History Podcasts

Pindai Caves, Once Home to the Lapita People and Extinct Species

Pindai Caves, Once Home to the Lapita People and Extinct Species

New Caledonia, in the South Pacific , is a special collectivity of France. Not only does it have a fascinating history and unique culture, the islands also have one of the most important archaeological sites in all of Oceania, the Pindai Caves. These caves have provided archaeologists with a treasure trove of human remains, and palaeontologists with remains of extinct birds, reptiles and other fauna that dates to the Holocene Period.

The Ancient History of Pindai Caves

The Lapita people were the first people to settle on the islands of New Caledonia. As these sailors of Austronesian extraction were extremely skilled navigators, New Caledonia played a very important role in their colonization of Oceania. They are regarded as the ancestors of the Polynesians who went on to populate many Pacific Islands and New Zealand. They are also the ancestors of the modern Kanak people of New Caledonia.

Archaeologists have found items that once belonged to the Lapita people, including many pot shards, within the Pindai Caves. They also left several heaps of shellfish scraps. Guano (bird excrement) was harvested in the caverns and used as a fertilizer.

Lapita pottery, found on Port Vila , Vanuatu ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

New Caledonia was absorbed into the French Empire in the 19 th century when they used the islands as a penal colony. While the caves were explored in the 19 th century, archaeologists only investigated in the 20 th century and found two settlements in the Pindai Caves that were occupied by humans over a period of at least two millennia.

The extinct horned turtle, Meiolania. Source: CC BY SA 2.0

The Amazing Fossils of Pindai Caves

Along with the prehistoric settlements, a great many animal and bird remains have been discovered. Of the 45 species found, at least 20 are now extinct in New Caledonia or globally. Among the extinct species are rails, a kagu, pigeons, and a large snipe. Other long-extinct species of birds found includes the Sylviornis, a flightless megapode who laid its eggs on the ground in mounds, and a flightless swamp hen. The remains of a number of owls were also found. These too have been extinct for many years. A great number of these remains were found in potholes and sinkholes in the caves, which trapped the birds.

  • Bananas Helped Ancient Lapita Culture Colonize Oceania
  • Ancient Skulls Give Insights into Origins of Polynesians
  • Unprecedented Wave of Large-mammal Extinctions Linked to Prehistoric Humans

Sylviornis, the extinct flightless bird ( Renata Cunha )

A number of extinct reptiles were also found, including a land-dwelling crocodile ( Mekosuchus) as well as fossils of the giant horned turtle, Meiolania. The fossils and remains in the cave are providing researchers with insights into the extinction of species after the arrival of the first humans.

The results of various studies have not shown a definite link between human activity and the extinction of species such as the flightless birds on New Caledonia. The remains have been carbon dated and indicate that humans and the extinct species co-existed for many years. Over time, humans had an adverse impact on the environment and this, rather than overhunting, led to the demise of many species.

Layout of the Pindai Caves

The caves are on a peninsula on the north coast of the main island, Grande Terre. The location has six caves of the karst type, two of which are accessible. The remaining four caves have been categorized as sinkholes - chasm created by the flow of subterranean water.

The location of New Caledonia (Google Maps)

The two accessible caves were once the homes of the first people who settled on the islands. The entrances of the cave broaden out into a large chamber and contain stalactites and stalagmites. Many species of birds lived in the caves, such as the extinct prehistoric birds whose fossils have been found by palaeontologists.

Visiting the Pindai Caves in New Caledonia

The caves are 130 miles (182 km) north of Noumea, the capital city of New Caledonia. There are guided tours of the region and they include excursions to the caves. The caves are protected by the local government and visitors are asked to respect the site.

Pindai Caves, Once Home to the Lapita People and Extinct Species - History

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Map of Southeast Asia and Australia, with present and Ice Age land-sea boundaries, shows the importance of seafaring in this region. Possible routes for the colonization of Australia by modern humans are north, through Sulawesi, and south, crossing from Timor. By 1000 B.C. obsidian from New Britain was reaching Borneo. Indo-Roman pottery reached Bali by the early centuries A.D. (Lynda D'Amico) [LARGER IMAGE]

Southeast Asia and Australia give archaeologists some of the best evidence for ancient sea crossings, not just by Palaeolithic humans but also by Neolithic peoples and even spice traders contemporary with the Roman Empire. New discoveries, some controversial, are pushing back the dates of human colonization of this region and are expanding our knowledge of early island networks. These finds are also illuminating the first steps in some of the longest prehistoric open-sea voyages of colonization on record--from Southeast Asia to Polynesian islands such as Hawaii, Easter Island, and New Zealand, and perhaps also from Indonesia to Madagascar--during the first millennium A.D.

To understand the implications of these discoveries, one must be aware that the Indo-Malaysian Archipelago contains two very different biogeographical regions. The western islands on the Sunda Shelf--Sumatra, Java, Bali, and Borneo--were joined to each other and to the Asian mainland by landbridges during glacial periods of low sea level. Hence they supported rich Asian placental mammal faunas and were colonized by Homo erectus, perhaps as early as 1.8 million years ago. The eastern islands--Sulawesi, Lombok, Flores, Timor, the Moluccas, and the Philippines--have never been linked by landbridges to either the Sunda Shelf or Australia, or to each other. They had limited mammal faunas, chance arrivals from Asia and Australasia.

Migration through the archipelago has always required that humans cross substantial stretches of open sea. But when did they first attempt to do this? There is a current controversial claim by a joint Dutch-Indonesian team that humans were contemporaries of stegodons, extinct elephant-like animals, at a site called Mata Menge on the Indonesian island of Flores. Stone flakes and stegodon bones have been found here in presumed association in deposits located just above a reversal of the earth's magnetic field dating to 730,000 years ago. Should this claim receive future support we will have to allow for the possibility that even Homo erectus was able to cross open sea, in this case the 15-mile-wide Strait of Lombok between Bali and Lombok.

That the Australian continent was first settled at least 30,000 years ago, by people who had to cross consecutive sea lanes in eastern Indonesia, was well known by the late 1960s. Research by the late Joseph Birdsell and by Geoffrey Irwin of Auckland University suggests that there were separate northern and southern routes, along which most islands would have been visible from their closest neighbors on clear days, leading from the Sunda Shelf islands towards Australia and New Guinea. If Australia was first reached from Timor, as seems likely, then a final sea crossing of about 55 miles, involving movement out of sight of land, would also have been required.

The Australian archaeological record has now been pushed back to the limits of conventional radiocarbon dating, with several sites clocking in between 35,000 and 40,000 years ago. Radiocarbon dates of this age are potentially subject to contamination by younger carbon at levels undetectable in the laboratory. Such contamination can produce a date younger than 40,000 years when the real age is much older. In recent years, optical luminescence dating of sites in northern Australia has raised the possibility that humans arrived there as long as 60,000 years ago, and many archaeologists now accept these new dates. More controversial are current reports, widely publicized in the world media and published in the journal Antiquity, that Jinmium, a sandstone rock-shelter in Australia's Northern Territory, has stone artifacts more than 100,000 years old. The site's investigators--Richard Fullagar of the Australian Museum in Sydney and Lesley Head and David Price of the School of Geosciences at the University of Wollongong--used thermoluminescence dating to determine the age of its lower levels. The lowermost stone artifacts are claimed to be more than 116,000 years old. Because the Jinmium dates are from thermoluminescence rather than the more accurate single-grain optical luminescence, many archaeologists question this claim, and verification is essential. Conventional wisdom has always held that the first humans to reach Australia were modern Homo sapiens, but if the Jinmium dates are correct it could be that more archaic forms once lived in Australia, as they did throughout the rest of the tropical and temperate Old World. Indeed, on Java new dates from the Ngandong and Sambungmacan sites suggest that Homo erectus may have survived far longer than previously believed, perhaps to as recently as 25,000 years ago (see "Homo erectus Survival").

Elsewhere in the Southeast Asian island region, new evidence for early voyaging comes from archaeological projects undertaken in the Moluccas, northern Borneo, and Bali. In the northern Moluccas, between Sulawesi and New Guinea, humans were visiting the coastal caves of Golo and Wetef on Gebe Island 33,000 radiocarbon years ago. Caves and open sites on coastal Sulawesi, northern coastal New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, and the northern Solomons (southeast of New Guinea) have already produced similar dates. At this time people seem to have been very mobile, leaving only sparse traces of occupation (mainly flaked stone tools and marine shells) and not engaging much in trade of raw materials, such as stone for making tools. Many of the islands at this time, especially in the Moluccas and island Melanesia (the Solomons, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia), may have had such limited land faunas that they were unable to support large permanent populations. Those who reached New Guinea and Australia, then joined by a landbridge, might have found a better living hunting now extinct species of large marsupials and flightless birds. Current research at the site of Cuddie Springs near Brewarrina in western New South Wales is demonstrating contemporaneity of humans and megafauna on the Australian continent about 30,000 years ago.

Between 20,000 and 10,000 years ago the Moluccan and island Melanesian archaeological records indicate greater contact and innovation. Obsidian from New Britain was carried to New Ireland (but not apparently as far as the Moluccas) possibly beginning 20,000 to 15,000 years ago. Marsupials were deliberately taken by humans from New Guinea and perhaps Halmahera to stock small islands, presumably for hunting purposes. Cuscuses (nocturnal catlike creatures) were taken to New Ireland, and by 10,000 years ago both cuscuses and wallabies appeared on Gebe. The people of Gebe also built small circular arrangements of coral blocks, too small to have functioned as hut foundations, on the floor of Golo Cave ca. 12,000 years ago. They may have served a ritual function. Several sites in the northern Moluccas, Talaud, and Admiralty Islands have a unique and rather impressive industry of adzes made from shells of large Tridacna and Hippopus clams at about the same date. These adzes suggest that manufacture of dugout canoes was technically possible by 13,000 years ago, although the earliest colonists of these islands probably paddled small rafts. Whatever their craft, the extent and repetitiveness of the earliest colonizations--to as far east as the Solomon Islands via many island-hops by 30,000 years ago--makes some degree of intentionality undeniable.

Many millennia later the Indo-Malaysian region again witnessed remarkable transfers of people and material culture. Three thousand years ago, Neolithic people exchanged New Britain obsidian across 2,400 miles to the site of Bukit Tengkorak in Sabah, northern Borneo. The Lapita people moved it for 2,100 miles eastward from New Britain to as far as Fiji. A new report in the journal Science claims that New Britain obsidian, excavated by archaeologist Stephen Chia of Universiti Sains Malaysia and analyzed by anthropologist Robert Tykot of the University of South Florida, reached Bukit Tengkorak much earlier, by 4000 B.C. No details of the dating are presented, however, and the claim remains unsubstantiated. During the original excavation of this site, by myself in 1987, we recovered a good series of radiocarbon dates and obsidian, identified by Roger Bird of the Australian Nuclear Sciences and Technology Organisation as coming from New Britain. At that time we concluded that the Bukit Tengkorak obsidian dated back no further than 1000 B.C. and was contemporary with the Lapita archaeological culture of the western Pacific (ca. 1500 to 300 B.C.).

As far as Lapita is concerned, my own view, and that of many other archaeologists including Patrick Kirch of the University of California at Berkeley, is that the Lapita culture represents the Austronesian-speaking Neolithic populations that colonized Oceania (Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia) beginning ca. 1500 B.C. These people were ancestral to modern Polynesians and eastern Micronesians, and also ancestral, to a lesser degree because of the prior existence of human populations in the western Pacific, to many of the populations of island Melanesia. In this view, Lapita represents a transmission of people, and Austronesian languages and cultures, into Oceania from Island Southeast Asia, and ultimately from southern China and Taiwan. It is significant that the New Britain obsidian trade, although occurring locally back into the Pleistocene in the Bismarck Archipelago, reached its long-distance apogee in Lapita times.

Opposition to this view of Lapita origins comes from John Terrell of the Field Museum of Natural History, who believes he has found evidence that many cultural features linked with Lapita may have evolved on the northern coast of Papua New Guinea and not in Southeast Asia. At sites near the town of Aitape he has found pottery, so far not precisely dated, which resembles Lapita but lacks its elaborate impressed designs. According to Terrell it also resembles pottery made in Indonesia at about the same time as Lapita, and perhaps even slightly before. Terrell believes that the Polynesian ancestors did not migrate directly from Southeast Asia but were living in northern New Guinea for a very long time before some people finally left Melanesia to colonize Polynesia. However, archaeologists such as myself, who have undertaken research in both Island Southeast Asia and Polynesia, may find this opinion difficult to accept and will certainly demand accurate dating of the new materials from Aitape before giving them serious attention.

We also have dramatic new evidence of sailing ability in the early historical period in Southeast Asia, in this case perhaps involving use of the monsoon winds that blow seasonally across the Bay of Bengal. About 2,000 years ago, pottery characteristic of the Indo-Roman site of Arikamedu in Tamil Nadu, on the Indian coast, found its way to the site of Sembiran in Bali (excavated by I.W. Ardika of Udayana University in Bali), an astounding 2,700 miles as the crow flies, or much more if the sailors hugged the coast. This Indian trade pottery--the largest assemblage ever found outside the Indian subcontinent itself--heralded a millennium of cultural contact that gave rise to the temples and civilizations of Pagan, Angkor, and Borobudur. Much of this trade probably involved spices--even Romans occasionally acquired cloves, which came from small islands in the northern Moluccas.

Future research, if some of the above claims are to attain the status of fact, must involve more thorough dating and more careful attention to the stratigraphic pitfalls that one can fall into, both in caves and open sites. Apparent associations between artifacts, datable materials, and geomorphological contexts can often be deceptive. Furthermore, all the coastal sites that might contain direct traces of Pleistocene colonization were inundated by a rise in the sea level of 325 feet or more after the last glacial maximum. All we see now is the inland geographical skeleton of the former landscape. Underwater archaeology might one day come to the rescue, but so far historical wrecks are proving more attractive, and lucrative, than sunken Pleistocene sites.

