Scott, Rachel Manu, 2008. Skeletal trauma in prehistoric Oceania: A biocultural study using samples from Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Tonga, and New Zealand.
Until recently, the study of trauma in prehistory has been limited to individual case studies. Applying a broader anthropological approach to the analysis of traumatic lesions found in archaeological samples can highlight the environmental and cultural factors that may have influenced trauma in the past. The aim of this study was to record the types and prevalence of adult skeletal trauma in pre-contact Pacific Island samples using a biocultural approach in an attempt to understand variation in the stressors causing trauma. Adult skeletal remains from Nebira, Papua New Guinea (AD1230-AD1560), Taumako, the Solomon Islands (AD1530-AD1698), Teouma, Vanuatu (1000BC- 500BC), Tongatapu, Tonga (AD1100-AD1250), and Palliser Bay, New Zealand (AD1261-AD1480) were macroscopically examined for evidence of cranial trauma, postcranial fractures, dislocations, ossificans exostoses, and piercing or perforating wounds to assess the relationship the inhabitants had with their environment, with each other, and to identify how different groups in the Pacific were affected by the ecological boundaries and social systems they lived in. Three hypotheses were tested. First, that frequencies and patterns of skeletal trauma would differ between coastal and inland samples. Hypothesis 1(A) stated that the island environments of Teouma and Taumako would produce similar patterns of trauma. This hypothesis was proven as the samples exhibited a similar prevalence of trauma. The distribution of the injuries at Teouma suggested a balanced sexual division of labour, possibly while establishing a new settlement on the island. Cranial trauma in the Taumako sample indicated some level of non-lethal interpersonal violence between men and women while piercing trauma in the sample suggested the inhabitants actively participated in warfare, perhaps compounded by environmental pressure and resource stress. Hypothesis 1(B) stated that the inland sample from Nebira would exhibit a higher prevalence of accidental injuries compared with the coastal sites. The inhabitants from Nebira did not exhibit higher numbers of accidental injuries but instead showed a high prevalence of cranial trauma (21.42%) indicative of interpersonal violence. One explanation for this may be that the inhabitants were encouraged by climate change to compete for resources causing disputes between groups. Hypothesis 2 stated the founder populations of Teouma and Palliser Bay would exhibit a higher prevalence of accidental injuries because of their unfamiliarity of the terrain and the extra physical pressures placed on them to construct a community and establish agriculture. The sample from Palliser Bay, while small (n=8), has individuals who have experienced accidental injuries suggesting that, like Teouma, the foundation of a new settlement in unfamiliar geography was difficult, supporting the hypothesis. Hypothesis 3 stated the inhabitants from Tongatapu, who lived during a tumultuous period, would exhibit a high prevalence of traumatic injuries from interpersonal violence or warfare. This hypothesis was not conclusively proven. The sample consisted of forearm fractures indicative of defence fractures. However, the lack of cranial trauma in the sample contradicted the hypothesis. A tentative explanation for this is that the people of Tongatapu practiced non-lethal ritualised violence as a way of dispute resolution in the form or boxing or wrestling. The results illustrate that the physical surroundings of the Pacific Islands in prehistory influenced the risk of injury in the past. Injuries occurred accidentally while practicing occupational or subsistence strategies, and intentionally because of social pressures that could have been influenced by many factors including climate change and resource stress.