Lapita Diet in Remote Oceania: New Stable Isotope Evidence from the 3000-Year-Old Teouma Site, Efate Island, Vanuatu

R.L. Kinaston, Hallie R Buckley, Frederique Valentin, Stuart Bedford, Matthew Spriggs, Stuart Hawkins, Estelle Herrscher

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    Remote Oceania was colonized ca. 3000 BP by populations associated with the Lapita Cultural Complex, marking a major event in the prehistoric settlement of the Pacific Islands. Although over 250 Lapita sites have been found throughout the Western Pacific, human remains associated with Lapita period sites are rare. The site of Teouma, on Efate Island, Vanuatu has yielded the largest burial assemblage (n = 68 inhumations) of Lapita period humans ever discovered, providing a unique opportunity for assessing human adaptation to the environment in a colonizing population. Stable isotope ratios (?13C, ?15N, ?34S) of human bone collagen from forty-nine Teouma adults were analyzed against a comprehensive dietary baseline to assess the paleodiet of some of Vanuatu's earliest inhabitants. The isotopic dietary baseline included both modern plants and animals (n = 98) and prehistoric fauna from the site (n = 71). The human stable isotope data showed that dietary protein at Teouma included a mixture of reef fish and inshore organisms and a variety of higher trophic marine (e.g. marine turtle) and terrestrial animals (e.g. domestic animals and fruit bats). The domestic pigs and chickens at Teouma primarily ate food from a C3 terrestrial environment but their ?15N values indicated that they were eating foods from higher trophic levels than those of plants, such as insects or human fecal matter, suggesting that animal husbandry at the site may have included free range methods. The dietary interpretations for the humans suggest that broad-spectrum foraging and the consumption of domestic animals were the most important methods for procuring dietary protein at the site. Males displayed significantly higher ?15N values compared with females, possibly suggesting dietary differences associated with labor specialization or socio-cultural practices relating to food distribution.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-18
    JournalPLOS ONE (Public Library of Science)
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


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