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4 April 2013
Migration to Marianas longest ocean-crossing in history

The establishment of human settlements in the Marianas 3,500 years ago required long-distance migration, and may have involved the longest ocean-crossing in human history at that time.
     Dr Michael T Carson and Dr Hsiao-chun Hung from Australian National University in Canberra continue to make progress on Tinian island, north of the 'House of Taga' site, examining what may be the earliest human habitation in the region.
     Carson says that previously, archaeologists concluded that the first remote island settlement occurred in Melanesia and Polynesia about 3000-2800 years ago. "Now we have found solid evidence of a significantly earlier settlement in the Marianas, plus it required an even longer distance of migration across the ocean, more than 2000 kilometres from the nearest inhabited area," said Carson.
     The area where Carson and Hung are currently working is where, in the 1950s, Father Marcian Pellette uncovered finely decorated pottery - the earliest pottery of the Marianas.
     "We continue to uncover this lowest layer... We are seeing a good picture of the shape of an ancient house floor and living area, composed of cobbles and boulders arranged as paving. We are finding concentrations of plentiful broken pieces of pottery, shell and stone tools, shell ornaments, and discarded food remains. At that time, 3,500 years ago, no other people were living in the remote Pacific Islands, so these ancient sites in the Mariana Islands give us valuable information about this critical point in human history. Other sites in Tinian, Saipan, and Guam all confirm this early dating and much the same intriguing early artefacts, including a distinctive red-slipped pottery with finely made decorations."
     Carson says that, "Based on what we know so far in these different regions, we can trace a 'pottery trail' from Island Southeast Asia into the Pacific." He explains that the decorated pottery of both the Philippines and the Marianas contain many of the same motifs, that the style appeared in the Philippines at least 3,800 years ago and for the first time in the Marianas 3,500 years ago.
     "A more elaborate form of the same core design system is found in 'Lapita' pottery of the Bismarck Archipelago (east of New Guinea) about 3,400-3,300 years ago, and then it continues to be found 3,000-2,800 years ago elsewhere in Island Melanesia and West Polynesia," said Carson. They are just beginning to learn about these connections. "We are re-thinking much of what previously was thought about the first people to inhabit the remote Pacific Islands," he said.

Marianas Variety (12 March 2013)

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