Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Was Polynesia Settled from South America? - Part I

Based upon many years of research into Easter Island, it is no longer a question of whether it was settled, or even now by whom—the only question remaining is the how. In the early years of archaeology and anthropology, when Easter Island was discovered to have once been inhabited, the first settlers had no maps or navigational instruments, which has caused spirited debate among sailors and scholars as to how they settled the region.
Ancient Polynesia Seamen sailing between islands

Early theories ranged from mythical hero navigators who discovered new lands and returned home with sailing directions, to accidental voyagers who drifted away from islands to which they could not return. In addition and complicating the argument, was the “so-called” myth of a South American origin, advocated by some 19th-century scholars and popularized in the 20th century by the archaeologist Thor Heyerdahl.
    Now, however, there is no longer speculation on the matter. As an example, we now know that migrations were deliberate, because they involved taking the people, plants and animals needed to establish sustainable colonies. There have been many experimental voyages in replica canoes and rafts, as well as other ‘computer voyages,’ into the South Pacific, with computer experiments using data for drift voyages using winds and currents show that many modern scientists claim that these major voyages across the Pacific eastward could have occurred by drift, meaning sailing with the winds and currents. 
    However, since the oceans currents in the south Pacific do not flow toward the east from the Philippines, Indonesia, and the hundreds of islands scientists claim were settled in eastward movement, we need go look at who the currents flowed and what their effect on ship movement would have been in the Age of Sail.
    Despite the movement of trade winds that have been in existence since the creation of the earth, the knowledge we now have of the Coriolis Effect, the Sverdrup transport, the clockwise above the equator and counter-clockwise currents below the equator gyres, and the millions of other data that has been compiled, both from experiment as well as computer programing, scientists exhibiting the old paradigm “dig in your heels and give no quarter” who still claim that the south sea islands were occupied by seamen from the west heading east from island to island is out of the question. Modern findings, however, show that movement came from the east moving west across the Pacific.
Red Circle surrounds the small volcanic island of Umboli, once called the Siassi Islands (Araltamu, Tamun, Tambiu and Umboli), in the Bismark Archipelago in the Dampier Strait between the Bismark and Solomon seas—Umboli also called Rooke or Siassi

They know this because of some Lapita culture pottery claimed to have belonged to a prehistoric people living in 1600 BC in the Bismarck Archipelago on a tiny island halfway between New Britain and Papua New Guinea (Kaiser Wilhelmsland), and who completely disappeared by 500 BC from the islands.
    The term “Lapita” was coined by archaeologists after mishearing a word in the local Haveke language, “zapeta’a,” which means “to dig a hole” or “the place where one digs” during a 1952 excavation on the Foué peninsula on Grande Terre, the main island of New Caledonia. The culture received its name after the type site by American archaeologists Edward W. Gifford and Richard Shulter Jr, at 'Site 13'. The settlement and pottery sherds were later dated to 800 BC and proved significant in research on the early peopling of the Pacific Islands.
A look at the currents and winds of the southwest Pacific from the Bismarck Archipelago across Melanesia to Somoa, is based on finding Lapita style pottery in each of these areas at numerous sites
Because of similar pottery finds, archaeologists claim that more than two hundred Lapita sites have since been uncovered, ranging about 2500 miles from coastal and island Melanesia—the area between the Bismark archipelago and New Caledonia—and as far east as Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. Even if this is true, from the map it is easy to see that the currents would allow such movement, and these areas, considering beginning at Bismark (Siassi/Umboi) through the Solomons, Coral Sea islands, Chesterfield islands, etc., into Vanuatu and New Caledonia islands would not be that much of a sail—it is far different to sail from there to French Polynesia, a distance of about 4500 miles, without favorable currents or winds, or close sprinkling of islands.
    Thus, while archaeologists believe that the Lapita is the ancestor of historic cultures in Polynesia, Micronesia, and some coastal areas of Melanesia. The characteristics of the Lapita culture are the extension of human settlement to previously uninhabited Pacific Islands scattered over a large area, distinctive geometric dentate-stamped pottery, the use and widespread distribution of obsidian, and the spread of Oceanic languages is still based almost solely on the pottery first found and believed first made in the Bismarck archipelago. Yet, being able to sail the huge, open distances from Melanesia to Polynesia, as shown in the map below, is simply out of the question in canoes, against the winds and currents that are very different in the eastern South Pacific than in the western South Pacific.
According to the “pottery” archaeologists, “Classic” Lapita pottery was produced between 1350 and 750 B.C. in the Bismarck Archipelago. Written history of this area did not begin until European navigators first sighted New Guinea in the early part of the 16th century. There is no written history prior to that time—meaning the idea that the islands were settled as early as 1600 BC as archaeologists claim, there would have been 3200 years between these two dates, which is a point that should he thoroughly understood. 3200 years with a single piece of history other than some broken sherds of pottery.
    When the Europeans arrived, the people of the islands still relied on bone, wood, and stone tools. They had developed a productive agricultural system and traded along the coast (mainly in pottery, shell ornaments and foodstuffs) and in the interior (exchanging forest products for shells and other sea products).
    The first known Europeans to sight New Guinea were probably the Portuguese and Spanish navigators sailing in the South Pacific in the early part of the 16th century. In 1526–1527 the Portuguese explorer Jorge de Menezes accidentally came upon the principal island and is credited with naming it "Papua," after a Malay word for the frizzled quality of Melanesian people's hair. The Spaniard Yñigo Ortiz de Retez applied the term "New Guinea" to the island in 1545 because of a perceived resemblance between the islands' inhabitants and those found on the African Guinea coast.
    Although European navigators visited the islands and explored their coastlines thereafter, European researchers knew little of the inhabitants until the 1870s, when Russian anthropologist Nicholai Muklukho-Maklai made a number of expeditions to New Guinea, spending several years living among native tribes, and described their way of life in a comprehensive treatise.
Lapita Pottery has a distinct color, shape and engravings; however, they are not so distinct that they are unlike any pottery anywhere else in the world

Lapita pottery from Vanuatu, Museum in Port Vila. The low-fired earthenware pottery, often tempered with shell or sand, is typically decorated with a dentate (toothed) stamp. It has been theorized that these decorations may have been transferred to or from less hardy mediums such as tapa (bark cloth), mats or tattoos.
    While it is unknown, researchers suppose that the "Lapita people" spoke Proto-Oceanic, a precursor of the Oceanic branch of Austronesian. However, given the difficulty of linking non-literate material culture to languages, this attribution cannot be verified by independent sources, though it is claimed to be one of the tracking devices used to follow the Lapita culture’s expansion into Polynesia.
(See the next post, “Was Polynesia Settled from South America? Part II,” for more information regarding the settlement of Polynesia from the east)

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