Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

New insights into ancient Pacific settlers' diet: Diet based on foraging, not horticulture

Date:
March 5, 2014
Source:
University of Otago
Summary:
Researchers studying 3,000-year-old skeletons from the oldest known cemetery in the Pacific Islands are casting new light on the diet and lives of the enigmatic Lapita people, the likely ancestors of Polynesians. Their results—obtained from analysing stable isotope ratios of three elements in the bone collagen of 49 adults buried at the Teouma archaeological site on Vanuatu’s Efate Island—suggest that its early Lapita settlers ate reef fish, marine turtles, fruit bats, free-range pigs and chickens, rather than primarily relying on growing crops for human food and animal fodder.

This image shows one of the examples of a multiple-burial from the 3,000-year-old Lapita cemetary in Vanuatu. The stable isotope data of diet was extracted from the bones of the people from this site and reveals answers to not only what they were eating but also tantalizing clues of socio-cultural aspects of their society.
Credit: Hallie Buckley

Researchers from New Zealand's University of Otago studying 3000-year-old skeletons from the oldest known cemetery in the Pacific Islands are casting new light on the diet and lives of the enigmatic Lapita people, the likely ancestors of Polynesians.

Their results -- obtained from analysing stable isotope ratios of three elements in the bone collagen of 49 adults buried at the Teouma archaeological site on Vanuatu's Efate Island -- suggest that its early Lapita settlers ate reef fish, marine turtles, fruit bats, free-range pigs and chickens, rather than primarily relying on growing crops for human food and animal fodder.

The findings are newly published in the journal PLOS ONE. Study lead author Dr Rebecca Kinaston and colleague Associate Professor Hallie Buckley at the Department of Anatomy carried out the research in collaboration with the Vanuatu National Museum and researchers from the University of Marseilles and CNRS (UMR 7269 and UMR 7041) in France and The Australian National University, Canberra.

Dr Kinaston says the study is the most detailed analysis of Lapita diet ever undertaken and provides intriguing insights into the socio-cultural elements of their society.

"It was a unique opportunity to assess the lifeways of a colonising population on a tropical Pacific island," she says.

The researchers analysed the isotopic ratios of carbon, nitrogen and sulphur in adult human bone collagen and compared these with ratios in ancient and modern plants and animals from the location, which provided a comprehensive dietary baseline.

"Examining these ratios gave us direct evidence of the broad make-up of these adults' diets over the 10-20 years before they died, which helps clear up the long-running debate about how the Lapita settlers sustained themselves during the early phases of colonising each island during their eastward drive across the Pacific."

Dr Kinaston says it appears that the new colonists, rather than relying mainly on a "transported landscape" of the crop plants and domesticated animals they brought with them, were practicing a mixed subsistence strategy.

"The dietary pattern we found suggests that in addition to eating pigs and chickens, settlers were also foraging for a variety of marine food and consuming wild animals -- especially fruit bats -- and that whatever horticultural food they produced was not heavily relied on," she says.

Isotopic analysis of the ancient pig bones found at the site also suggests that they were free-ranging rather than penned and given fodder from harvested crops.

Study of the human bones revealed a sex difference in diet compositions, showing that Lapita men had more varied diets and greater access to protein from sources such as tortoises, pigs and chicken than women did.

"This may have resulted from unequal food distribution, suggesting that males may have been considered of higher status in Lapita society and treated preferentially," Dr Kinaston says.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Otago. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Rebecca Kinaston, Hallie Buckley, Frederique Valentin, Stuart Bedford, Matthew Spriggs, Stuart Hawkins, Estelle Herrscher. Lapita Diet in Remote Oceania: New Stable Isotope Evidence from the 3000-Year-Old Teouma Site, Efate Island, Vanuatu. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (3): e90376 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0090376

Cite This Page:

University of Otago. "New insights into ancient Pacific settlers' diet: Diet based on foraging, not horticulture." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 March 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140305191521.htm>.
University of Otago. (2014, March 5). New insights into ancient Pacific settlers' diet: Diet based on foraging, not horticulture. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140305191521.htm
University of Otago. "New insights into ancient Pacific settlers' diet: Diet based on foraging, not horticulture." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140305191521.htm (accessed July 22, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Michigan Plant's Goal: Flower and Die

Michigan Plant's Goal: Flower and Die

AP (July 22, 2014) An 80-year-old agave plant, which is blooming for the first and only time at a University of Michigan conservatory, will die when it's done (July 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
San Diego Zoo Welcomes New, Rare Rhino Calf

San Diego Zoo Welcomes New, Rare Rhino Calf

Reuters - US Online Video (July 21, 2014) An endangered black rhino baby is the newest resident at the San Diego Zoo. Sasha Salama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Shark Sightings a Big Catch for Cape Tourism

Shark Sightings a Big Catch for Cape Tourism

AP (July 21, 2014) A rise in shark sightings along the shores of Chatham, Massachusetts is driving a surge of eager vacationers to the beach town looking to catch a glimpse of a great white. (July 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
$23.6 Billion Awarded To Widow In Smoking Lawsuit

$23.6 Billion Awarded To Widow In Smoking Lawsuit

Newsy (July 20, 2014) Cynthia Robinson claims R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company hid the health and addiction risks of its products, leading to the death of her husband in 1996. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins