologists come back with a mid-holocene date for the subsurface beach this will *suggest* that there were no Lapita-bearing populations here, even though the landscape was available. Pretty interesting stuff.

Panoramic view of the human-made embankment stretching across a ridge between two drainages. This is about a kilometer inland from Satitoa Village in the uplands

Panoramic view of the human-made embankment stretching across a ridge between two drainages. This is about a kilometer inland from Satitoa Village in the uplands

We went inland today to explore possible upland deposits and came across a great ditch and bank system that was likely defensive. These are found all over Samoa (and elsewhere) and may date to the last 1000 to 500 years.

The University of Auckland archaeologists and University of Hawaii geologists. Front left to right: Haunani, Shelly, Shelia. Back: Mana, Joe, Matt, Matiu, Ethan, Alex, Chip (note hand).

The University of Auckland archaeologists and University of Hawaii geologists. Front left to right: Haunani, Shelly, Shelia. Back: Mana, Joe, Matt, Matiu, Ethan, Alex, Chip (note hand).

Pottery and Fishhooks!

The University of Hawaii geologists left today and we set up an excavation unit next to their geological pit as they found an adze fragment and shellfish midden in a shallow layer above the paleobeach.

The happy excavation crew at SAT-3, Test Unit 1.

The happy excavation crew at SAT-3, Test Unit 1.

This is a tough excavation as the water table is in a bad place–the silty sand layer right above the sand–and this is very difficult to pump adequately due to the silt, and get somewhat dry sediment for excavation. We were able to get through the silty sand onto sandy loam which is the top of the (likely) earliest calcareous beach identified by the geologists.

Nice shell fishhook found by Shelia Warren (NUS) in the screen/sieve.

Nice shell fishhook found by Shelia Warren (NUS) in the screen/sieve.

When excavating in this mess it is impossible to get very good vertical provenience, but the pottery and fishhook come from the bottom of the silty sand, so on top of the beach. The pottery suggests a deposit at least 1000 years old, but we will see.

Some (non-Lapita) pottery from our Satitioa Village excavations.

Some (non-Lapita) pottery from our Satitioa Village excavations.

This is what the water table does to sidewalls.

This is what the water table does to sidewalls.

 

 

Things are getting clearer.

Prof. Chip Fletcher’s coastal geology crew has been with us in Aleipata for a few days now and things are getting clearer. We’ve found a likely mid- to late-holocene beach at the bottom of our test excavations. Chip has also found this in his cores and in places this is over stream gravels, so we possibly have the entire marine transgression-regression sequence.

Prof. Chip Fletcher from the University of Hawaii School of Ocean and Earth Sciences and his crew placing geological cores to track the distribution of a putative mid to late Holocene beach. Chip's on the core with assistant Daniel. Graduate students Haunani Kane and Shelly Habel describing sediments. Post-doctoral researcher Dr. Alex Morrison surveys the scene.

Prof. Chip Fletcher from the University of Hawaii School of Ocean and Earth Sciences and his crew placing geological cores to track the distribution of a putative mid to late Holocene beach. Chip’s on the core with assistant Daniel. Graduate students Haunani Kane and Shelly Habel describing sediments. Post-doctoral researcher Dr. Alex Morrison surveys the scene.

Joe Mills and Matt Barbee (with Chip’s crew) are mapping the coastal flat surface and core elevations. The goal is to produce a subsurface map of the sand layer. This will also be dated by shell and carbonate sands.

Midway through excavation of our second test unit. Alex Morrison and assistant Junior survey my handiwork. Always good to have a table for excavation

Midway through excavation of our second test unit. Alex Morrison and assistant Junior survey my handiwork. Always good to have a table for excavation

Alex and Ethan pumping out water of a really deep hole. There is the sand layer at the bottom of all that muck.

Alex and Ethan pumping water out of a really deep hole. There is the sand layer at the bottom of all that muck.

