The First Polynesian Settlement

By: The Scribe on Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A recent claim has placed a village in Tonga as the birthplace of Polynesia – not Samoa!

Samoa may have to re-evaluate its tourism position – after advertising itself as the “cradle of Polynesia” for decades, it turns out that Samoa is actually the middle child. Instead, a small, unassuming fishing village in Tonga has been confirmed as the first Polynesian settlement, established around 2900 years ago.

The site of Nukuleka was identified through pottery shards that were spread around the area, attracting the attention of historians due to their unique appearance. This pottery was carried through the region of Melanesia and into the Pacific by a group of people (whose own origins are still debated) that eventually settled here to become Polynesia’s first inhabitants.

The Lapita people located this first village near the mouth of the Fanga-uta lagoon, which 3000 years ago was a large beach – full of shellfish and small wildlife, such as turtles and birds, which the people ate as their main sustenance. Archaeological investigations on the site uncovered layers upon layers of shellfish in the area, confirming human habitation here was extensive – and that the site was not simply a seasonal encampment.

About a century after their establishment of Nukuleka, the entire group of Tonga islands was settled. It was nearly a thousand years later when the Lapita finally made the decision to move toward eastern Polynesia. It was really only after this migration that the distinctive Polynesian culture was developed, or at least to the extent that it is known today, however the identification of Tonga’s fishing village as the first Polynesian settlement has certainly re-written the history of the ancient Pacific.

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