A Traditional Samoa Rapidly Disappearing

 I. Project Overview and Background  
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This report describes the results of recent field classes in archaeology conducted jointly by the American Samoa Community College and the University of Oregon. The Samoan and Pacific Studies Department of American Samoan Community College (ASCC) and the University of Oregon Anthropology Department co-sponsored the summer school projects beginning in 1998 under the direction of Dr. William S. Ayres. Several undergraduate students from the University of Oregon joined 8 to 10 ASCC students for the archaeology field course. Field work was carried out in Malaeimi Valley (1998) and in Malaeloa (1999), under the direction of archaeologist Epi Suafo'a (U.S. National Park Service) and Joan Wozniak (PhD student in archaeology, University of Oregon). The first general area of study, Malaeimi Valley, was selected based on prior research done by Suafo'a during the summer of 1994 and other surveys in the adjacent Tafuna Plain. Suafo'a had located several lithic scatters and ceramic deposits in sites near walled garden areas south of the highway (especially Site AS31-34). Malaeloa was selected in a 1999 field operation designed to sample similar sites in a comparable but distinct area of the island. Gwen Robbins (PhD student in physical anthropology, University of Oregon) participated in this project as well.

Goals of the field school are to teach about basic concepts and methods of archaeology and the relationship of these to carrying out field studies, including reconnaissance survey, site mapping with transit and compass, use of the GPS system, and excavation techniques. Initial classroom training of archaeological techniques and use of the transit were followed by field work, which reinforced classroom discussions.

 

The Field School Research and Teaching Plan.

Archaeological sites should not to be used for training purposes, especially for excavations, unless there is a well-defined reason and plan for conducting activities that would have an impact on site integrity. International professional organizations, including the Society for American Archaeology, have long had guidelines highlighting this concern. The field school activities on Tutuila were done with full recognition of this aim while teaching archaeological methods and cultural resource conservation.

Malaeimi, one of the largest valleys on Tutuila, opens onto the Tafuna Plain. This area is important archaeologically for several reasons The interface between Malaeimi Valley and the Tafuna Plain has provided the first inland sites containing prehistoric ceramics (Suafo'a 1998) and it is one of two locations providing evidence that supports the hypothesis that pottery was manufactured and used in Samoa much later than previously thought, well past the fourth century A.D. (see Clark 1997). Malaeloa occupies a similar position with regard to a coastal plain east of Leone.

The archaeological field school was planned originally as an opportunity to continue investigations at one of Tutuila's very important sites, Malaeimi Site AS31-34. The aim of the field school project was to gain further knowledge about the extent and time depth of the sites located by Suafo'a in 1995 and in general to explore the nature of inland Tafuna Plain settlement. Improving map data, site boundary definition, and knowledge of the artifact content of this site was to result from the field school activity. However, because of the disturbance at Site AS31-34 site during the three years following its initial description and complications of land ownership issues, an alternate site nearby (Site AS31-59)--which includes a massive stone wall fortification--was chosen as the project area.

Reconnaissance in the Samoan National Park and other field trips were to expose the students to the wide variety of archaeological sites forming the cultural record in Samoa. Being able to recognize archaeological sites in a field situation is a basic skill.

 We expect to continue the field school in the Malaeloa area in Summer 2001.

 

Fig. Plan of surface artifact distribution for the central part of Site AS32-006. Shows counts of stone flakes from adz production in a workshop area mapped in the 1999 field class. Some 10,000 flakes are under analysis.

     

Tutuila's Samoan Context

The Samoan archipelago, a core area of Polynesia (Burrows 1971), is located at latitude 14 deg. S and longitude 170-178 deg. E, in the South Central Pacific. Nine of Samoa's eleven volcanic islands are inhabited. American Samoa is made up of five volcanic islands, and two coral atolls. American Samoa is located 2600 miles southwest of Hawaii and 550 miles northeast of Tonga. Its largest island, Tutuila, is made up of a composite volcano that rises about 4.8 kilometers (3 miles) from the ocean floor and is 29 km (18 miles) long and 9.7 km (6 mi) wide with a total land area of 135 square kilometers (52 sq.mi). The topography of Tutuila is rugged and geographically complex and the island is nearly bisected by a deep natural volcanic embayment known as Pago Pago Harbor on the southeast shore.        

American Samoa has a warm, humid, tropical climate with an annual mean temperature of 26 deg. C (79 deg. F). The average humidity is 80%. During the dry season (May to November) moderate southeast trade winds predominate; the period from June to August exhibits the driest and coolest conditions. Weakened variable winds occurring during the wet season cause the high temperatures and heavy rains which persist from January to March. Average annual rainfall measured at the Pago Pago International Airport weather station is 3,175 mm (125 inches). However, rainfall varies greatly with elevation and aspect. Pago Pago Harbor rainfall is estimated at 7600 mm (300 inches).