Peter Bellwood is a professor in the department of archaeology and anthropology, Australian National University. His research in the Moluccas was supported by grants from the National Geographic Society and the Australian Research Council. A revised edition of his Prehistory of the Indo-Malaysian Archipelago will be published by the University of Hawai'i Press this year.

The genus was erected in 1886 based on remains found on Lord Howe Island, which Richard Owen assigned to the two species M. platyceps and M. minor (now a synonym of the latter). These were the first good meiolaniid remains, and were used to show that the first known remains of a related animal, a species from Queensland now known as Ninjemys oweni (which was assigned to Meiolania until 1992), did not belong to lizards as initially thought, but to turtles. Woodward sank Niolamia argentina into Meiolania, but this was not accepted by later authors.

In New Caledonia, M. mackayi was described from Walpole Island in 1925. It was smaller and less robust than M. platycepsMeiolania remains are also known from the Pindai Caves, Grande Terre, and from Tiga Island.

M. brevicollis was described in 1992 from the mid Miocene Camfield Beds of northern Australia, and differed from M. platyceps in having a flatter skull and other horn proportions.

Remains of M. damelipi have been found on the island of Efate in Vanuatu, associated with settlements from the Lapita culture.

Possible meiolaniid remains have also been found on Viti Levu, Fiji.

Characteristics of Aboriginal Art

Australian aboriginal art encompasses figure painting, as well as forms of abstract art. Characteristic of the Northern Territory are the so-called “X-ray” drawings – a special variety of stick-figures of animals and humans, in which the artist represents the inner parts of the body because he knows they are there, and is particularly interested in them.

The same style occurs in Oceanic art of Melanesia, and the Australian examples may be due to Melanesian influence. But X-ray drawings are also seen on the other side of the Pacific, among the Indians of British Columbia and some of the Eskimo tribes of Alaska.

Aboriginal abstract paintings may include a variety of concentric circles, arcs, dots and other pictographs that are intended to convey information.

Knowledge of aboriginal culture is a key factor in understanding whether a work of art is abstract or representational. For instance, a number of round designs about an inch in diameter – which students without such knowledge might have taken for simple motifs of non-objective art – have been ascertained by historians to represent a green plum-like fruit, called nalge. The regular supply of this fruit is maintained by painting representations of it on rocks during the wet season.

The meaning of symbols used in Aboriginal Stone Age art may vary with locality and region. A simple circle, for instance, may denote a campfire, tree, waterhole or hill, according to which Aboriginal tribe you belong to. Note also that a good deal of prehistoric imagery in Australia – whether naturalistic or abstract – is based on the aboriginal cultural concept of Dreamtime. In fact, most traditional Aboriginal art has some sort of mythological or spiritual content.

Results and Discussion

The meiolaniid bones reported here derive from the formerly-coastal Lapita cemetery and midden site at Teouma on the island of Efate, Vanuatu (14) (Fig. S1). People of the Lapita culture were the first humans to colonize the Vanuatu/New Caledonia/Fiji region of the southwest Pacific 3,100 to 3,000 y ago (15–17). The turtle remains reported here were excavated from 275 m 2 of the cultural deposits by two of the present authors (M.S. and S.B.) during 2004 to 2006 (SI Text). The site is well stratified, as shown in Fig. 2, with meiolaniid bones abundant and confined to the cemetery levels and basal layers of the later midden deposits (layer 2).

Southern section of Teouma excavation at the rear of the reef terrace (2009) showing the clearly stratified deposits. L1 indicates the black tephra-rich soil, L2 indicates the concentrated midden deposit, L3 indicates the yellow tephra, and L4 indicates the uplifted reef.

The site began as a cemetery, the oldest yet found in the Pacific Islands, approximately 3,100 or 3,000 calibrated years before present (cal BP) (14). After a subsequent period of only ephemeral visitation to the site, a village became established there approximately 2,900 cal BP. This sequence is underpinned by radiocarbon dating of shell, bone, and charcoal samples from associated human burials and midden materials (14,18) (SI Text).

The ages of the turtle bones are constrained by this archaeological sequence. Two accelerator MS radiocarbon dates on collagen from meiolaniid bones from the basal levels of layer 2, calibrated to 2,890 to 2,760 cal BP at 94.3% probability (SI Text), support this inference. The associated δ 13 C values (−25.4, −23.1) are consistent with a terrestrial herbivorous diet for these turtles. The midden deposits in some areas exceed 1 m in thickness, but turtle bones were only ever found in situ in the lowest levels. The upper part of the midden cannot date to later than 2,500 cal BP on the basis of pottery typology, which is well dated at other Efate sites (19).

Ten specimens were identified as marine turtle, but are not hereafter discussed. The majority belong to a relatively large terrestrial turtle as shown by, for example, humeri and femora of similar length, proximal and distal ends expanded, and shafts markedly sigmoidal pectoral girdle with angle between the dorsal scapular process and acromion markedly wider than the approximate 90° observed in marine turtles coracoid short, fan-shaped caudally phalanges short and robust and unguals robust and slightly recurved (Figs. 2 and 3). The material includes 405 bones and numerous indeterminate bone/carapace fragments attributed to meiolaniids. Identifiable specimens are mainly limb bones from at least 30 individuals (Table 1), with cranial and caudal elements absent and shell pieces scant and fragmentary. Many of the bones are broken and often the epiphyses have been lost. They are identified as meiolaniid by the following apomorphies (4, 5): (i) humerus with ectepicondylar foramen beginning as a groove dorsally, but distally penetrating the condyle to open ventrally (ii) ulna with a distinct ridge dorsoproximally, extending distally from articular facet, forming a flat radioulnar articulation medially (iii) digits with two phalanges and a robust ungual (iv) shell fragments that are relatively thin and bear pits and grooves without a regular pattern on their outer surface and (v) presence of dermal armor on shell margin.

Pectoral elements of ?M. damelipi. (AD) Right humeri, Holotype AMF136641 (A) and AMF136640 (BD), in (A and B) dorsal, (C) caudal, and (D) ventral aspects. (E, I, and J) Left ulnae, AMF136648 (E and J), and proximal half of AMF.136647 (I) in (E) medial and (I and J) dorsal aspect. (F and G) left scapula AMF136644 in (F) ventral and (G) lateral view. (H) Right coracoid AMF136652 in dorsal aspect. (ca, coracoid articulation med, medial process lat, lateral process ac, acromion dsp, dorsal scapular process ect, ectepicondyle ef, ectepicondylar foramen, which in unbroken specimens penetrates the ectepicondyle to emerge on the ventral facies ent, entepicondyle gl, glenoid ra, radial-ulnar articulation r, ridge forming boundary of dorsal-medial boundary low sig, sigmoid notch.) *Area is flat, not a deep sulcus as in M. platyceps. See SI Text for associated data. (Scale bars, 50 mm.)

