Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Details

Szabo, K., Vogel, Y. & Anderson, A. (2012). Marine resource exploitation on Rapa Island: archaeology, material culture and ethnography. In A. Anderson & D. J. Kennett (Eds.), Taking the High Ground: the Archaeology of Rapa, a Fortified Island in Remote East Polynesia (pp. 146-166). Canberra: ANU E Press.


As Rapa lacked the usual suite of Polynesian domesticated animals, it is not surprising thatevidence for marine fishing and marine exploitation in general is strong. However, the discussionof fishing techniques and broader aquatic resource exploitation must be placed within theunique environmental context of the island; no straightforward transference of traditions orinterpretations in other parts of Polynesia will suffice to explain the patterns seen here. Thecultural adaptations that formed on Rapa are exemplified by a remarkable assemblage of verysmall fish hooks produced in candlenut endocarp that was recovered from Tangarutu. In theabsence of tropical coral reef littoral environments, species of shell so important elsewhere forfish-hook manufacture, such as the pearl oyster Pinctada margaritifera, were not locally availableon Rapa1 and creative new solutions had to be found. What follows here, then, is an investigationinto Rapan flexibility in modifying cultural techniques and practices to the limitations andidiosyncrasies of the environment in which they lived.After a description of the remarkably preserved Tangarutu fish hooks, the assemblagewill be considered within the context of both Rapan environments and generic Polynesianfishing traditions. The Rapan fish hooks are argued to represent, among other things, thecreative confluence of traditional practice and material constraint. Neither cultural mores norenvironmental context is seen as a determining factor in its own right. Rather, both are seen toinform each other in generating an inventive solution and, with it, a new trajectory in Polynesianfishing technologies.