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  • an American idol During the Lapita period in Tonga


    During the Lapita period in Tonga, the Talasiu site would have been an attractive location for human settlement as it overlooked an embayment holding large numbers of sessile and gregarious shellfish close to a fresh water solution channel, with gardening soils immediately inland. However, sea levels were declining from a mid-Holocene high stand in the western Pacific (Nunn and Carson, 2015) and, in Tongatapu, sea level fall led to the closure of the Fanga ‘Uta Lagoon passage at the high-tide level by ~2500 cal. BP (Ellison, 1988; Spennemann, 1997). The consecutive transformations over centuries of near-shore environments and coastal ecology may have reduced the productivity of littoral marine zones and shaped the Talasiu population subsistence economy. Analysis of the Talasiu midden contents using archaeozoological and microbotanical techniques provided evidence for a mixed economy in which the cropping horticultural component supplemented, and perhaps may have equaled, the contribution of marine food (Clark et al., 2015). Exploitation of marine resources is characterized by the harvesting/gathering of three main species of bivalve (Dendostrea cf. folium, Anadara antiquata, Gafrarium tumidum that comprise 72% of the total Number of Identified Specimens - NISP) from the intertidal zone, occasional turtle, and a significant number of inshore reef fishes. A recent study of fish bones from the northern part of the site (number of remains = 1307) confirms the capture of small individuals showed by Clark et al. (2015) although taxonomic analysis of all anatomical elements, including the vertebrae, reveals a wide range of taxa (24 families of teleosts) (L. Bouffandeau, unpublished data). This is a high diversity, in comparison to the six families identified by Clark et al. (2015) that might result from differences in methodological approaches or from contextual/functional intra-site variations. No remains of extinct fauna such as land an American idol and giant iguana were found at the site (Clark et al., 2015), and terrestrial animals are represented by only a few remains of chicken (Gallus gallus) and rat (Rattus exulans). These two species were introduced at the start of colonization in contrast to the pig (Sus scrofa) and dog (Canis familiaris) which appear to have been imported to Tonga much later in time (Clark et al., 2013). Terrestrial vegetal resources were identified through starch grains extracted from Talasiu midden sediments (Ussher, 2015), and comprised indigenous species as well as eight imported species including core cultigens: common taro (Colocasia esculenta), giant swamp taro (Cyrtosperma merkusii), common yam (Dioscorea alata) and banana (Musa spp.), indicating the development of horticulture. Other Lapita edible plant introductions including cabbage palm (Cordyline fruticosa, rhizome), and island lychee (Pometia pinnata, fruit), are documented for Tonga via palynology study. Pollen increases in indigenous species such as Canarium (Canarium harveyi, nut), coconut palm (Cocos nucifera, nut) and screwpine (Pandanus tectorius, fruit) suggest their cultivation for dietary consumption (Fall, 2010; Fall and Drezner, 2013).
    Material Nineteen late-Lapita/immediately post-Lapita burial contexts contemporary with the midden were identified at Talasiu. The contexts were single or multiple interments containing the skeletal remains of one to six individuals, including adults and subadults. Subadult age at death was assessed using dental and skeletal criteria (Ubelaker, 1989; Scheuer and Black, 2000). Adult sex was estimated based on the morphology of os coxa (Bruzek, 2002) and skull (Ferembach et al., 1979). Field evidence indicates a wide range of mortuary practices involving primary burial in various positions, post-decomposition removal of skulls and long bones, and secondary deposits of heated (Valentin and Clark, 2013) or unheated bone, as well as secondary deposit of isolated skulls. Human skeletal remains of at least 45 individuals were identified in and around these 19 burial contexts while a few other bones were found dispersed within the midden layers.