Cook Island artifact geochemistry demonstrates spatial and temporal extent of pre-European interarchipelago voyaging in East Polynesia
Weisler et al
The Cook Islands are considered the “gateway” for human colonization of East Polynesia, the final chapter of Oceanic settlement and the last major region occupied on Earth. Indeed, East Polynesia witnessed the culmination of the greatest maritime migration in human history. Perennial debates have critiqued whether Oceanic settlement was purposeful or accidental, the timing and pathways of colonization, and the nature and extent of postcolonization voyaging—essential for small founding groups securing a lifeline between parent and daughter communities. Centering on the well-dated Tangatatau rockshelter, Mangaia, Southern Cook Islands, we charted the temporal duration and geographic spread of exotic stone adze materials—essential woodworking tools found throughout Polynesia— imported for more than 300 y beginning in the early AD 1300s. Using a technique requiring only 200 mg of sample for the geochemical analysis of trace elements and isotopes of fine-grained basalt adzes, we assigned all artifacts to an island or archipelago of origin. Adze material was identified from the chiefly complex on the Austral Islands, from the major adze quarry complex on Tutuila (Samoa), and from the Marquesas Islands more than 2,400 km distant. This interaction is the only dated example of down-the-line exchange in central East Polynesia where intermediate groups transferred commodities attesting to the interconnectedness and complexity of social relations fostered during postsettlement voyaging. For the Cook Islands, this exchange may have lasted into the 1600s, at least a century later than other East Polynesian archipelagos, suggesting that interarchipelago interaction contributed to the later development of social hierarchies.