Polynesian coastal hunters in the subantarctic zone : a case for the recognition of convergent cultural adaptation.

Author: Sutton, Douglas G. (Doug)

Date: 1980-05-27

Publisher: University of Otago

Type: Thesis

Link to this item using this URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10523/9870

University of Otago


A programme of archaeological research was undertaken in the Chatham Islands, 860 km east of Banks Peninsula. This consisted of three phases of field work. These were; extensive site surveying, exploratory excavation and, finally, interdisciplinary research in a small study area near Point Durham on the southwest coast of Chatham Island. Seven sites were excavated, dated and their contents analysed. They represent a synchronic settlement pattern dated to the 16th century A.D. The spatial and seasonal distribution of food resources within the study area at that time was reconstructed. A model of human ecology within the area was developed on the basis of this reconstruction and the analysis of the excavated midden and other material. It is apparent that the settlement pattern of the Durham area centred on a perennially occupied village site from which small groups dispersed, particularly within the summer months, in order to hunt and gather food resources at discrete local resource zones. There is very little evidence for trade or exchange with people living in areas beyond the southwest coast. This supports the view that the small kin-based group which occupied the central place settlement within the Durham area was localised and largely self-sufficient. This pattern of subsistence and settlement is found to be characteristic of the later (post-1500 A.D.) phase of Chatham Islands prehistory. Evidence suggesting that it developed from a clearly different Archaic precursor is presented. The causes of this cultural adaptation are identified. Moriori culture is distinguished from most other Polynesian cultures by its egalitarian social structure and a certain lack of embellishment and variety in material culture and art. However, these features appear to have been common to all prehistoric coastal hunting cultures within the Subantarctic Zone as well as to Polynesian atolls. The argument is made that this similarity is best seen as the result of the absence of both the potential for intensification of food production and the possibility of control over the supply of crucial resources. It is argued that the historically independent indeginuous cultures of the Subantarctic Zone underwent convergent cultural adaptation.

Citation: ["Sutton, D. G. (Doug). (1980, May 27). Polynesian coastal hunters in the subantarctic zone : a case for the recognition of convergent cultural adaptation. (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy). University of Otago. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10523/9870"]