 

Samoan Archaeology

Prehistoric and historic archaeological features have been identified and documented in many areas of the Samoan Islands. These include prehistoric village sites, quarries, star mounds and other stone and earth constructions, and fortifications located on mountain tops, ridge lines, and in lowland areas. Early interest centered on stone tools and earth mounds (Sterndale 1890, Thompson 1927). Modern archaeological research in Samoa began with Golson (1957,1959) and Green and Davidson (1969, 1974) in Western Samoa, followed by Jennings et al. (1976, 1980); while Kikuchi (1963) did early work in American Samoa with fortifications and refuge sites in Manua, along with other survey by Emory and Sinoto (1965). Since the early 1970s, Cultural Resource Management (CRM) projects have been the major force in documenting archaeological remains in American Samoa. Clark (1980) evaluated the historic preservation program in American Samoa and compiled an inventory of known sites. During the 1980s the American Samoa Historic Preservation Office (ASHPO) sponsored archaeological projects employing a number of scholars (e.g. Gould, Reinhardt and Honor 1985; Ayres and Eisler 1985; Brophy 1986, Hunt and Kirch 1987, 1988; Clark and Herdrich 1988; Clark 1989; Best 1992, Leach and Witter 1989; Kirch and Hunt 1993). Ayres and Eisler have done the only work thus far on Tutuila's far western end. Jeff Clark has conducted several projects in eastern Tutuila (Clark 1981, 1993, Clark and Michlovic 1996). Most of these projects involved surveys, intensive mapping and excavations.

 

II. The Field Projects  
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Malaeimi

As the field school project unfolded, students became involved in archaeological surveys in three distinct environmental conditions. The Field School participants surveyed for architectural features on a ridge top in the National Park near the village of Vaitia, a level area (Site AS31-34) having many exposed surface artifacts (ceramics and lithics), and in areas overgrown with vines and herbaceous plants that concealed architectural features. The two latter surveys were in Malaeimi Valley. A major portion of the archaeological field school was centered in Malaeimi Valley at the fortification wall, also know as the Tongan Wall, located near the mouth of the valley where it opens onto the Tafuna Plain. The Field School personnel cleared vegetation away from a stone structure believed to be a fortification wall and an area south of, and adjacent to, the wall. This area was surveyed and the features within the survey area were designated with the ASHPO number of the fortification wall, Site AS31-59 plus feature numbers. The survey area was then mapped for geomorphological and all archaeological features. Two small test trenches were excavated in features at Site AS31-59.

 

Fig. Plan of massive stone wall at Malaeimi, Tutuila. This forms the eastern end of a structure identified as a defensive wall extending across the lower part of Malaeimi Valley.

 

  

Malaeloa

We did a reconnaissance survey in Asiapa on the eastern side of Malaeloa valley; this included the land cared for by the Filisi family of Malaeloa Village. Several features were located and subsequent work exposed ceramics and, especially in Feature 4, large quantities of stone flakes from adze manufacturing. Test excavations demonstrated considerable depth to the flake stone deposits and provided one radiocarbon date in the 15th century A.D. Combined surface collections and excavated debitage provided approximately 10,000 pieces for analysis.

 

Fig. Profile of exavation unit designated F3 located in Feature 4. Dense lithic debitage was recovered from the test unit.

  

Pottery was important for storage and cooking in Samoa's distant past, but was unknown historically. The Maleimi Site (AS31-59) has produced one of the largest collections of early pottery recovered in all of Samoa. Two basic kinds, Thin, Fine plainware and a Thick, Coarse ware showing dense volcanic rock-temper, are known for the time period between approximately 500 BC and possibly as late as AD 800-1200 in Samoa. Most ceramic vessels are bowls of varying sizes, including ones with squared rims. The earliest pottery dating back to approximately 1300 BC is related to Lapita ceramic traditions known throughout Melanesia to the west. No pottery has been made in Samoa in the last few centuries.

  Fig. The following illustrates the tempr and paste composition of sherds found in Malaeimi and Malaeloa. The first shows an example of Thin, Fine pottery; the second shows Thick, Coarse sherd with rock sand temper.  

 

 

   

III. Proposed Field Projects  
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In conjunction with the American Samoa National Park, the field school effort will focus on the traditionally important village area of Saua in Ta'u, Manu'a Islands of eastern American Samoa, possibly in 2002. This area will be studied from the standpoint of archaeology, oral history, and natual environment as a traditional Samoan village.

 

Fig.  Map shows location of ancient village of Saua on Ta'u, Manu'a Islands of eastern Samoa. The green shaded area represents the National Park land on Ta'u.

 

 

 

IV. SUMMARY  
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Field classes in archaeology have been successful in achieving the main goals of conveying theories and methods of doing archaeology, fieldwork, which included reconnaissance survey, site mapping with transit and compass, and an understanding of the use of a GPS system, and excavation techniques. The overall project has fostered facilities improvement at SAMPAC; the development of a database of sites and artifacts; conservation efforts for sites, artifacts, collections; and additional work with oral history about geographical areas and sites.

