Saturday, June 22, 2024

Stone adzes traveled widely, perhaps as a lubricant for Polynesian trade networks


How valuable was high-quality stone in a stone-age culture?

So important that the valuable stone found its way long distances from home.

This isn’t news to the archaeological community. It has found a Kaho`olawe-sourced basalt adz in the Tuamotu Islands. Mauna Kea adz quarry stone tools in the Marquesas. Marquesan Eiao Island adzes throughout what is now French Polynesia. The longest adz in the Bishop Museum’s collection was found in the ocean off O’ahu, but came from the Pu‘u Pāpa‘i quarry on Molokai.

Quality stone tools traveled. Maybe as trade items. Maybe a gifts between chiefs. Maybe because a stone tool from afar had a special prestige, or a mana, a perceived spiritual power.

They were part of what archaeologists call “interaction networks” between the spread-out islands across the Pacific.

The Museum of Stone Tools has some adz images here. 

Most volcanic islands had at least some good quality stone, although the quality varied. New Zealand and Australian researchers Christopher Jennings, Marshall Weisler and Richard Walter last year in the journal Archaeology in Oceania published a comprehensive report on stone quarries across the Pacific. It is entitled, “An archaeological review of Polynesian adze quarries and sources.”

They argue that stone tools were more than just useful implements, but a significant part of cultural activity in Polynesia. They hold that “the adze industry played a much more significant and complex role in Polynesian cultural history than is currently realized.”

Early Pacific residents could make tools from readily available sources near home, but if they found exemplary qualities in remote sites, they would go to great lengths to get that material—such as quarrying in the frigid heights of Mauna Kea, or an isolated island like Eiao.

Adzes, they say, were “the most distantly exchanged items in the Neolithic world.”

But why? “We can establish a relationship between large scale quarry production, fine grained stone, highly skilled flaking technology and long-distance exchange, but we still do not know what drove these associations,” they wrote.

A good quarry would be used continuously over long periods of time. The Pu‘u Pāpa‘i quarry on Molokai is one of the oldest in Hawai’i, perhaps because it had high quality stone and was near an early settlement site at Kawela.

Researchers Marshall I. Weisler, John Sinton, Quan Hua, and Jane Skippington reviewed that quarry in the Journal of Pacific Archaeology, a 2024 paper with the ponderous title, “Indirectly Dating one of the Oldest Adze Quarries in the Hawaiian Islands Provides Insights into the Colonisation Process and Community Network.”

Adzes made from stone at this specific Molokai quarry are readily identified because it the unique chemical characteristics, high in strontium and phosphate. The unique chemical makeup of quarry stones is how adzes are sometimes linked to their home islands.

One suggestion from a lot of recent work is that adzes were a key component of exchange networks. It is not clear whether adzes were a lubricant that facilitated trade between distant islands, or whether voyaging canoes were simply early Snap-On tool trucks, hauling quality tools to customers.

One thing that seems clear is that hauling valuables between island was a long-standing practice in the Pacific. It dates back at least to the Lapita culture of thousands of years ago, according to paper from May 2024 by Nicholas W. S. Hogg, Scarlett Chiu, Patrick V. Kirch and Glenn R. Summerhayes. 

That paper, in Archeology in Oceania, reviews early exchange networks involving adzes and pottery in the Lapita era of far western Polynesia.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2024

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Are we seeing more flight turbulence, and is it linked to climate change? Yes and yes.

 We have seen numerous reports of airliners suddenly plunging hundreds or thousands of feet midflight.

And a fair amount of suggestion that atmospheric turbulence is the cause, along with some guesswork that turbulence is increasing due to climate change.

Could that be true? The answer seems to be, yes.

There does seem to be a fair amount of turbulence-related airline drama this year. Here is a review of one kind, clear-air turbulence. 

There is also thunderstorm-related turbulence, and other kinds.

In February 10, 2024, a United flight experienced “moderate turbulence” between Newark and Los Angeles. Several passengers were injured.  

On May 20, a Singapore Airlines flight experienced severe turbulence over Myanmar, which caused significant injury.

Also in May, a Qatar Airways flight between Dohar and Dublin was knocked around, apparently by turbulence May 26. 

To be clear, a review of many recent incidents of bumpy plane rides suggests that a lot of them have little or nothing to do with climate or turbulence.

An April 11, 2024, Southwest flight had a sudden drop while approaching Lihue Airport, leveling off at about 400 feet above the ocean. That, investigators said, was due to mistake at the controls by a pilot.

In a Latam Airlines incident in March 2024, a plane apparently went into a dive when the cockpit crew briefly lost control of the aircraft. The pilots brought the plane back into control. Latam called it a “a technical event during the flight which caused a strong movement.”

A 2022 United flight event involving a sudden drop was determined to be pilot error, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. 