We’ve completed a second 1 x 2 meter test unit. This one went down 260 cm before hitting the sand layer, and this was underwater. Alex Morrison and I, with the help of Mana Laumea and Sheila Warren (National University of Samoa) pumped this bugger out  and retreived sand samples, although no artefacts and not way to see if there are features on top of the sand as in the first test unit.

What are they doing in that deep hole?

What are they doing in that deep hole?

So my current hypothesis is still that there was a beach at Aleipata around 1000 BC, but that very few people were here. The test will be the dates we get from that subsurface beach layer…guess we have to wait a month or two.

One test unit complete. Interpretation: few people in Aleipata…

Finished off our first Aleipata test pit today. First time I used a pump as well. I must say the pump mechanics and generator worked really well, but it is difficult to pump out a 2 x 1 meter unit in sand and still successfully excavate. We were able to get about 20 cm below the water table fairly easily, but after that…the problem was not enough water to keep the pump running all the time.

170 litres a minute of pumping action.

170 litres a minute of pumping action.

We went down through several layers onto silty sands with evidence of human occupation (a nice fire feature), but no other artefacts to speak of. These deposits were on top of culturally sterile beach sand.

See that nice fire feature resting in the basal sand deposit?

See that nice fire feature resting in the basal sand deposit? The upper sand deposit is the 2009 tsunami.

Now there could be cultural deposits beneath this (anything’s possible), but I really doubt it. I think in Aleipata we have a sparsely occupied coast in the post-ceramic period in Samoa and perhaps even lower density (any?) occupation prior to this. Chip (Charles) Fletcher and his team from the University of Hawaii are coming to visit next week to investigate just this idea of an inhabitable coast. More on this later…

The crew going about there business.

The crew going about there business.

We begin excavation in new area next week.

The end of another day.

The end of another day.

First excavation in Aleipata!

We completed two days of excavation on one of our more promising locations (based on last year’s cores). Down to just above the water table in out 1×2 unit and tomorrow we will probably get out the generator and pump.

Mana Laumea rippin' out Layer III! (bonus points for wearing a lavalava during excavation). That clean white sand is the 2009 tsunami deposit.

Mana Laumea rippin’ out Layer III! (bonus points for wearing a lavalava during excavation). That clean white sand is the 2009 tsunami deposit.

We’ve also begun total station survey before Chip Fletcher and his crew arrive from the University of Hawaii (SOEST).

Joe Mills teaching Mana Laumea and Sheila Warren (National University of Samoa) how to use the total station. Joe and Mana are apparently having a "hands on hips" competition.

Joe Mills teaching Mana Laumea and Sheila Warren (National University of Samoa) how to use the total station. Joe and Mana are apparently having a “hands on hips” competition.

We’ve had great support from Satitioa Village and Taufua Beach Fales, and the Centre for Samoan Studies of the National University of Samoa. Also check out twitter feed by Joe Mills: @OBearded

Not a bad place to download the day's survey data and play with ArcGIS.

Not a bad place to download the day’s survey data and play with ArcGIS.

Samoa III conference and field work preparations

Not the most exciting blog post title, but descriptively accurate. We’ve been in Samoa for a few days. Met with colleagues and friends (Christophe Sand, David Addison), listened to and gave great conference talks.

Conference after-party

Helene Martinson-Wallin, Mana Laumea, David Addison, James Flexner, Christophe Sand, Joe Mills, Matiu Matavai

Opening ava ceremony shot

Conference opening awa ceremony

After a day of running around I have a generator and a pump for our first wet-site excavations and everything else we need to begin next week. I even got to use my newly-learned Samoan language skills when buying the generator (O ai lou igoa?)

And Auckland MA student Joe Mills gave his first conference talk, a great success and on LiDAR analysis of landscape features around Tatagamatau on Tutuila and Samoa in general.

beer

A well-deserved after-first-conference-presentation beer.