Students of Samoan descent from ASCC as well as the University of Oregon and Hawaii have gained as participants a new perspective on their past; non-Samoan students from Oregon and elsewhere have had their eyes opened a little wider by their experience in Polynesia.

 

 

 

SAMPLE OF SITE DATA

            Table 1. Archaeological Features Identified Within the Project Area of Malaeimi

 

Site AS31-59           

Feature AS31-

59-1, 2, 3: Fortification wall in three sections; probably prehistoric.

59-4:   Rock alignment bordering stream bed and extending from wall Feature 59-1:(prehistoric?)

59-5:   Rock lined pit depression, approximately 1 meter in depth, 20 meters south of 59-2. This feature is covered with corrugated metal. Probably historic.

59-6:   Wooden hut built on posts imbedded into eastern portion of AS31-59-3. This portion of the wall structure had been flattened and expanded north and south of the original wall alignment to accommodate the hut structure. East of the hut, the wall was covered with crushed gravel to make a drive-way. Historic remodeling of a prehistoric feature.

59-7:   Fale 1 is a paepae of basalt rocks on raised lava flow landform 25-30 meters south of Feature 59-1. Fale 1 was designated AS31-ASCC T1   when mapped. An excavation Trench 1 consisting of 2 units reveals Fale 1 is historic.

59-8:   Fale 2 is associated with historic artifacts and a 2 x 3 meter rectangular concrete pad (HC Feature 2) associated with large mango trees that appear to be more than 30 years old.

59-9:   Concrete pad directly north of Feature AS31-59-8, Fale 2 paepae. This pad was adjacent to the portion of the fale having the toilet artifacts and may have served as part of a shower or bathroom facility.

59-10: Concrete water cistern (HC Feature 3) in depression south of AS31-59-7, Fale 1 and Feature AS31-59-8, Fale 2. This cistern is 1.25 m square and 1.25 meter high. It is located 2 meters east of the barbed wire and rock wall fence Feature AS31-59-11), which forms the Ho Ching/Lima boundary within Depression 1.

59-11: Rock wall about 1 meter in height within depressed area 2 m. west of water cistern. Two strands of barbed wire are strung along the top of the wall and continue in a north and south directions from the stone wall feature. This wall is made up of rocks 30-40 cm in diameter, and extends about 3 meters north/south, dividing the depression D.L-2.

59-12: Cement post with a 5 cm metal pipe embedded in it. This post is located at the HoChing/Lima boundary at the western-most end of Feature AS31-59-1 wall structure.

59-13: East of Depression 4 is a north-south alignment of small rocks (under 15 cm) 2.5-3.5 meters wide, which extends 35-38 meters and parallels the path from the warehouse to the village northwest of the AS31-59-1 site. This mound of rocks is low, less than 1/2 meter high. It is not constructed like the AS31-59 fortification wall and may represent a disposal site for rocks cleared from the path. A dirt path is on the east side of the rock feature. This alignment is designated Feature AS31-59-13. TS-4 is located at the southwestern edge.

59-14: An alignment of rocks just under one meter high and running east/west along the northern edge of the cleared project areas is designated AS31-59-14. It extends west outside of the project area and is covered with vines. This is the only feature which may represent an extension of the fortification wall connecting AS31-59 on the east, with AS31-60 on the western side of the valley. Time did not permit us to explore this possibility.

59-15: Six small "artificial" depressions, which appear to be planting holes, which may have held papaya or banana plants at one time. They were located between Depression 4 and the warehouse, and west of TS-4. These small depressions were 20-40 cm in diameter and 10 to 20 cm deep. These did not appear to spatially aligned with one another.

Depression 1: A 3-4 meter deep depression north of commercial edifices and metal fence east of the Ace warehouse construction, on Lima property. This depression is edged in basalt boulders and soil in uneven steps on the north. Bananas, coconuts, and papaya trees grow in these stepped areas. The bottom of the depression serves as a garbage disposal area for the local inhabitants. The south and western edges of the depression has been mechanically altered by heavy equipment within the past several years. The east end of the depression narrows and extends onto the Ho Ching property.

Depression 2: An uneven low area divided by the barbed wire boundary fence. It has less steep edges than Depression 1, but is also lined with basalt boulders and soil. The depression extends eastward to the concrete pad. Features associated with Lima property.

Depression 3: A circular depression north of Depression 1 and west of Depression 2. It is lined entirely with lava rocks. The depression becomes less deep on its northern border. The plan view of this depression is shown in Figure 3. Depression 3 is located in an elevated landform extending west from Feature AS31-59-1. The landform slopes steeply on both the northern and southern aspects, and slopes gradually to the west where the path described below in AS31-59-13. Depression 3 is also currently used as a refuse disposal area.

Depression 4: A depression also located on Lima property directly behind the warehouse construction. This depression is more than 150 meters east of the other 3 depressions. Like Depression 3, it is circular and lined entirely with rocks; there is no soil; it is used as a garbage disposal area. The cross-section of this depression was measured with the transit from TS-5, which was on the southern side of the depression. Depression 4 is also currently used as a refuse disposal area.