Element frequency of meiolaniid remains from the 2004 to 2006 excavations at Teouma, Efate, Vanuatu

The Vanuatu meiolaniid differs from all named Pleistocene meiolaniids, so here we erect a new taxon for it.

Systematic Paleontology.

Meiolaniidae Boulenger, 1887 ?Meiolania Owen, 1886 (20) and ?Meiolania damelipi sp. nov.

Holotype is AMF136641, right humerus, collected layer 2, Unit 3.3–3.4, Area 3B, Teouma Lapita site, Efate, Vanuatu, 2006 (Fig. 3). Etymology is for Willie Damelip, originally of Ambrym Island (SI Text). Diagnosis is a meiolaniid differing from other Pleistocene species with more gracile longbones shoulder girdle with coracoid unfused, well developed dorsal and acromion processes diverge at approximately 105° minor and major femoral trochanters ventrally enclose a deep intertrochanteric fossa much smaller than Ninjemys oweni. Measurements of holotype are as follows: total length, 95 mm maximum proximal width, 39 mm minimum shaft width, 15 mm and maximum distal width, 35 mm. Paratypes are all elements shown in Figs. 3 and 4 measurements are provided in Table 2.

Pelvic and carapace elements of ?M. damelipi. (A) Left femur AMF136642 in caudal view (B and C) Right tibia AMF136651 in (B) ventral and (C) dorsal view. (D and E) Dermal armor of carapace in caudal (D) and ventral (E) views of AMF136646. (F) Marginal fragment of carapace with gutter AMF136649. (G and H) Ungual phal AMF136664 in (G) ventral and (H) dorsal aspects. (pat, patellar tendon attachment not raised in ridge tm, trochanter major tub, tuberosity.) See SI Text for associated data. (Scale bars, 50 mm in AF, 10 mm in G and H.)

Measurements (mm) of the Holotype (AMF.136641) and the paratypes of ?M. damelipi n. sp

Given the absence of the diagnostic material of the skull and the tail, and minimal peripheral material of the carapace or plastron, we only tentatively refer this new species to Meiolania. On biogeographic and temporal grounds, we consider it unlikely that the insular ?M. damelipi was conspecific with the Miocene taxa described from Australia (SI Text and Table S1). Whether it differed from other unnamed taxa from the New Caledonian region cannot be established from the material at hand. The preserved elements allow significant comparison with M. platyceps material in the Australian Museum, described by Gaffney (5).

Humeri (Fig. 3 AD) have less expanded ends than in M. platyceps. Estimated lengths range from 40 to 140 mm, with a maximum shaft diameter of 30 mm. As in M. platyceps, the proximal articular surface is hemispherical and offset dorsally from the shaft, the medial process is larger than the lateral one, and proximal width is greater than distal width. The ectepicondylar foramen begins as a distinct groove, wider than in M. platyceps, on the dorsal facies of the shaft, before penetrating the ectepicondyle to open ventrally. Humeri differ from M. platyceps and M. mackayi (11) with a less expanded lateral process and a more proximally projecting medial process.

Ulnae (Fig. 3 E, I, and J), as in M. platyceps, have proximally an extremely well developed olecranon process and sigmoid notch, and a well defined radioulnar articulation (5). Radii are more elongate and the rugosity for biceps superficialis on the shaft is smaller than in M. platyceps.

The shoulder girdle (Fig. 3 FH) is triradiate: as in M. platyceps, the glenoid is not supported by a neck the well developed dorsal and acromion processes diverge at approximately 105° compared with 120° in M. platyceps and other terrestrial turtles (5) the coracoid (Fig. 3H), unlike M. platyceps, is not fused to the glenoid and is more elongate. A wide scapular angle is usually correlated with a high body profile (5) suggesting that ?M. damelipi had a low body profile, somewhat more like marine turtles.

Femora (Fig. 4A) are stocky and range from 45 to 145 mm in shaft length the head is large and hemispherical, being wider than long, and directed more dorsally to the shaft than in M. platyceps, such that it does not project proximally past the trochanter major. The minor and major trochanters are distinct from the femoral head, but unlike M. platyceps, have similar proximal extent and are linked ventrally by a bony web to enclose a deep intertrochanteric fossa.

Ankle, wrist, and digit elements are uncommon, but the few unguals are blunt, dorsoventrally thick, and ventrally flattened as in M. platyceps (Fig. 4 G and H).

Shell fragments of ?M. damelipi are similar to those of meiolaniids in having a thin dense outer bone layer and finely cancellous internal structure, but differ with a smoother external texture, and at least part of the carapace margin is concave dorsally. Dermal armor was present on the carapace (Fig. 4 D and E).

The size of ?M. damelipi can be compared with that of M. platyceps from the dimensions of the long bones. Femora and humeri were as long as 145 mm and 140 mm, respectively, similar to those in AMF57984 with a shell length of 1 m. However, larger turtles were present as one section of shoulder girdle preserves a glenoid cavity with a diameter of 40 mm compared with 30 mm in AMF57984.

These data show that the meiolaniid radiation in the southwestern Pacific region was more extensive than previously recognized (5). Dispersal to and between islands of this region would have been easily achieved by meiolaniids. Terrestrial turtles are highly buoyant (21) and some, e.g., Dipsochelys giganteus, are known to have survived in oceans without access to fresh water for many weeks (22). Although incapable of directed swimming, they are thus ideal candidates for ocean drifting, which dispersal mode explains the distribution of extant terrestrial turtles in the Indian Ocean (22, 23). There is nothing unique about Vanuatu to explain why meiolaniids survived there until the advent of humans, but could not have done so in other island groups, such as Fiji and New Caledonia. In the Lord Howe group, postglacial sea level rise greatly reduced land area, which in the absence of any evidence of pre-European occupation (24) could have facilitated the extinction of M. platyceps. For archipelagoes that retained islands of significant size in the Holocene, this cannot be the explanation. A poor or absent fossil record for most islands is the probable reason for a lack of other Holocene meiolaniids so discovery of further populations or taxa should be expected on other southwest Pacific islands where adequate habitat existed. Investigations of first contact human southwest Pacific sites will likely extend the record, and reexamination of bones previously interpreted as marine turtle might reveal that some are in fact those of terrestrial turtles.

The discovery of meiolaniid remains at Teouma provides conclusive evidence that they survived into the late Holocene and that humans encountered them. Relatively large numbers of meiolaniid bones occur, particularly in the basal levels of the Teouma midden, dating to approximately 2,900 or 2,800 cal BP, where they overlay burials dated 3,100 to 3,000 cal BP (14). Some burials were associated with meiolaniid carapace fragments (SI Text). In younger layers, they are absent. Remarkably for a Pacific coastal site, bones of marine turtles are rare in the lower layers. Early colonizers of the western Pacific normally hunted sea turtles and impacted many populations (25). At Teouma, large comparatively heavy bodied and fleshy terrestrial turtles were available and were the preferred prey until their disappearance by approximately 300 y after the initial encounter. Skeletal representation (Table 1) is markedly biased toward legs and associated fleshy parts. We infer that most turtles were killed and butchered elsewhere with mainly the fleshy upper limbs being taken back to the village. It seems probable that the first colonists, who created the cemetery at Teouma, and whose habitation sites have not yet been found, had eliminated proximate populations of turtles.

