A large rai stone in the village of Gachpar.
Rai (or stone money), are large, circular stone disks carved out of limestone. These stones were quarried on several islands of Micronesia (such as Palau and Guam), and transported to the island of Yap. The Yapese (as well as a few others…) have used rai in trade and as a form of currency.
Image via Wiki Commons.

A large rai stone in the village of Gachpar.

Rai (or stone money), are large, circular stone disks carved out of limestone. These stones were quarried on several islands of Micronesia (such as Palau and Guam), and transported to the island of Yap. The Yapese (as well as a few others…) have used rai in trade and as a form of currency.

Image via Wiki Commons.

As a New Zealander I felt as though it were high time I did a post from Oceania -possibly one of the more often overlooked regions when looking at the world’s ancient history.

The archaeological site I will be looking at today is Nan Madol, which is on the island of Pohnpei (in the Micronesia subregion of Oceania, check out this map).

Dating from 200 BCE, Nan Madol was the ceremonial and ritual centre in the Saudeleur dynasty for the ruling chiefs. Often called the “Venice of the Pacific”, Nan Madol (meaning “between spaces”) consists of a series of 90 small islands linked by a network of canals. Although there were many chiefs, the majority of Nan Madol residents were commoners.

An intriguing aspect of Nan Madol is the close correlation between the oral history of the site, passed down through the centuries, and evidence unearthed during archaeological excavations.

For example, oral traditions make references to small canals cut into the islets, allowing sacred eels to enter from the sea so that they could be honored through the sacrifice of captured sea turtles. Subsequent excavations have revealed traces of both the small canals and the sacrificial turtles. Recently, archaeologists have begun creating computerized reconstructions of the city in order to gain insights into its original appearance. (x)

Photos courtesy & taken by Tara Sturm & Wayne Batzer. When writing up this post, this article by J. Wagelie was of great use.

"A Lesson in Good Behavior"
From the Prehistoric Ubirr Aboriginal Art Site, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia.
Information from the sign in front of the painting:

This painting of Mabuyu reminds traditional owners to tell a story which warns against stealing. 
Mabuyu was dragging his catch on a string after a fishing expedition when a greedy person cut the string and stole his fish.
That night, Mabuyu waited until the thieves had eaten his fish and were camped inside their cave near the East Alligator River. Then he blocked the cave with a huge rock.
Next morning they never came out. Because they pinched it they got punished. Kids, ladies, and men all dead -finished.

The rocks of Ubirr have been painted and repainted since 40,000 B.C.E., it is thought that most were created about 2,000 years ago.
Photo courtesy & taken by Neerav Bhatt.

"A Lesson in Good Behavior"

From the Prehistoric Ubirr Aboriginal Art Site, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia.

Information from the sign in front of the painting:

This painting of Mabuyu reminds traditional owners to tell a story which warns against stealing. 

Mabuyu was dragging his catch on a string after a fishing expedition when a greedy person cut the string and stole his fish.

That night, Mabuyu waited until the thieves had eaten his fish and were camped inside their cave near the East Alligator River. Then he blocked the cave with a huge rock.

Next morning they never came out. Because they pinched it they got punished. Kids, ladies, and men all dead -finished.

The rocks of Ubirr have been painted and repainted since 40,000 B.C.E., it is thought that most were created about 2,000 years ago.

Photo courtesy & taken by Neerav Bhatt.

A marae is a sacred religious gathering place in Polynesian societies.
Here we can see Marae Maraetaata, which is located in the middle of a residential area on the west coast of Tahiti. Located in the Southern Pacific Ocean, Tahiti is the largest island in the Windward group of French Polynesia.
Photo courtesy & taken by Pierre Lesage.

A marae is a sacred religious gathering place in Polynesian societies.

Here we can see Marae Maraetaata, which is located in the middle of a residential area on the west coast of Tahiti. Located in the Southern Pacific Ocean, Tahiti is the largest island in the Windward group of French Polynesia.

Photo courtesy & taken by Pierre Lesage.

