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 --------- Patrick Vinton Kirch, THE LAPITA PEOPLES: ANCESTORS OF THE OCEANIC WORLD, 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. MARCHING IN LOCKSTEP 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, PREHISTORY OF THE INDO-MALAYSIAN ARCHIPELAGO, Honolulu: University of 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 Oceania". In PREHISTORIC SETTLEMENT OF THE PACIFIC. Ward Goodenough, ed., Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1996.] [Thanks to Mr. Keyes for providing these quotations in sci.archaeology so helpfully.] 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 between. THE MAKE-BELIEVE 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 present). "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 homeland. 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 origins. 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, indeed... 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 friends... 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: email@example.com Subject: Re: Cook Islands Legend/Samoa connection Date: 01 May 1996 00:00:00 GMT Message-ID: <firstname.lastname@example.org> 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 METRICAL COMPARISONS BETWEEN LAPITA SKELETONS AND THE SIGATOKA REMAINS. 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, Yuri.Click here to go one level up in the directory.