Hunting undoubtedly contributed to the extinction of ?M. damelipi, but may not have been the only cause. In the Mascarenes (Indian Ocean), where Europeans were the first humans to encounter the terrestrial turtles on Mauritius and Rodrigues, and initial densities were high, intensive exploitation for food rendered all populations extinct in a little more than one century (22). This rapid extirpation of turtles was partly attributed to the introduction of pigs, which prey on young and eggs. Similarly, pigs introduced by Lapita people may have affected the survivorship of Vanuatu meiolaniids. Whatever the exact synergy of factors, meiolaniids were extinct on Efate in Vanuatu within 300 y of the arrival of Lapita people.

4. Quagga

Out of Africa comes this half horse half zebra. You could tell it apart from regular zebras because it had vivid stripes on the front part of the body, then they started to fade, and there were no stripes on the hindquarters. They became extinct before scientists could even decide what species they were. Their extinction came from man hunting them for their meat, hides, and to preserve grass and feed for domestic animals.

Pindai Caves, Once Home to the Lapita People and Extinct Species - History

Ideal conditions within an ancient cave system are revealing a rich history that reaches back to a time before humans settled the island and extends to the present day

Some six million years ago, in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean, volcanic activity bubbling up from deep beneath the Earth&rsquos crust formed Kauai, the most ancient of Hawaii&rsquos major islands. Over time, volcanoes dotting the island spewed magma that cooled and turned to igneous rock, forming steep mountains. Rainwater flowed down the mountains, and, as that runoff reached the Mahaulepu Valley on the island&rsquos southeast coast, it encountered fossilized sand dunes, where, through a process called dissolution, a network of caves was formed.

For more than 100,000 years, groundwater seeped in and eroded the limestone. Some 7,000 years ago, the sea encroached and a large portion of the ceiling of one of these caves collapsed, leaving behind a vast oval, mostly open to the sky and filled with brackish water that didn&rsquot dry up until the middle of the twentieth century. It also created what would turn out to be a unique and fortuitous set of conditions that preserved a long, dramatic story of geological change and biological invasions, and of the waves of humans that successively altered the island in radical ways. Paleoecologists and archaeologists working there, surrounded by the high, ancient limestone walls, are beginning to read that record.

Wedged in a crease of hills just above a long white-sand beach favored by sailboarders, the sinkhole sits in a setting so picturesque that Johnny Depp&rsquos Captain Jack Sparrow leaped off the lip of one of its high cliffs in the recent Pirates of the Caribbean movie On Stranger Tides. There, everything from a 352,000-year-old lava flow to a Styrofoam cup washed in during a recent hurricane has been preserved. For the past quarter century, husband-and-wife paleoecologists David Burney and Lida Pigott Burney, along with dozens of colleagues and volunteers, have been digging down through the black mud that fills the sinkhole. There they have uncovered millions of fossils&mdashin fact, the site, referred to as Makauwahi Cave, may be the richest fossil site in the entire Pacific region. The upper levels contain thousands of artifacts, ranging from animal bones to stone tools and carved wood, all of which were washed, blown, or thrown into the cave. But despite the richness of the site in terms of the evidence, Burney doesn&rsquot need expensive drilling equipment or a massive dig project to plumb the site&rsquos secrets. &ldquoIt&rsquos the poor man&rsquos time machine,&rdquo he says. Small trowels, a very good water pump to keep groundwater under control, and wood-framed screens, along with a great deal of tenacity, are all that&rsquos required.

On a recent winter day, Burney is shin-deep in the tar-black ooze at the bottom of one of the excavation pits. He typically locates them at the periphery of the sinkhole, against the cave&rsquos walls, where the stratigraphy is clearer. He motions to me to clamber down a 20-foot aluminum ladder and gives me a history lesson as I descend. After the first few rungs, I leave behind the period after Captain James Cook landed on Kauai in January 1778, the first European known to have visited Hawaii. Plastic, glass, and metal artifacts abruptly cease and are replaced by giant boulders, gravel, and sand in the level below, dated to about four or five centuries ago, unmistakable signs of an enormous tsunami which Burney and his colleagues believe originated from a massive earthquake in the eastern Aleutian Islands. This event, no doubt a catastrophe for the people living on the Kauai coast, deposited a great deal of debris and sealed off the prehistoric layers deposited in the cave from those of the later era of Western contact, leaving the material below undisturbed and uncontaminated.

Natives and tourists had long known about Makauwahi Cave, but it was Burney who, in August 1992, first grasped its significance for understanding Hawaii&rsquos long and varied history, when he, Lida, and researchers Storrs Olson and Helen James from the Smithsonian Institution stumbled on the site while on vacation. At the time, the Burneys were at New York&rsquos Fordham University and had a keen interest in ecological history and paleontology. One afternoon, while walking on a nearby beach, Burney spotted fresh footprints that appeared to lead into the brush. Curious but cautious, he followed the prints to a small hole at the foot of a cliff, just big enough to crawl through. Inside, he found himself within a giant oval bowl, but he couldn&rsquot see much else through the dense growth and the afternoon&rsquos lengthening shadows.

The next morning, before the sun had reached the interior, the two couples were back with a bucket augur, a small hand-powered drill that can pull material up from below ground, making only a small puncture in the surface, not greatly disturbing the site. The first bore went down 10 feet, and Burney found three species of extinct land snails, important indicators of ancient environmental conditions. In the second sample was a small bird skull. &ldquoIf you got that much good stuff by drilling two small holes, then I couldn&rsquot imagine what was waiting,&rdquo he says. &ldquoI&rsquove spent much of my life looking for two things&mdashlakes and caves that have fossils in them,&rdquo says the peripatetic scientist, who had flitted in this pursuit from the North Carolina sounds to the Serengeti plains to the jungles of Madagascar before moving to Kauai to devote himself to studying Makauwahi Cave. &ldquoIf you can find a lake inside a cave, it&rsquos more than twice as good because you get the benefit of both types of fossil-forming environments.&rdquo

At Makauwahi, the conditions are remarkable. The alkaline limestone and the acidic groundwater cancel each other out and create the perfect neutral pH. &ldquoThis is the Goldilocks zone&mdashjust right,&rdquo he says. &ldquoEverything in here is preserved. It&rsquos like pages in a diary. And this process has been operating for thousands of years.&rdquo An acidic environment would have destroyed bones, while an alkaline environment would have destroyed plant fossils. But here, not just animal fossils, but also shells, seeds, leaves, and wood, as well as billions of microscopic algae, pollen, and spores are embedded in the layers that extend as far as 33 feet deep to the sinkhole&rsquos floor.

