Home Career Ancient Chamorro people may have been inventors, study suggests — ScienceDaily

Ancient Chamorro people may have been inventors, study suggests — ScienceDaily


An archaeological study has shown that cowrie shell artifacts found in the Mariana Islands were baits used to hunt octopuses, and that similar versions of the tools found on islands in the Pacific Ocean are the oldest known artifacts in the world. .

The study used carbon dating of archaeological layers to confirm that the baits found in the northern Mariana Islands of Tinian and Saipan were around 1500 BC, or 3,500 years ago.

“This is from when people first lived in the Mariana Islands. So we believe these may be the oldest octopus lures in the entire Pacific region, and in fact the oldest in the world,” said Michael T. Carson, an archaeologist at the Center for Micronesian Studies at the University of Guam.

The study, “Let’s Catch an Octopus for Lunch: Ancient Octopus Bait Inventions in the Mariana Islands of the Remote Tropical Pacific,” is published in World archaeology, a peer-reviewed academic journal. Carson, who has a doctorate in anthropology, is the lead author of the study, assisted by Hsiao-chun Hung of the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia.

Fishing gear was made from cowrie shells, a type of sea snail and a favorite food of octopuses, which were connected by a fiber cord to a stone sinker and a hook.

They were found in seven locations in the Mariana Islands. The oldest lures were excavated in 2011 at Sanhalom near Tagi’s home in Tinian and in 2016 at Unai Bapot on Saipan. Other locations include Achugaa on Saipan, Unai Chulu on Tinian and Mochom on the Mangilao Golf Course, Taragu Beach and Ritidian Beach Cave on Guam.

Known artifacts, unknown purpose – until now

“The artifacts were known — we knew about them. It just took a long time to consider the possibilities, the different hypotheses of what they could be,” Carson said. “The common idea is what we were told a long time ago from the Bishop Museum [in Honolulu] — it should be for scraping breadfruit or other plants like taro. [But] they don’t look like that.’

The shells did not have serrated edges like other known food scraping tools. With their holes and grooves where the fiber cord would have been attached, and the stone sinker components, they looked closer to octopus lures found in Tonga about 3,000 years ago, or 1100 BC.

“We’re pretty sure these are pieces of octopus bait, and we’re pretty sure they date back to 1500 BC,” Carson said.

An invention of the ancient Chamorro?

Carson said the question now is: Did the ancient Chamoru invent this adaptation to their environment when they first lived on the islands?’

It is possible, he said, on the other hand, that they brought the tradition with them from their former homeland; however, no such artifacts have yet been discovered at the potential homelands of the first Marian settlers.

If the Chamorro people did invent the first octopus lures, it provides new insight into their ingenuity and problem-solving ability—the need to create new and specialized ways of living in a new environment and taking advantage of an available food source.

“That tells us that […] this type of food resource was important enough to them that they invented something very special to catch these foods, Carson said. “We can’t say that it contributed a significant proportion of their diet – probably not – but it was important enough for it to become what we would call a ‘tradition’ in archaeology.”

The next question to look at, according to Carson, is whether there are any other similar objects from earlier times.

“Purely from an archeological point of view, knowing about the oldest is always important – because then you can trace how things change over time,” he said. “[…] The only other place that could have been an overseas homeland for the first Chamoru people to move to the Mariana Islands. So we would look for these finds in islands in Southeast Asia and Taiwan.”

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