Polynesian origins and Lapita deception
   Author:   Yuri Kuchinsky
   Date: 1998/09/23
   Forums: sci.archaeology, sci.anthropology, soc.culture.new-zealand

Polynesian origins and Lapita deception

by Yuri Kuchinsky


Blackwell Publishers, 1997.

In my view, Polynesian origin from the ancient Lapita peoples, something
that has now become almost the "gospel truth" of the mainstream Polynesian
scholarship, is highly unlikely. In fact, I believe that something close
to a deception is now being perpetrated by the mainstream academic
theorizers in this area.

About 50 years ago, Thor Heyerdahl has presented his alternative theory
about the origin of the Polynesians. He suggested the theory of the
original Polynesian dispersal from the Canadian Pacific North-West to
Hawaii, and thence to the rest of Polynesia, starting ca. 2000-1800 years
ago, and following the natural course of winds and the ocean currents in
this area of the Pacific. (It is quite normal for British Columbian
driftwood to wash up on the beaches of Hawaii.) This theory makes much
better sense to me.

So now let's take a brief look at the mainstream point of view.


To begin with, here's a sample of categorical assertions by the mainstream
academic stalwarts. The unanimity with which they proclaim their "Truth
about the Lapita origin of the Polynesians" is quite remarkable.

"In the first edition of this book I felt obliged to provide a fairly long
argument in favour of equating Proto-Oceanic with the beginnings of Lapita
archaeological culture of Island Melanesia about 1500 BC. Today, this
equation is so firmly accepted by linguists and archaeologists that it not
longer needs lengthy justification (Bellwood 1997:123) [Bellwood, Peter,
Hawaii Press, 1997.]

"That the first humans to invade the islands of Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa
were makers of Lapita pottery has been definitely established (Kirch 1984;
Kirch and Green 1987). These archipelagos lie at the western "gateway" of
the vast Polynesian triangle (which has its apices at Hawaii, Easter
Island, and New Zealand), and it has been long thought by ethnologists,
linguists, and archaeologists to be the immediate region in which classic
Polynesian culture developed."


"Moreover, extensive archaeological work in Tonga and Samoa has revealed
unbroken cultural sequences linking the later Polynesian cultures of these
islands with their Lapita forerunners (Kirch and Green 1987).  During the
course of the first millennium B.B., we can trace changes in the pottery
complex, and in other aspects of material culture, that mark the
development of distinctive Polynesian traits." (Kirch 1996:63) [Kirch,
Patrick V. "Lapita and its aftermath: The Austronesian Settlement of
Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1996.]

[Thanks to Mr. Keyes for providing these quotations in sci.archaeology so

Yes, folks, they are all marching in lockstep now, and the tightness of
the ranks seems to be becoming nearly unassailable? Not quite...

The reality may be somewhat different. Polynesian origin from the Lapita
appear highly unlikely to me, for a number of reasons.

First, let's look at some areas where the tightness of the ranks may be
lacking somewhat. This is what one leading mainstream luminary, John E.
Terrell (New Guinea Research Program, The Field Museum, Chicago), said:

"By now most of us are tired of saying there are two ways of looking at
Lapita--the Fast Train and the Melanesian Homeland models (or some halfway
compromise). We want better things to do with Lapita. It is never too late
to be happy but first we need to break old habits. How to test your Lapita
IQ and find what really matters."

To me, this sure indicates some disunity in the ranks. And one of the main
loci of this disunity is the question of How long exactly did the
Polynesians spend in Melanesia? Believe it or not, but the scholars still
haven't figured this one out! So what would it be, the esteemed
Authorities, the Fast Train or the Melanesian Homeland? Will they make up
their minds, please?

This is a pretty good indication of what's happening in the field. Many
more of such signs of trouble can be found, of course.

This issue is of course extremely important in connecting Polynesians, the
Lapita, and the Melanesians in any kind of a coherent manner.
Unfortunately, the clear answers from the mainstream are few and far in


So now let us look at the reasons why I consider the mainstream position
as blatantly bogus.

ITEM: The pottery

Lapita had the pottery. In fact they are defined by their pottery.
Polynesians did not have the pottery. No establishment scholar, and
certainly not Kirch, has yet managed to explain adequately why the pottery
tradition basically disappeared in Polynesia after being firmly there in
the Western Polynesia for so long previously.

All Polynesians everywhere around the Pacific used the same type of
earth-oven for cooking, and this of course diminished their need for
pottery. This widely distributed traditional way of preparing food makes
it pretty clear that this was the custom in their original homeland
(centre of dispersal), and that pottery-making was not a part of their
earliest heritage as a group. So how can one legitimately suppose that
they descended from pottery-making peoples? This seems like an absurdity
of the face of it...  (The Lapita sites also feature an earth-oven
tradition, but they used it along with using pottery. The argument that
since the Lapita used the earth-oven then they were the progenitors of
Polynesians is invalid, of course, since lots of other populations in SE
Asia also used such oven.)

