Marine resource exploitation on Rapa Island: archaeology, material culture and ethnography



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.

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As Rapa lacked the usual suite of Polynesian domesticated animals, it is not surprising that evidence for marine fishing and marine exploitation in general is strong. However, the discussion of fishing techniques and broader aquatic resource exploitation must be placed within the unique environmental context of the island; no straightforward transference of traditions or interpretations in other parts of Polynesia will suffice to explain the patterns seen here. The cultural adaptations that formed on Rapa are exemplified by a remarkable assemblage of very small fish hooks produced in candlenut endocarp that was recovered from Tangarutu. In the absence of tropical coral reef littoral environments, species of shell so important elsewhere for fish-hook manufacture, such as the pearl oyster Pinctada margaritifera, were not locally available on Rapa1 and creative new solutions had to be found. What follows here, then, is an investigation into Rapan flexibility in modifying cultural techniques and practices to the limitations and idiosyncrasies of the environment in which they lived. After a description of the remarkably preserved Tangarutu fish hooks, the assemblage will be considered within the context of both Rapan environments and generic Polynesian fishing traditions. The Rapan fish hooks are argued to represent, among other things, the creative confluence of traditional practice and material constraint. Neither cultural mores nor environmental context is seen as a determining factor in its own right. Rather, both are seen to inform each other in generating an inventive solution and, with it, a new trajectory in Polynesian fishing technologies.

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