Subject:      VERY ancient Pacific trading networks
From: (Yuri Kuchinsky)
Date:         1997/05/18
Message-ID:   <5lng97$6od$>
Newsgroups:   sci.archaeology,,sci.skeptic,

Greetings to all,

This quite recent information should be of interest to all who expressed
their opinions recently about the theories suggesting ancient links
between Asia and America across the Pacific Ocean. These findings are
truly revolutionary because they force us to reevaluate how we view the
skills and the reach of ancient sailors.

I would like to mention that most of the comparative studies of sailing
craft in Asia and the sailing craft of native South Americans find great
many similarities in sailing craft on both sides of the Pacific (and also
with the Polynesian craft).

Many thanks to Jim Scanlon for bringing this article to my attention, and
for scanning it into a computer file.

Best regards,



Rock Chemistry Traces Ancient Traders

ANCIENT MARINERS: volcanic glass found at Bukit Tengkorak comes from
sources on the Admiralty Islands and New Britain. It testifies to
3500-kilometer trade routes in 4000 B.C.

SCIENCE * VOL. 274 * 20 DECEMBER 1996

BOSTON -- Archaeologists have long known that Captain James Cook was a
Johnny-come-lately. By the time he ventured to the South Pacific in 1769,
people of the region had been navigating-and trading-on the high seas for
at least 3300 years. But now, Captain Cook may have fallen even farther
behind. At a meeting of the Materials Research Society here earlier this
month, a Malaysian and an American researcher presented a chemical
analysis of flecks of volcanic glass that may push back the earliest dates
for long distance sea trading on the Pacific by another 2500 years, to 4000

The analysis, by archaeologist Stephen Chia of the Universiti Sains
Malaysia and chemist and archaeologist Robert Tykot of the University of
South Florida, links volcanic glass found at a 6000year-old archaeological
site on Borneo to sources on islands 3500 kilometers to the east. It points
to the longest sea trading network yet traced in the Stone Age. Other
researchers are intrigued, although "there will be some skeptics about the
dating," says Bennet Bronson, curator of Asian ethnology and archaeology at
the Field Museum in Chicago. But if the claim holds up, Bronson says, it
"is going to affect our whole understanding" of the migrations that peopled
the islands of the western and central Pacific.

At the heart of the new findings are some 200 obsidian flecks, which Chia
unearthed beginning in 1994 at the Borneo site, called Bukit Tengkorak.
Because there are no obsidian sources nearby, Chia teamed up with Tykot to
analyze the flecks and pinpoint their origin. At the meeting, Tykot
reported that an analysis of the relative abundance of 11 different
compounds, such as silicon dioxide and titanium oxide, in 30 of the flecks
yielded several distinctive chemical fingerprints. For the majority of the
flecks, these fingerprints matched well-known sources some 3500 kilometers
away near New Guinea - on the island of New Britain and on one of the
Admiralty Islands. A smaller percentage seemed to come from a source
closer to the Philippines, Tykot reported.

The tightness of the matches makes it "almost impossible" that the flecks
came from some as yet undiscovered obsidian source closer to the excavation
site, says Tykot. Ron Hancock, a chemist and archaeologist at the
University of Toronto who saw Tykot's presentation, agrees, saying that the
chemical evidence tying the obsidian to distant sources "looks real,"
which "gives good credibility to the story" of early sea trading. And
because materials in the sediment layers from which some of the obsidian
was taken have been carbon-dated to 4000 B.C., Tykot and Chia conclude that
the trading network was in place by that time.

The new results are "a tremendous surprise," says Bronson, and not just
because of the early date. Widespread long distance sea trading in the
southwestern Pacific, he explains, has long been thought to have arisen
around 1600 B.C., when seafarers pioneered trade routes extending
Melanesian islands near New Guinea to Polynesia in the Central Pacific,
leaving behind a trail of distinctive pottery, obsidian, and other
ornaments known as the Lapita culture. The new obsidian flecks not only
show that traders took to the open ocean much earlier than the people who
made Lapita wares, but that their trading network extended far to the west
of New Guinea, nearly to Southeast Asia. "This is revolutionary, because it
offers apparent proof for a routine trading system in [a westward]
direction," says Bronson.

The evidence that skilled navigators were roaming the western Pacific at
such an early date also supports a new picture of how the Pacific islands
were settled in the first place, says Bronson's Field Museum colleague John
Terrell. In the standard picture, the people who settled Polynesia reached
the central Pacific by island-hopping from Southeast Asia 3600 years ago
perhaps picking up some fellow travelers from Melanesia along the way
(Science, 7 January 1994, p. 32). The new work, however, supports the idea
that instead of setting out on a one-way eastward migration, the ancestral
Pacific islanders opened up a "voyaging corridor" between Southeast Asia,
Melanesia, and Polynesia, "with people and ideas flowing back and forth,"
says Terrell. The obsidian at Bukit Tengkorak, adds Bronson, "suggests that
the early migrations come out of an early commercial system at a
surprisingly early date capable of sophisticated navigation."

Because this picture demands that archaeologists reconsider some long-held
notions, says Bronson, Chia and Tykot's claims are likely to come under
intense scrutiny, especially the radiocarbon dating. Bronson says, however,
that there's no reason at this point to doubt the early dates. Captain
Cook's demotion may turn out to he permanent. -Robert F. Service

[The article includes an illustration showing hypothetical trade route
from north of eastern New Guinea to an island between northern Celebes and
southern Mindinao.]

Yuri Kuchinsky   | "Where there is the Tree of Knowledge, there
     -=-         | is always Paradise: so say the most ancient
 in Toronto      | and the most modern serpents."  F. Nietzsche
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