Burial mounds are widely scattered across the Tongatapu landscape. When you land at Fua’amotu airport, they line the runway. When you drive into Nuku’alofa, they can be seen to either side of the road. All but a few are without name, and the individuals buried within are long lost to history. Yet these mounds represent a story that literally is inscribed on the landscape. Using airborne LiDAR data, a computer application was developed to count the mounds. The total was astounding, including upwards of 10,000 of these sites on Tongatapu - about 40 mounds for every square kilometre. By Travis Freeland and David V. Burley.
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Results for Archaeology
Saturday 16 May 2020
On November 2, 1866, the Reverend Shirley Waldemar Baker, missionary and eventual Prime Minister of Tonga, gave a lecture in which he describes the last traditional God House in Ha'apai....“I have stood in the old Fale Mee at Haano, which is the last fale otua (temple of their god) still standing in Haapai. At the foot of the principal post there is buried a man, who was said to be the best singer in all Tonga. He was offered a living sacrifice to the god at the building of the temple, as an act of dedication.” By David V. Burley.
Thursday 16 April 2020
‘Ata, Tonga’s southernmost island, is a long way away, separated from Tongatapu by 160 km of open ocean. ‘Ata’s place in the history books is well established. It was here, in June 1863, that the whaling ship Grecian under Captain Thomas McGrath anchored off the northeastern shore and only village, Kolomaile. The details of the events that followed are sketchily recorded, but the consequence is notorious. A large number of ‘Ata’s residents were lured on to the ship, captured, and then sold to a Peruvian slaver for transport to Lima. None were to return. In the aftermath of the raid, and under the orders of Tupou I, the remaining ‘Atans were resettled on ‘Eua, in a village they again named Kolomaile. By David V. Burley.
Thursday 19 March 2020
Tonga's stunning ngatu provide testimony to the considerable antiquity of Tongan artistic designs. Variation of the ngatu patterns, and the way these are organized, had been inscribed on the surfaces of Lapita pottery in Tonga almost 3,000 years ago. By David V. Burley.
Friday 7 February 2020
People first arrived in Vava‘u between 850 and 810 BC, establishing themselves on the south central islands offshore of ‘Uta Vava’u. The earliest sites at Ofu, Pangaimotu and Otea are all but identical in their age, and they are coincidental with the oldest sites in Ha’apai. Bird remains aside, excavations of other types of food remains at these sites have an unexpected story to tell: one of scarcity. Fish remains were shockingly limited! Shellfish counts and species diversity are similarly impoverished, illustrating limited productivity, or at least limited sustainability, for reef foraging efforts. By David V. Burley.
Wednesday 15 January 2020
We can confidently position first settlement in Ha’apai between 825 and 810 BC, only three generations (75 years) after the first Lapita canoes arrived at Fanga ‘Uta Lagoon on Tongatapu. The dates for individual Lapita sites are informative. They not only answer the question of when, but they reflect upon the process by which the expansion was undertaken. Within Ha‘apai, simultaneous settlement, widely dispersed hamlets on different islands, and small groups of people clearly speak to a planned and organized strategy. In its creation of a settlement network northward from Tongatapu, it brilliantly laid title to these islands. By David Burley.
Thursday 2 January 2020
There are rare moments on an archaeological project which offer extraordinary insight into the past or when the past connects with the present in an utterly astonishing way. Both occurred in late July of 2007, as we were carrying out archaeological excavations in the village of Nukuleka at the northeast entrance to Fanga ‘Uta Lagoon on Tongatapu. This story is about the documentation of a shell game, taupita, but a shell game, as we found out, with an almost 3000-year-old history. It also is a story that binds Tonga’s earliest Lapita ancestors to the people of Nukuleka today. By David Burley and Sean Connaughton.
Monday 16 December 2019
Tongatapu was a far different place 3000 years ago, one few of us can imagine today. The sea was higher, almost 1.4 m higher. Much of the land on which the city of Nuku‘alofa now sits was not land at all. It was about 900 BC when voyaging canoes first arrived from a homeland to the west. These kalia carried a small group of people and all of the necessities they would need to settle new found islands. They were the first Tongans. By David Burley