Washington, March 6 ANI | 10 months ago

Researchers studying 3000-year-old skeletons from the oldest known cemetery in the Pacific Islands have cast new light on the diet and lives of the enigmatic Lapita people - likely ancestors of Polynesians.

Their results-obtained from analysing stable isotope ratios of three elements in the bone collagen of 49 adults buried at the Teouma archaeological site on Vanuatu's Efate Island-suggest that its early Lapita settlers ate reef fish, marine turtles, fruit bats, free-range pigs and chickens, rather than primarily relying on growing crops for human food and animal fodder.

Study lead author Dr Rebecca Kinaston and colleague Associate Professor Hallie Buckley at the Department of Anatomy carried out the research in collaboration with the Vanuatu National Museum and researchers from the University of Marseilles and CNRS (UMR 7269 and UMR 7041) in France and The Australian National University, Canberra.

The researchers analysed the isotopic ratios of carbon, nitrogen and sulphur in adult human bone collagen and compared these with ratios in ancient and modern plants and animals from the location, which provided a comprehensive dietary baseline.

Dr Kinason said that examining these ratios gave them direct evidence of the broad make-up of these adults' diets over the 10-20 years before they died, which helps clear up the long-running debate about how the Lapita settlers sustained themselves during the early phases of colonising each island during their eastward drive across the Pacific.

She said that the dietary pattern they found suggested that in addition to eating pigs and chickens, settlers were also foraging for a variety of marine food and consuming wild animals - especially fruit bats - and that whatever horticultural food they produced was not heavily relied on.

The findings have been published in the journal PLOS ONE.

(Posted on 06-03-2014)

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