2,000 year old Stone Adzes from Tuamotus reveal Polynesian Trading Capabilities

Kenneth Collerson and Marshall Weisler the University of Queensland, Australia have been studying 19 2,000 year old adzes which were excavated in the 1930’s from coral atolls in the Tuamotus, in the Pacific. Adzes are type of stone tool that function like a pick and resemble an axe. Their research, “Stone Adze Compositions and the Extent of Ancient Polynesian Voyaging and Trade” is now published in Science.

The axe part of the adzes are made of basalt, a type of volcanic rock which was not available in the Tuamotus because the Taumotus rose up fro the sea 800 years after these basal adzes were created. The basalt probably originated from Hawaii, one of the few volcanically active islands in the Pacific, around 2,000 years ago.

“Collerson, a geochemist who studies mantle processes, knew that basalts from different types of islands have a distinctive signature in their trace elements and isotope chemistries. So the team took centimetre-wide chunks from the adzes and compared them to a database they had compiled from sites throughout the Pacific.”

What they found out is pretty remarkable. The basalt from the adzes have matching signatures to basalt from the Marquesas, Pitcairn, and the Austral islands. The research confirmed that one adze had been fashioned from hawaiite, a type of basalt specifically from the island of Kaho’olawe. Collerson says commented that hawaiite’s chemical signature matches one other one,

“the only other possible location on the planet where it could have come from is one of the islands in the middle of the Atlantic.”

This indicates that about 2,000 years ago, Polynesians were extensively travel the Pacific. Which is nothing really ground breaking. We already knew that before 2,000 years ago, Samoans and Tongans hauled out eastward. They settled many different islands and archipelagos in the Pacific Ocean, including the Cook Islands, Tahiti, and the Marquesas Islands. Within 1,000 years ago they colonized most of these places.

So the Polynesian people were moving a lot around. The linguistic data supported it, and even so recently, chicken genetics gave us a clue about what Polynesian’s were doing in South America. And now some pretty solid archaeology and geology supports it.

I’m pretty sure anthropologist Geoffrey Irwin from University of Auckland is all happy about this study.

4 thoughts on “2,000 year old Stone Adzes from Tuamotus reveal Polynesian Trading Capabilities

  1. We all suspect that polynesia was open to travel in the past and Polynesians were constantly voyaging between islands at a certain time but, how do you know the adzes are 2000 years old?

  2. I have the same question as Edmundo. I can’t really make sense of it. I suppose a pretty loose sort of a date could be got for the adzes by analysis of style, type, manufacturing technique. Also, perhaps quarry sites have been dated.
    So, these adzes were manufactured centuries before their ending up in the Tuamotus. I wonder when did they end up in the Tuamotus.

  3. The Polynesian islands beyond Tonga and Samoa, and the Tuamotus are way beyond them, weren’t settled until more recently than two thousand years ago. Presumably the axes were found in the first occupation layers.

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