Author: Steadman, David W.; Plourde, Aimée; Burley, David V.
Title: Prehistoric Butchery and Consumption of Birds in the Kingdom of Tonga, South Pacific
Journal: Journal of Archaeological Science
Keywords: zooarchaeology; taphonomy; birds; chicken; Polynesia
Abstract: We evaluate the preservational attributes (element frequency, breakage, burning, cut-marks, rodent gnawing, and age) of ca. 500 bird bones from three prehistoric archaeological sites on the Polynesian islands of Foa and Lifuka in the Ha‘apai Group, Kingdom of Tonga. Two of the sites lie in calcareous beach sands whereas the third is the refuse infilling of a well. Although differing in age, all three sites are unequivocally cultural in origin, as evidenced by rich artifact assemblages and various sedimentological features (pits, hearths, etc.) that reflect human activities. The sites also contain bones from a diverse assemblage of marine fish, marine and terrestrial reptiles (sea turtles, iguanas), and terrestrial mammals (fruit bats, rats, pigs, dogs). We find no evidence for deposition of bones (bird or otherwise) in these Tongan sites by non-human agents. This is expected given that we are unaware of any non-human species or geological process that would concentrate the bones of fishes, reptiles, birds, and mammals on a beach ridge or in a well in Tonga. This is especially the case since the species range from very small to very large, and represent marine, fresh water, coastal, and forested habitats. Nevertheless, clear evidence of cultural involvement cannot be discerned on most individual bones, whether bird or non-bird. Furthermore, most taphonomic attributes (element frequency, breakage, burning, and cut-marks) of bones of a domesticated species (the chicken, Gallus gallus) resemble those found on bones of indigenous landbirds. We believe that all bones in any zooarchaeological assemblage should be evaluated carefully to determine who or what was responsible for their deposition. We see no reason, however, why bird bones should be held to some standard higher than those applied to the bones of other taxa, as some have suggested.