Unearthing prehistoric Samoan history

By Sina Filifilia Seva’aetasi ,

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GINORMOUS STAR FIELD: Star mound in Vaito’omuli, Palauli, Savai’i.

GINORMOUS STAR FIELD: Star mound in Vaito’omuli, Palauli, Savai’i. (Photo: Fa’ae’e Taula, CSS)

Most of us have heard of the massive Macchu Picchu Incan citadels in Peru and the humongous mysterious stone heads looking out on the shores of Rapa Nui. 

Now, we have the ginormous star fields, in the hidden forestry of Savai’i.

This week, a research team from the Centre of Samoan Studies presented their findings during their archaeological survey of the inland areas of the villages of Vaito’omuli, and Fa’ala in Savai’i. 

The project is called The Documentation of Samoan Archaeological and Built Heritage Places and Associated Oral Traditions (A.F.C.P) funded by the U.S. Embassy.  

The team consisted of five National University of Samoa lecturers, and 14 students.  

The team also featured archaeologist Gregory Jackmond, who last surveyed the land in the 1970’s.  

Mr. Jackmond mapped an extensive antic net settlement of over 200 hectares inland of Vailoa village, in original on the Nelson family owned Plantation.

However, the team found large platforms as well as giant walls and walkways that suggest that there were far more people living inland than previously suggested and therefore a greater number in population size.  

During the presentation Mr. Jackmond said that it was a long held belief that prehistoric Samoans lived mainly on the coast. 

“In 1840, the populations in Samoa was estimated between 30-50,000 people.  Before taht the populations was estimated to be anywhere from 50-100,000 people.  No one expected it to anywhere over 100,000.” 

Participants during the presentation yesterday at the National University of Samoa Cultural Centre. Photo / Misiona Simo
Participants during the presentation yesterday at the National University of Samoa Cultural Centre. Photo / Misiona Simo

“In 1840, 96% of the population and 86% of the villages were along the coast.”

 “First in early 1900s there was 1940-50’s and settlement patterns wasn’t really done by very many archaeologist.” 

However, their survey of the land proved a large group of Samoans occupied  inland areas as they found many large platforms that could be used for living quarters and other large man made structures. 

They also employed  technology to help them survey the land better with the help of drones. 

 “Detailed aerial  images from the MNRE and Skyeye proved instrumental in helping the research.  With the aerial photos, it was easy to pick up light vegetation and made it easier for us to do our searches,” Mr. Jackmond said. 

The students also engaged with the local pulenu’u and elders of the villages to assist them with their research and collect and record oral histories that they shared.  

After 4 full days, in the field, the team had logged 673 GPS way points, taken over 750 photographs and recorded 233 prehistoric features, they confirmed tahth inland areas were once sites of dense prehistoric settlement. 

The results of the survey challenge several long held assumptions about early Samoan population records and settlement patterns, and this presentation will discuss adaptive community engagement strategies in archaeology and national cultural heritage management efforts in modern day Samoa. 

Phase 2 of this project will kick off in June.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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