Since they settled there permanently to devote themselves to studying the cave full-time 10 years ago, the Burneys, along with their team, have been working almost year-round to clear the thick tangle of foliage inside the sinkhole and dig small but deep trenches. Each bucket of mud must be hauled by hand up a ladder while a loud water pump keeps the hole from filling up. Once up top, the mud is washed through mesh screens using garden hoses, and the remains are collected for cataloguing and analysis. In the topmost layers, which go down a few feet, the team retrieved eight-track tapes and Polaroid film packs, a bottle that might have contained the opiate laudanum, perhaps used by Chinese workers who snuck into the cave a century ago, and a coin dated to 1895. Below that, the team found a piece of glass and an iron nail, possibly bartered from the crew of a passing clipper ship on its way to or returning from China, probably in the mid-nineteenth century.

Artifacts of the more recent past found in Makauwahi Cave are abundant. But the finds that are proving to be the most exciting are those that reveal the impact the first people to settle in Hawaii had on its ancient environment. Hawaii is one of the last places on Earth to have been settled by humans. Thousands of years after people had made their homes on the tip of South America, the heights of the Tibetan plateau, and even the icy edges of Greenland, no human had yet set foot on this volcanic archipelago. When people pulled double-hulled canoes onto Hawaiian shores for the first time, it marked one of our species&rsquo greatest triumphs of exploration. Yet, until recently, archaeologists have been unsure how and when this feat took place.

The ancestors of today&rsquos Polynesians, who settled most of the Pacific, including Hawaii, were part of what is called the Lapita culture. They fanned out from East Asia more than 3,000 years ago, but questions about their origins and route remain. Archaeologists have found hundreds of sites across the western Pacific littered with artifacts such as stone axes and organic remains that suggest the island-hopping seafarers traveled great distances with goods, plants, and animals from the large islands along the coast of China and Southeast Asia. This collection of materials, dubbed the Lapita package, made colonization possible. &ldquoBut we don&rsquot know where the package comes together,&rdquo says Alan Cooper, an archaeologist at the University of Adelaide in Australia.

By about 1000 B.C., these people had moved east as far as Samoa and can be identified as early Polynesians. The vast distances required to reach the islands beyond, such as the Society Islands&mdashanother 1,500 miles across open ocean&mdashhalted further successful migration for nearly 2,000 more years. Then the Polynesians were suddenly on the move again, though it&rsquos not clear why, into the central and eastern Pacific, an area as big as North America. They eventually landed on the Hawaiian islands, possibly first on Kauai, not far from Makauwahi Cave.

The timing of these voyages has been hotly debated, largely because archaeological evidence is difficult to recover under the destructive conditions created by the warm and wet climate that dominates the scattered islands of the Pacific, and because of the prevalence of acidic volcanic soils. These two factors wreak havoc on organic material such as the wood, plant remains, and animal bones that can provide firm dates through radiocarbon dating. &ldquoThere aren&rsquot enough bones,&rdquo explains Cooper, &ldquobecause the preservation is a mess. The Pacific is a hard place to work.&rdquo And the ancient seafarers didn&rsquot leave behind texts or inscriptions. But, unlike at many other sites, the conditions inside Makauwahi Cave have preserved a great deal of evidence. &ldquoIt&rsquos a really fantastic snapshot of the environment just before and after humans arrive,&rdquo says Terry Hunt, an archaeologist at the University of Oregon. &ldquoI can&rsquot think of a single site that has yielded as much information about Polynesia in this period.&rdquo

Some of the most prized discoveries in the cave are found below the 400-year-old tsunami layer that Burney believes was deposited in less than an hour. They are the tiny and fragile remnants of ancient fowl. &ldquoThis is where the chicken bones are,&rdquo he says when I am halfway down the ladder, pointing at a dark layer of earth several feet below the tsunami layer. &ldquoWe can be pretty sure they are not mixed with modern stuff. There is no KFC chicken in here at all.&rdquo

When Polynesians set out for new places, chickens were an essential part of the settlement package, providing not just meat and eggs and entertainment&mdashcockfighting is still popular across the region&mdashbut also bones that could be made into tattooing or sewing needles or musical instruments. Polynesians sometimes left dogs or pigs behind, but they invariably carried chickens to their new destinations. Since domesticated chickens are not native to the Pacific Islands, the presence of chicken bones is a clear marker of human activity, and following the movement of chickens provides a handy way to track the spread of settlement across Polynesia. Realizing this, Burney bagged the chicken remains he discovered and sent them to Cooper&rsquos lab. When compared with the DNA from other samples around Polynesia, researchers found that a distinct set of genes characterized the ancient chickens. The resulting DNA map reveals two distinct waves of exploration, one moving northeast toward Micronesia, and the other moving east to Samoa and Hawaii. Rats traveled extensively with Polynesians as well, but they could hop boats back and forth to different islands, making them difficult to track, says Cooper. Pigs and dogs, apparently, did not make it to some outposts, such as Easter Island.

The mud of Makauwahi Cave has also preserved the residue of charcoal that blew into the cave and settled into the muck. Radiocarbon dating of the samples suggests that charcoal is a rare occurrence until A.D. 1200. Its sudden appearance is another marker for human occupation and activity as people began to burn off foliage to plant taro and other staples. Cores taken from ancient stone-lined fishponds on the island produced charcoal that provides comparable dates, clear signs and possible confirmation that humans arrived a good deal later&mdashas much as 800 years later&mdashthan many historians had thought. In the same levels as the chicken bones, the Burneys discovered large quantities of fishhooks made from bone and mother-of-pearl and the shells of 16 different kinds of mollusks. These artifacts are evidence of the earliest stages of ancient Hawaiian culture.

Burning was only one way in which the new settlers transformed Kauai&rsquos landscape. Along with the rats, insects, such as ants, stowed away on their canoes. The combination of human activity and changes wrought by the animals and plants they brought makes it difficult to imagine the island&rsquos environment as it existed before people arrived, but the cave is providing proof that it was once radically different. Standing almost at the bottom of the ladder, Burney says that bones, seeds, and other organic material embedded in the mud around us are below the level of the Polynesians&rsquo appearance on the island, predating their arrival.

The Burneys&rsquo work suggests that, in contrast to the weedy fields where sugarcane was long cultivated, the area around the sinkhole was wooded, dominated by a species of small palm. The trade winds blew birds to the island chain, and though these ancient Hawaiian birds had no predators, being blown back to sea meant certain death. Wings, therefore, constituted a risk for larger birds, and thus flightless species arose. More than 50 species of finches hopped through the forests, each adapted to a tiny ecological niche. Two sorts of small birds called rails crept along the ground looking for the eggs of other species to snag. The only mammals on the island before humans arrived were small bats. Avians filled the ecological niches that elsewhere were occupied by grazing animals such as wild sheep and cattle, which could not survive the long journey across the ocean. &ldquoThe mallard duck gets here and suddenly grows 10 times as large, stops flying, develops a beak like a tortoise, and goes out and eats the vegetation,&rdquo Burney says, gesturing up through the hole. &ldquoIt&rsquos a laboratory of evolution.&rdquo

The island&rsquos most fearsome predator was a type of long-legged owl that caught what flying birds there were in mid-air during the day&mdashthere were no nocturnal rodents to eat&mdashand pierced their skulls with pincer claws. &ldquoYou can tell by the holes in the skulls of the victims,&rdquo says Burney. By now we are standing at the bottom of one of the excavation trenches with cool muck rising halfway to our knees.

Eventually we climb back up, passing the centuries as we go. When we emerge from the pit, Burney&rsquos legs are caked in the black ooze and his black helmet is spotted with dried dirt. He ambles over to the volunteers sorting through the mud using garden hoses and rectangular boxes with one-sixteenth-inch mesh. &ldquoDon&rsquot save every last little snail, but every bird bone and every seed we want to keep,&rdquo he says to one woman. &ldquoThe biggest problem is that people try to screen too much at once,&rdquo he explains. &ldquoJust keep it to a double handful so you don&rsquot miss anything.&rdquo

Archaeologists have long suspected that the arrival of humans on Hawaii spelled doom for innumerable plant and animal species. Nearly four dozen bird species, many of them extinct, have been recovered from Makauwahi Cave, and other excavations, particularly along the coastal plains, confirm the rapid transformation of the environment once people got there. Though the original settlers likely were a small band of 100 people or so, based on genetic data, rats rapidly populated the islands, posing a deadly threat to the large flightless birds vulnerable to scurrying mammals. The rats also quickly ate the seeds of the native palms, while humans may have overexploited the trees for thatch, causing them to almost disappear from the island. Early engravings made by Europeans who began coming to Hawaii in the late 1700s show the area around Makauwahi Cave to be virtually treeless by this point&mdashcoastal plains had been transformed by way of irrigation and ponds, and mass burning had driven the forest back to areas too steep to cultivate. By the time the Europeans arrived, 600 or so years after the islands&rsquo first settlers, Hawaiians numbered perhaps 200,000 or more, and the landscape was a combination of field and forest with few signs of the strange birds that once dominated the chain. One of the surprising finds Burney and his colleague, Australian paleoentomologist Nick Porch of Deacon University, have made is that the accidental introduction of insects, particularly ants, may have devastated the native species of beetles, many of which were wingless and therefore defenseless against the invaders. &ldquoIt was insect Armageddon,&rdquo Burney says. &ldquoWhen people come to a new land, there is always mass extinction.&rdquo

Although today only a few native species of plants and animals survive in the lowlands of Kauai, the Burneys are working hard to change this. The land that includes the cave complex is owned by the Grove Farm Company, but it is now managed by the nonprofit Makauwahi Cave Reserve, which the Burneys created. In combination with their archaeological work, they are trying to bring ancient Hawaii back to life, at least on a small scale. Inside the sinkhole, based on what they have found during more than two decades of excavation, they are slowly replacing plants brought by Europeans with both native Hawaiian and Polynesian species. In acres of plant restorations that Lida Pigott Burney has created outside the cave, she and a host of volunteers have planted examples of native plants the Burneys identified in the cave&rsquos fossil record. These species had retreated into largely inaccessible areas, but can thrive in the lowlands if given a chance. The reserve is also home to a few acres of traditional taro and other early Polynesian crops, as well as native palms and indigenous flowering plants that have replaced what was a 200-year monoculture of sugarcane.

More than 20,000 visitors, including many students, come to Makauwahi Cave each year to rediscover Hawaii&rsquos lost past. There they learn to plant traditional crops such as bananas and breadfruit, and they visit the Burneys&rsquo fenced restoration containing not only newly cultivated native plants, but also a dozen and a half tortoises that mimic the feeding habits of the long-extinct grazing birds and keep invasive weeds at bay. For Burney, the effort is an innovative way to use archaeological and paleontological data to restore native species to the landscape and revive ancient practices. &ldquoI&rsquom just as much interested in the future as the past,&rdquo he says. As we part, Burney is off to feed his chickens before dusk.

Author information


Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University, 165 Prospect St., New Haven, CT, 06520-8106, USA

Division of Birds, MRC-116, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, P.O. Box 37012, Washington, DC, 20013-7012, USA

Alison G. Boyer, Helen F. James & Storrs L. Olson

School of Geography and Environment, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92-019, Auckland, New Zealand

You can also search for this author in PubMed Google Scholar

You can also search for this author in PubMed Google Scholar

You can also search for this author in PubMed Google Scholar

You can also search for this author in PubMed Google Scholar

Corresponding author

Camelid sacrum in the shape of a canine

When we think about prehistoric art (art before the invention of writing), likely the first thing that comes to mind are the beautiful cave paintings in France and Spain with their naturalistic images of bulls, bison, deer and other animals. But it’s important to note that prehistoric art has been found around the globe—in North and South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia—and that new sites and objects come to light regularly, and many sites are just starting to be explored. Most prehistoric works we have discovered so far date to around 40,000 B.C.E. and after.

Lithograph of the sacrum as illustrated by Mariano Bárcena, published in Anales del Musei Nacional, vol. 2 (1882)

This fascinating and unique prehistoric sculpture of a dog-like animal was discovered accidentally in 1870 in Tequixquiac, Mexico—in the Valley of Mexico (where Mexico City is located). The carving likely dates to sometime between 14,000–7000 B.C.E. An engineer found it at a depth of 12 meters (about 40 feet) when he was working on a drainage project—the Valley of Mexico once held several lakes. The geography and climate of this area was considerably different in the prehistoric era than it is today.

What is a camelid? What is a sacrum?

The sculpture was made from the now fossilized remains of the sacrum of an extinct camelid. A camelid is a member of the Camelidae family—think camels, llamas, and alpacas. The sacrum is the large triangular bone at the base of the spine. Holes were cut into the end of the bone to represent nostrils, and the bone is also engraved (though this is difficult to see in photographs).


The date of the sculpture is difficult to determine because a stratigraphic analysis was not done at the find spot at the time of discovery. This would have involved a study of the different layers of soil and rock before the object was removed. Another problem is that the object was essentially lost to scholars between 1895 and 1956 (it was in private hands).

In 1882 the sculpture was in the possession of Mariano de la Bárcena, a Mexican geologist and botanist, who wrote the first scholarly article on it. He described the object in this way:

“…the fossil bone contains cuts or carvings that unquestionably were made by the hand of man…the cuts seem to have been made with a sharp instrument and some polish on the edges of the cuts may still be seen…the articular extremity of the last vertebra was utilized perfectly to represent the nose and mouth of the animal.” [1]

Bárcena was convinced of the authenticity of the object, but over the years—due to the lack of scientific evidence from the find spot—other scholars have questioned its age, and whether the object was even made by human hands. One author, in 1923, summarized the issues:

To allow us to state that the sacrum found at Tequixquiac was a definite proof of ancient man in the area the following things must be proven: (1) That the bone was actually a fossil belonging to an extinct species. We cannot doubt this since it has been affirmed by competent geologists and paleontologists. (2) That it was found in a fossiliferous deposit and that it had never been moved since it found its place there. This has not been proved in any convincing manner. (3) That the cuttings of the bone can actually be attributed to the hand of man and that it can never have occurred without human intervention. This has not been proved either. (4) That the carving was made while the species still existed and not in later times when the bone had already become fossilized. [2]

Today, scholars agree that the carving and markings were made by human hands—the two circular spaces that represent the nasal cavities were carefully carved and are perfectly symmetrical and were likely shaped by a sharp instrument. However, the lack of information from the find spot makes precise dating very difficult. It is quite common, in prehistoric art, for the shape of a natural form (like a sacrum) to suggest a subject (dog or pig head) to the carver, and so we should not be surprised that the sculpture still strongly resembles a sacrum.

Sacra from various forms of camel, illustration from: Luis Aveleyra Arroyo de Anda, “The Pleistocene Carved Bone from Tequixquiac, Mexico: A Reappraisal,” American Antiquity, vol. 30, (January 1965), p. 269.


Because the carving was made in a period before writing had developed, it is likely impossible to know what the sculpture meant to the carver and to his/her culture. One possible way to interpret the object is to look at it through the lens of later Mesoamerican cultures. One anthropologist has pointed out that in Mesoamerica, the sacrum is seen as sacred and that some Mesoamerican Indian languages named this bone with words referring to sacredness and the divine. In English, “sacrum” is derived from Latin: os sacrum, meaning “sacred bone.” The sacrum is also—perhaps significantly for its meaning—located near the reproductive organs.

“Language and iconographic evidence strongly suggests that the sacrum bone was an important bone indeed in Mesoamerica, relating to sacredness, to resurrection, and to fire. The importance attached to this bone and its immediate neighbors is not limited to Mesoamerica. From ancient Egypt to ancient India and elsewhere, there is abundant evidence that the bones at the base of the spine, including especially the sacrum, were seen as sacred.” [3]

As appealing as this interpretation is (and the argument the author makes is quite convincing), it is wise to be wary of connecting cultures across such vast geographic distances (though of course there are some aspects of our shared humanity that may be common across cultures). At this point in time, we have no direct evidence to support this interpretation, and so we can not be certain of this object’s original meaning for either the artist, or the people that produced it.

[1] As quoted in Luis Aveleyra Arroyo de Anda, “The Pleistocene Carved Bone from Tequixquiac, Mexico: A Reappraisal,” American Antiquity, vol. 30, (January 1965), p. 264.

[2] As quoted in Luis Aveleyra Arroyo de Anda, “The Pleistocene Carved Bone from Tequixquiac, Mexico: A Reappraisal,” American Antiquity, vol. 30, (January 1965)

[3] Brian Stross, “The Mesoamerican Sacrum Bone: Doorway to the otherworld,” FAMSI Journal of the Ancient Americas (2007) pp.1-54.

Additional resources:

Luis Aveleyra Arroyo de Anda, “The Pleistocene Carved Bone from Tequixquiac, Mexico: A Reappraisal,” American Antiquity, vol. 30, (January 1965), pp. 261-77 (available online).

Paul G. Bahn, “Pleistocene Images outside of Europe,” Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 57, part 1 (1991), pp. 91-102.

Brian Stross, “The Mesoamerican Sacrum Bone: Doorway to the otherworld,” FAMSI Journal of the Ancient Americas (2007), pp.1-54 (pdf available online).

The Americas

While all the new evidence establishes that Australoids and Polynesians were the first inhabitants of the Americas, it does NOT explain how they got here! The Northern route across the Bering straits somehow doesn&rsquot seem to work for them. These are more logical theories of their migration.

An area of debate revolves on just how far south Polynesians actually managed to get. There is some material evidence of Polynesian visits to some of the subantarctic islands to the south of New Zealand, which are outside Polynesia proper. Shards of pottery has been found in the Antipodes Islands, and is now in the Te Papa museum in Wellington, and there are also remains of a Polynesian settlement dating back to the 13th century on Enderby Island in the Auckland Islands.

There is legend that Ui-te-Rangiora, believed to have been a 7th-century Māori navigator from the island of Rarotonga. In the year 650, led a fleet of Waka Tīwai (War Canoes) south until they reached, "a place of bitter cold where rock-like structures rose from a solid sea", The brief description appears to match the Ross Ice Shelf or possibly the Antarctic mainland, but may just be a description of icebergs and Pack Ice found in the Southern Ocean


Polynesia is a Latinization of Fr. polynésie, coined 1756 by de Brosses from Gk. polys "many" (see poly-) + nesos "island." The term "Polynesia" was first used in 1756 by French writer Charles de Brosses, and originally applied to all the islands of the Pacific. But in 1831, Jules Dumont d'Urville proposed a restriction on its use during a lecture to the Geographical Society of Paris. His intention was clearly to distinguish the pure Blacks of the Pacific from the mulatto populations.

The Polynesian people are considered to be by linguistic, archaeological and human genetic ancestry a subset of the sea-migrating Austronesian people and tracing Polynesian languages places their prehistoric origins, ultimately, in Taiwan.

At about 2000 B.C. speakers of Austronesian languages began spreading from Taiwan into Island Southeast Asia. Their speech of the time was not clearly related to Chinese speech of the time and Chinese speakers were all further north on the mainland at the turn of the second and third millennia BC. Taiwan was only later Sinicized via large-scale immigration accompanied by much assimilation of the Austronesian speaking indigenous people during the 17th century AD.

Main Polynesia

American Samoa (overseas United States territory)
Cook Islands (self-governing state in free association with New Zealand)
Easter Island (called Rapa Nui in Rapa Nui, politically part of Chile)
French Polynesia (overseas country, a collectivity of France)
Hawaii (a state of the United States)
New Zealand (independent nation)
Niue (self-governing state in free association with New Zealand)
Norfolk Island (an Australian External Territory)

Pitcairn Islands (a British Overseas Territory)
Samoa (independent nation)
Tokelau (overseas dependency of New Zealand)
Tonga (independent nation)
Tuvalu (independent nation)
Wallis and Futuna (collectivity of France)

Polynesian outliers in Melanesia

Anuta (in the Solomon Islands)
Mele (in Vanuatu)
Bellona Island (in the Solomon Islands)
Emae (in Vanuatu)
Nuguria (in Papua New Guinea)
Nukumanu (in Papua New Guinea)
Ontong Java (in the Solomon Islands)
Pileni (in the Solomon Islands)
Rennell (in the Solomon Islands)
Sikaiana (in the Solomon Islands)
Takuu (in Papua New Guinea)
Tikopia (in the Solomon Islands)
Fiji Island

In Micronesia

Kapingamarangi (in the Federated States of Micronesia)
Nukuoro (in the Federated States of Micronesia)

Subantarctic Islands

Antipodes Islands
Auckland Islands (the most southerly known evidence of Polynesian settlement)

Watch the video: Ο Πραγματικός Κόσμος Είναι Αυτό Που Βλέπουμε; (December 2021).