The prehistoric people from Sigatoka : an analysis of skeletal and dental traits as evidence of adaptation
Visser, Edward Paul
The biological relationships of Pacific people has long been the subject of conjecture and research. Yet very few skeletons older than 1000 years have been recovered and studied. The excavation of 63 skeletons from the Sigatoka Dune Site, (VL16/1) Fiji has provided a unique opportunity to examine a discrete skeletal population dated to circa 180 AD. The study of the Sigatoka population focuses on four areas. One focus compares sex differences in the Sigatoka population using data provided by analyses of census, health, and pathology. Secondly, the distribution of burials is analysed using biological data. A third focus compares the Sigatoka with skeletal and anthropometric data obtained from Pacific populations. The fourth focus examines selective forces which may have influenced the Sigatoka body form. The people from Sigatoka appear to have experienced few episodes of growth disruption, nor is there bony evidence of infectious diseases. In the absence of deleterious health factors, the Sigatoka people were able to obtain comparatively tall statures and heavy body mass. Mean age at death is around 30 years of age. However, evidence of good health suggests that the average length of life of the entire population may have been around 40 years of age. Some of the bony pathologies present are argued to be effected by cultural activities determined by sex and social status. The consequences of these pathologies compromised health and may have contributed to an earlier age of death in some individuals. Social hierarchy is also implied by the location and distribution of burials. Heavier, taller, and older males were buried at the highest point of the burial ground. These differences indicate a society which was stratified and complex. The ability to draw firm conclusions of affinity from comparisons between Sigatoka and Pacific populations are limited by the vagaries genetics, environment, and limited sample sizes. However, there are indications that the Sigatoka people have close skeletal affinity with Lapita associated skeletons. Strong similarities in body form and skeletal traits also seem to exist with most Polynesians groups but not with non-Polynesian populations. Furthermore, significant skeletal differences occur between Sigatoka and recent Fijians. The extent of these differences and the time frame in which change took place are argued to be a consequence of frequent and perhaps widespread contact from the west, probably Vanuatu. The skeletal characteristics and body form of the Sigatoka people are suggested to reflect an adaptation to a cooler environment than contemporary tropical Fiji. Their body form fits in with models which suggest an adaptation to a cool marine environment. However, cultural mechanisms may have also contributed to the evolution of the Sigatoka body form.
Advisor: Green, Roger; Houghton, Philip
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Anatomy and Structural Biology
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis