COURTESY BISHOP MUSEUM
This stone adz blade, part of the current Bishop Museum exhibition, was among the remains of an ancient civilization unearthed in 1973 at the village of Hemedu, near Ningbo, China, south of Shanghai. Adzes like this one, a little more than 3 inches long, were used to carve out tree trunks for canoes. CLICK FOR LARGE
Pigs dig up Pacific roots
A new study looking at pigs' DNA suggests some early Pacific settlers originated in Vietnam
WHILE scholars at the Bishop Museum this weekend argued that the roots of ancient Pacific migrants lie in China, a separate study published last week suggests that some early settlers -- and their pigs -- took a different route.
"Pigs are good swimmers, but not good enough to reach Hawaii," says Swedish researcher Greger Larson, a co-author of the study. "Given the distances between the islands, pigs must have been transported and are thus excellent proxies of human movement. In this case, they have helped us open a new window into the history of human colonization of the Pacific."
Studying DNA and tooth shape in modern and ancient pigs, the researchers say ancient human colonists may have originated in Vietnam and traveled between numerous islands before reaching New Guinea, French Polynesia and Hawaii.
The paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has 33 authors, including Keith Dobney of Durham University in England and University of Hawaii archaeologist Barry Rolett.
COURTESY BISHOP MUSEUM
This canoe paddle was discovered at the Tianluoshan site, an example of Hemedu culture, in what is today the province of Zhejiang, China. CLICK FOR LARGE
Coincidentally, Rolett was among the scholars meeting at the Bishop Museum for an international symposium Friday and yesterday on links between early Pacific settlers and China. The forum coincided with an exhibition, "Lost Maritime Cultures: China and the Pacific," continuing at the museum through April 15.
Archaeologists agree that double-hulled canoes carried early Polynesian settlers and their supplies, including pigs, across the islands of the Pacific. But they disagree on where the people, pigs and pirogues came from.
"If you start to get into it, you realize it's a bit controversial," Rolett says.
The exhibition includes artifacts from the prehistoric civilizations of China, dating back 3,000 to 7,000 years, that suggest China is the original homeland of the Austronesians, a seafaring culture that spread out across the Pacific to become Polynesians, Melanesians, Micronesians and the indigenous people of Southeast Asian islands.
Tianlong Jiao, chairman of the Bishop Museum Anthropology Department, is spearheading the project in cooperation with the People's Republic of China and with support from the Vermont-based Freeman Foundation. The symposium also drew researchers from Australian National University, Academia Sinica in Taiwan, and the Fujian Provincial Museum and Zhejiang Provincial Institute of Antiquity and Archaeology in China.
"Many archaeologists have assumed that the combined package of domestic animals and cultural artifacts associated with the first Pacific colonizers originated in the same place and was then transported with people as a single unit," Dobney says. "Our study shows this assumption may be too simplistic, and that different elements of the package, including pigs, probably took different routes."