In 2019, Psychology Today published an article about a Delta flight, on the fear generated by these kinds of events. 

In that case, the incident was a controlled descent apparently associated with a cabin pressurization event. The article decries media sensationalizing and mischaracterization.

But there are plenty of occasions when actual turbulence, rather than equipment or human error, are involved.

Hawaiian Airlines had such an incident in December 2022, 65 miles north of Maui. The National Transportation Safety Board report said, “A cloud shot up vertically (like a smoke plume) in front of the airplane in a matter of seconds, and there was not enough time to deviate.”  

No previous flights in the area that day had reported turbulence, but the NTSB report said: “Postaccident examination of the weather in the area revealed that there was an occluded frontal system with an associated upper-level trough moving towards the Hawaiian Islands. Satellite and weather radar imagery, and lightning data depicted strong cells in the vicinity of the flight.”

An article in Smithsonian Magazine argues that climate change may be causing increases in turbulence, and therefore in aircraft-involved incidents. 

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg in May said turbulence is increasing, and that climate change is a big factor. The Smithsonian article said that technology is also improving, and will help moderate risk, but that bumpier flights may be in our future.

Many of the injuries in such incidents involve people being thrown around the aircraft. It’s a reminder to keep those seat belts fastened.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2024

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Finally, a thorough tally of Hawaiian canoe plants, including pa'ihi and kamole.

 Which Hawaiian plants are canoe plants, the plants that Polynesian voyagers carried on their voyaging canoes to support new lives in new islands?

Some folks will say there were as few as 23. Others say as many as 32, Most are in between. Where’s the truth? Come on along for this investigation.

In most parts of the world, plants are conveniently divided into native and introduced. And among the natives, there are the endemics that are found nowhere else and the indigenous, which somehow got here without human assistance, but are also found in other parts of the world.

Canoe plant kukui (left), alongside hala, which might be but was already here. 
Jan TenBruggencate photo.

In Hawai’i, we had another classification: canoe plants or Polynesian introductions—the plants the Polynesian canoe voyagers carried with them to support their lives on newly found islands.

The late Lynton Dove White, in her book Canoe Plants of Ancient Hawai’i, lists 24 canoe plants. 

Art Whistler has more.

“The farther into the Pacific from the center of dispersal (Western Polynesia), the fewer successfully introduced canoe plants there were (e.g., ca. 60 in Tonga, c. 27 in Hawai‘i). Only about six canoe plant species were successfully introduced to New Zealand by the Maoris, mainly because canoe plants are tropical, and did not survive or thrive in temperate New Zealand,” wrote ethnobotanist Art Whistler. He is the author of “Plants of the Canoe People.” 

They are probably both low in their counts.

There were certainly somewhere between two and three dozen of them. 

At a minimum, these: `ape elephant ear, `awa kava, ‘auhuhu wild indigo or fish poison plant,`awapuhi shampoo ginger, ipu Lagenaria gourd vine, kalo taro, kamani Alexandrian laurel, ki ti leaf, ko sugar cane, kukui candlenut, mai`a banana, niu coconut, noni Indian mulberry, `ohe bamboo, `ohi`a `ai mountain apple, `olena turmeric, pia arrowroot, `uala sweet potato, uhi yam, `ulu breadfruit, and wauke paper mulberry.

That’s 21.

Many think hau or sea hibiscus and milo or portia tree were likely canoe plants, but could also have already been on the Islands.

That’s 23

Hala or pandanus used to be on the canoe plant list, but then fossils of hala were found in rocks erupted 100,000 to 500,000 years ago, and later ancient pollen was found in sediments that predate human arrival in the island.

The orange-flowered Kou (Cordia subcordata) also used to be placed on the list, but again, ancient pollen showed there were forests of it already there to greet the first canoes.

That said, the quartet of hala, hau, milo and kou were such valuable plants in Hawaiian and the larger Polynesian culture that they might have been on the first arriving canoes as part of the Polynesian survival kit, even if they turned out to be already in the Islands.

They would make 25.

There are problems with the list we’ve made so far. It is as far as most tallies go, but it is incomplete. For example, it lists banana as mai’a, but there were at least two quite different species of mai’a, and it lists one but there were three species of yam. And there are other plants that are not on the most common lists at all.

The yams: not only the uhi or winged yam, but also the hoi or bitter yam and pi’a Hawai’i, or five-leaf yam, Dioscorea pentaphylla, which is different from the Polynesian arrowroot that is also known as pi’aTacca leontopetaloides.

There appear to have been not one but two bananas, the more common mai’a , but also the fe’i banana, he’iMusa troglodytarum.

The Bishop Museum’s Plants of Hawai'i program lists 32 canoe plants, some of which are so obscure they most people won’t know them. This Bishop Museum botany site seems to be the most thorough list out there, although (as I write this) it is missing the Hawaiian names of a couple of the less common species.

