SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Keywords:

  • burial;
  • cannibalism;
  • diet;
  • Fiji;
  • isotopes;
  • Lau Islands;
  • sharp-force trauma;
  • taphonomy

Abstract

By integrating osteological, taphonomic, archaeological and stable isotopic data, we test for cannibalism in the Lau Group, Fiji and discuss the potential underlying cause(s) and context(s) of this behaviour. First, we compare taphonomic and element representations of human skeletal material from two contexts in Fiji, examining human bone fragments from archaeological sites, including middens and burials in the Lau Island Group. Fourteen sites produced human remains. Only two of those sites included distinct human burial contexts, but in the remaining 12 sites, the human bone was recovered from middens or contexts where midden was mixed with possible secondary burials. A total of 262 number of identified specimens per species, representing an estimated 15 minimum number of individuals make up the Lau human assemblage. Second, we analysed bones contained in 20 individual human burials from four different sites that are housed at the Fiji Museum for comparative purposes. Third, we examine previously published stable isotopic (δ13C, δ15N) analysis of bone collagen to gauge protein consumption of likely cannibalised humans in midden contexts and potential cannibals from primary burials. We model a cannibalistic diet category within the context of isotopically measured Pacific Islands food groups and apply an isotopic mixing model to gauge plausible dietary contributions from six sources including human flesh. Isotopic mixing models of the Lauan samples illustrate a high diversity in reconstructed diets. The percent contribution of human flesh is low for all individual Lauans. We conclude that mortuary rituals evidenced by sharp-force trauma may suggest non-nutritive and non-violent practices that may have included the consumption of small amounts of human flesh. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.