Research reveals ancient Polynesian diet
Researchers use isotope testing to find out what ancient Polynesian people the Lapita ate in their diet.
Researchers from Otago University say they have gained new insights into the diets of Polynesian ancestors by analysing 3000 year old skeletons from Vanuatu.
Dr Rebecca Kinaston told Jenny Meyer her team were looking at remains of the Lapita people who were the first to colonise Vanuatu after travelling through Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands from South East Asia and they've just published their work in the journal PLOS ONE.
REBECCA KINASTON; Well with this publication we are most excited about actually directly analysing the diet of the Lapita people. Before the diet was only understood from indirect methods of informal remains of archeological former remains and some plant microfossils. But with the stable isotope analysis we can directly analyse what people ate in the past. And so what we found was that people, when they were first coming to the islands, they weren't establishing large stores of horticultural plant foods. In the beginning they were actually accessing resources, endemic resources on the land such as fruit bats and land based tortoises and also marine foods from the in-shore environment.
JENNY MEYER; Can you explain; who are the Lapita people, when did they live and where were they living; where did they come from and go to?
RK; Yes the Lapita people are the ancestors of the modern day Polynesians and its thought that they came from the islands of South East Asia around 3400 years ago and entered into the islands of both Papua New Guinea and the Bismark Archipelago. And around 3000 years ago they entered into an area known as remote Oceania which is to the east of the Solomon Islands chain. And these were previously uninhabited islands. And so what were looking at here in our study are the first people to colonise the islands of Vanuatu and eventually further eastward.
JM; And how were you able to actually able to figure out what they ate since they lived such a long time ago?
RK; So stable isotope analysis is a method of analysing the elements or the stable isotope elements of carbon and nitrogen and sulphur within the bone collagen of pre historic individuals. And these analyses can tell certain things such as the proportion of terrestrial foods, so land based foods or marine foods in a person's diet. And it can also inform us on individual intra population differences in diets. So differences between males and females and adults and children. So that can tell us about sociocultural practices in the past.
Dr Kinaston says different proteins found in men and women's remains may indicate a preferential higher value food was eaten by Lapita men.
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