Archaic states were unstable entities and centralisation was threatened by fragmentation particularly at the death of semi-divine leaders. Royal funerals were therefore important state events as they engaged a significant proportion of the population in participatory behaviours and networks that linked individuals of different class and group affiliations to the politico-religious system. In the ancient Tongan state (CE 1250-1800), royal funerals involved the placement of exotic volcanic stones (kilikili) on the grave to mark the end of public mourning - a practice still followed by the Tongan royal family. To investigate the antiquity of the patterned ritual practice and the funerary contribution of specialists and non-specialists, we examined the composition of kilikili stones from chiefly tombs of known age. Analysis shows that voyages of 150 km were made to collect funerary stones from volcanic islands in Central Tonga for ~700 years. The development of royal tombs shows an increase in practical and ritual funerary activity that was likely overseen by a royal undertaker clan and participatory networks that spanned and integrated the scattered population of the Tongan maritime state.