Tuesday, August 23, 2011
History: First People
It is not surprising, then, to find this brief article over at Archaeo News online about another intriguing first. Patrick V. Kirch of UC Berkeley’s Archaeology Research Facility now says that Austronesian seafarers may have arrived in the Marianas Islands as early as 2,000 BCE or 4,000 years ago. The Marianas, which are near the Philippines and include the U.S. territory of Guam, were previously thought to have been colonized no earlier than 500 CE.
Although the article does not actually say what prompted Kirch to make his announcement, I gather that discovery of Lapita pottery of a very early date may be the key. The Lapita pottery makers spread out in three distinct waves from South East Asia, bringing with them a skill for delicate and functional pottery. Examples of this beautiful art have been found not only in the Marianas but in the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa and especially Fiji where large numbers of intact vessels have been discovered. These various sites of Lapita finds have been dated, according to the article, to no earlier than 900 BCE.
Besides being skilled potters, the characteristic that most distinguishes the peoples of all these islands is their superior seamanship. They travelled long, arduous distances in beautifully constructed canoes colonizing as they went much like the Vikings would some 3,000 years later. The final wave of Austronesian migration brought people to the Polynesian archipelagoes with the Hawai’in islands possibly serving as last stop for these virtually unprecedented voyages.
While I am not intimately familiar with the culture of the Marianas’ people, who are known as the Chamorros, two things about them and their beautiful islands strike me as interesting. First is the fact that the islands were called by the Spanish Islas de los Ladrones which, though frequently translated as the Islands of Thieves, is more properly interpreted as the Islands of Pirates in the context of 17th century Spanish. The second is specific to the Chamorro people themselves. They claim descent from a legendary race of giants known as the Taotaomo’na who, it is whispered, still haunt the ancient places waiting for offerings of seafood and liquor. These spirits are known as the “First People” and, given their history and their appetites, they sound very much like freebooters to me.
Header: Lapita pottery shard from the Solomon Islands via Wikipedia