Characteristic Lapita pottery disappeared well before 2000 bp (before

"In strictly archaeological terms, Lapita comes to an end between the
middle and the end of the first millennium BC throughout its entire range
of distribution (Kirch, 1997, p. 77).

While some other forms of plain pottery continued in the area for some
time, it basically disappeared by the time the Polynesian dispersal is
believed to have started after 2000 bp. So it doesn't make sense that the
Polynesians derived from the Lapita.

ITEM: The lack of a money-system

Polynesian origin in Melanesia/Fiji is unlikely because Polynesians
uniformly lacked a number of important cultural elements that existed in
the area. Such as any kind of a money-system.

Lapita were using a system of money exchange. They were using certain
valuable shells for this (Kirch, 1997, p. 236). Polynesians did not have a
money-system. Big problem for the mainstream view.

ITEM: The loom.

The knowledge of the loom, and of woven clothing, was widely present in
ancient Melanesia/Fiji. But the Polynesians didn't have the loom and woven
clothing other than bark-cloth. Another problem for Melanesia/Fiji

ITEM: The domestic animals

Lapita had the chicken and the pig. In fact, the chicken was very big with
the Lapita (Kirch, 1997, p. 211). But Polynesians did not get the chicken
until quite late.

In NZ there was no chicken or the pig, meaning that Polynesians did not
receive them until the connection with NZ was severed.

Also, Easter Island excavations indicate that the chicken didn't get there
until rather late. A very serious problem for the Polynesian Lapita

ITEM: The study of Lapita skeletal remains, and the DNA tests.

We all know how significantly has our ability to analyse human
archaeological remains increased in the last few years. Science is really
marching forward in this area. So one would think that, seeing the amazing
mainstream unanimity, all doubts about the Lapita-Polynesian connection
would be history by now, right? Wrong!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we have a mighty curious situation in this
area, all things considered. Because certainly the mainstream position has
not been confirmed unequivocally from such sources. Not even close. The
opposite is closer to the truth.

Here's Kirch,

"Probably the most important potential contributions of genetic studies to
the problem of the origins and relationships of Oceanic populations will
come from analysis of DNA, both mitochondrial and nuclear. At the present
time, such work is still in its early stages and the number of sampled
populations is too small to assess broad geographic patterns." (Kirch,
1997, p. 106)

Does this sound to you like the DNA studies helped to endorse Kirch and
his cohorts unemphatically? Not quite... And what is he talking about when
he's saying that "such work is still in its early stages"?

Seems quite suspicious to me. Why in "early stages"? DNA studies have been
here for some time. So how come this work is still in "its early stages"?
Something doesn't make sense here...

Kirch's 1997 review of the state of affairs in this area (p. 100ff) talks
about a certain number of Lapita skeletal remains that we have (although
perhaps not as many as we would like). He reviews four Lapita sites with
the human remains, the best one on Watom Island, in the Bismarcks (p.
108). But Kirch, in spite of some fudging, admits that these Watom remains
are not really a lot like the Polynesian type! Strange goings on,

And the same for the other samples he lists. On careful reading, when one
strips Kirch's fudging and handwaving, the results can hardly be
considered as providing support for the establishment party line. Probably
the opposite is closer to the truth!

What a bunch of nonsense. Instead of supporting the mainstream dogma, it
turns out that what seems like the most important and direct evidence in
this area is actually... going AGAINST the establishment dogma!!!

So where are these DNA studies that will need to provide support for the
establishment's line? How else are we going to confirm this tall tale
about the Lapita origin of the Polynesians?

Is this mostly a deception then? I'm afraid substantially so, dear

In his book, Kirch complains about the lack of a sufficient number of
Lapita skeletal remains. This of course assumes that if and when more are
found, everything will just fall into place, doesn't it? Well, friends,
this is only Kirch's wishful thinking, or so it seems...

Here's what I found on the Net recently. Here are apparently some new
sites with remains, and they DON'T SUPPORT Kirch. Kirch is apparently
unaware of this new info. From what I can see, the following comes from
abstracts for a scientific conference that was held in 1996. Too bad,
Prof. Kirch...

POSTED BY: Prof. James Hess

From: [16]jhess@orion.oac.uci.edu
Subject: Re: Cook Islands Legend/Samoa connection
Date: 01 May 1996 00:00:00 GMT
Message-ID: <4m8g6o$s41@news.service.uci.edu>
Organization: University of California, Irvine


DR. ED VISSER (Dept. of Anatomy and Structural Biology) and DR. MICHAEL
GREEN (Dept. of Anthropology), University of Otago.  MORPHOLOGICAL AND

Abstract: Comparisons are made between skeletons excavated from Lapita
archaeological sites and skeletons dated to 180 AD from the site of
Sigatoka, Fiji. Skeletal traits relating to body form and head shape are
compared. Results have shown (so far) that the two groups are similar to
each other, more so than to other Pacific samples. The results of new
multivariate analyses will be also presented.

[end quote]

All this makes things pretty clear, I believe. Yes, ladies and gentlemen,
we seem to be seeing a scientific impass here.

Mainstream Polynesian scholarship on trial. Their case certainly doesn't
look good.

Best regards,


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