A turtle in Aboriginal rock art, Ubirr, East Alligator region of Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory of Australia.
Paintings from the site have been painted since 40,000 B.C.E., most are thought to be at least 2,000 years old. The art of the site depicts certain creation ancestors, as well as animals from the area (such as catfish, long-necked turtles, pig-nosed turtles, rock ringtail possums, and wallabies).

Rock painting had several functions in historic times. Images were created to increase the population of game animals or for use in magic. Depictions of important Dreaming beings are common, as well as secular paintings made for amusement. Although the original significance of Ubirr’s prehistoric images is unknown, they likely had similar functions. (met)

Photo courtesy & taken by nettispaghetti.

A turtle in Aboriginal rock art, Ubirr, East Alligator region of Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory of Australia.

Paintings from the site have been painted since 40,000 B.C.E., most are thought to be at least 2,000 years old. The art of the site depicts certain creation ancestors, as well as animals from the area (such as catfish, long-necked turtles, pig-nosed turtles, rock ringtail possums, and wallabies).

Rock painting had several functions in historic times. Images were created to increase the population of game animals or for use in magic. Depictions of important Dreaming beings are common, as well as secular paintings made for amusement. Although the original significance of Ubirr’s prehistoric images is unknown, they likely had similar functions. (met)

Photo courtesy & taken by nettispaghetti.

As a New Zealander I thought it was high time I posted some archaeology a bit closer to home.

A very important Pacific archaeological site located on the south eastern coast of Raiatea, French Polynesia -the Taputapuatea Marae.

For those of you who don’t know, a marae is a sacred religious gathering place in Polynesian societies. This particular marae was already established by 1000 AD, and was once known as the religious centre and central temple of Eastern Polynesia. Here, people such as priests and navigators would meet to share knowledge and preform sacrifices to the gods.

Member of the Moari iwi Te Rangi Hīroa (anthropologist, politician), upon visiting the site in 1929 was overcome with grief due to the state of the once great marae, and consequently wrote:

I had made my pilgrimage to Taputapu-atea, but the dead could not speak to me. It was sad to the verge of tears. I felt a profound regret, a regret for — I knew not what. Was it for the beating of the temple drums or the shouting of the populace as the king was raised on high? Was it for the human sacrifices of olden times? It was for none of these individually but for something at the back of them all, some living spirit and divine courage that existed in ancient times of which Taputapu-atea was a mute symbol. It was something that we Polynesians have lost and cannot find, something that we yearn for and cannot recreate. The background in which that spirit was engendered has changed beyond recovery. The bleak wind of oblivion had swept over Opoa. Foreign weeds grew over the untended courtyard, and stones had fallen from the sacred altar of Taputapu-atea. The gods had long ago departed.

(ref: D. Hanlon, Voyaging Through the Contemporary Pacific)

Fortunately, as of 1994, the archaeological remains of Taputapuatea has been restored, and is currently being pushed to become a recognized United Nations World Heritage site.

Photos courtesy & taken by Pierre Lesage.

The famous tattooed and preserved head of a Maori warrior.
The Rouen Museum of Natural History in France formally returned this artifact to the delegation of elders, New Zealand Embassy officials and representatives from Te Papa Tongarewa, New Zealand’s national museum.
This is the culmination of years of legal wrangling in France. The head, a sacred cultural object to the Maori, was originally preserved as a reminder of a victory in battle. The tattoos indicate high rank and the heads of elaborately-tattooed warriors would be kept as prized objects by the winners.
You can read more about this artifact here

The famous tattooed and preserved head of a Maori warrior.

The Rouen Museum of Natural History in France formally returned this artifact to the delegation of elders, New Zealand Embassy officials and representatives from Te Papa Tongarewa, New Zealand’s national museum.

This is the culmination of years of legal wrangling in France. The head, a sacred cultural object to the Maori, was originally preserved as a reminder of a victory in battle. The tattoos indicate high rank and the heads of elaborately-tattooed warriors would be kept as prized objects by the winners.

You can read more about this artifact here