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9 March 2013
Dig in Micronesia pushes settlement back 3400 years

An Australian team of archaeologists have uncovered evidence of human burials and early settlement in the Northern Marianas islands group, which includes Guam and Saipan and many other open Pacific islands in western Micronesia, north of the equator - part of a very large migration of human populations about 3,500 years ago from South East Asia, eventually reaching New Zealand, Easter Island, and Hawaii.
     Peter Bellwood, Professor of Archaeology at the Australian National University, says Saipan is important because it was one of the first places to be reached by colonising humans.
     Micronesians, and a little further south the Polynesians, were migrating at the same time. Originating from China and moving through Taiwan and the Philippines, they probably reached Tinian about 3,500 years ago.
     The 'House of Targa' site on Tinian Island dates back 3400 years. Discoveries of wooden house posts, a cooking hearth, pottery and other artefacts paint a picture of the island's earliest inhabitants.
     They lived in houses raised above the coastal tidal area on stilts, as many people still do in parts of South East Asia. They made very beautiful red-coated pottery with finely impressed designs. The pottery from Tinian is very similar both to that in northern Luzon, in the Philippines, and to pottery found south of the equator in the western Pacific, in islands east of New Guinea, thought to be part of the ancestry of the Melanesian and Polynesian islanders much further to the south.
     In the Western Pacific Islands, migrations were moving through areas that were already settled. There were people in Australia, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands possibly 40 to 50 thousand years ago.
     Sites in the Marianas Islands appear to be 100 or 200 years older than those south of the equator - a passage from the Philippines of almost 2,300 kilometres. There is some debate as to whether people travelled directly, or went through some islands further to the south, which could have been one of the first movements.
     We now know that some of the Polynesians possibly reached as far as South America. They didn't settle in South America, but they certainly had contacts right on the other side of the Pacific.

Edited from Islands Business (27 February 2013)

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