Plants of Hawai’i includes the popolo, or American nightshade, which clearly was an early arrival in the Islands, and is not commonly included in canoe plant lists.

Another canoe plant on its list is the Oxalis corniculata, yellow wood sorrel, has several Hawaiian names, ‘ihi ‘ai, ‘ihi ‘awa, ‘ihi maka ‘ula, ‘ihi mākole. It is edible, used medicinally for several ailments and made a dye.

Plants of Hawai’i cites two canoe plant species without Hawaiian names, although other sources do identify the Hawaiian names of those plants.

One is the Mexican primrose willow, Ludwigia octovalis, which other sources call water primrose, and in Hawaiian kamole or alohalua. It is said to be edible, but seems primarily to have been used medicinally, often in the form of a tea.

Another is pa’ihi, Polynesian cress, Rorippia sarmentosa. It is both edible and medicinal. Plants of Hawai’i lists this cress, as well as the primrose willow and wood sorrel, as possible accidental introductions—which suggests that perhaps seeds were on the canoes, but that they were not intended canoe plants.

The upshot is that while some folks will tell you there were precisely 23 or “more than 24” or 27 or exactly 30, or 32 canoe plants, nobody can be entirely sure. Here’s our comprehensive list—including the ones that might have been canoe plants but were also here already, and the ones that might have hitchhiked on canoes.

‘Ape, ‘auhuhu, ‘awa, ‘awapuhi, hala, hau, hoi, ‘ihi’ai, ipu, kalo, kamani, kamole, ki, ko, kou, kukui, mai’a, mai’a he’i, milo, niu, noni, ‘ohe, ‘ohi’a ‘ai, ‘olena, pa’ihi, pi’a Hawai’i, pi’a, popolo, ‘uala, uhi, ‘ulu, wauke.

And that’s 32 canoe plants.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2024

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Unique Hawaiiian farming system being revived: kalo growing in kukui mulch


While early Hawaiian agriculture clearly grew out of Polynesian farming systems, these islands developed a unique food-production structure quite different from those elsewhere in the Pacific.

Ethnobotanist and forest ecologist Noa Kekuewa Lincoln reviewed that uniqueness in a book chapter, “Pakukui: The productive fallow of ancient Hawaii,” printed in the book Farmer Innovations and Best Practices by Shifting Cultivators in Asia-Pacific.

Kukui (left) and Hala trees. 
Jan TenBruggencate photo.

“The Hawaiian Islands, one of the endpoints of Polynesian settlement of the Pacific, saw the development of unique agricultural advances that have not been seen anywhere else,” he wrote.

While flooded taro paddies (kalo,) hilled sweet potato fields (‘uala) and garden plots with sugar cane (ko) and fiber plants like wauke and mamaki are well understood, the importance of tree crops—agroforestry—has perhaps been overlooked, he argues.

“Although a robust literature and investigation of Hawaiian agriculture exists, arboriculture is severely underrepresented. This had led to a simplified understanding of Hawaiian arboriculture with an emphasis on permanent, breadfruit-dominated arboricultural systems.”

It may be that Western viewers look at agroforestry through shaded lenses, missing key features. For example, focusing only on foods, oils, medicines and fiber may miss key contributions of some tree crops, he suggested.

“In some regions, it may be that Hawaiians planted trees specifically to accumulate fertility. In these systems, very fast-growing woody plants that decomposed quickly, such as candlenut and hau, were cultivated,” he wrote.

Candlenut or kukui (Aleurites moluccanus) is and was an immensely useful tree, providing food for humans and livestock, oil for many purposes, dyes, medicine and much more

Less well understood is its value as a mulch. In a culture without Western fertilizers, mulches were of inestimable value. Mulches of kukui and other plants were stamped into the muds of kalo fields, where they rotted and improved fertility.

“In a recent experiment we grew taro in pure mulches of candlenut, sugar cane, and hau (Hibiscus tiliaceus), and the growth in candlenut mulch was by far the largest (by ~150%), despite it having the lowest nitrogen content of the three treatments,” Lincoln wrote.

Kukui leaves, branches and logs could also be used to create soils on solid lava. A mulch pit filled with kukui was called a pakukui.

“In these situations, litterfall was gathered into relatively impermeable pits in the lava and composted in order to create a growing medium. Local organic waste and small amounts of soil that could be excavated nearby was added to these enclosures, or pa, to aid in the rotting of composts.”

The system is similar to but larger than the manavai planting technique in Rapa Nui, where circular walls of stone protected small planting areas in rugged windswept environments. Manavai were also used for taro, as well as banana and sugar cane. 

The use of the pakukui led, Lincoln said, to a shifting agricultural pattern, in which farmers would be growing crops in some fields while other were composting. That contrasted with areas with breadfruit forests, which would be harvested year after year.

Kukui helped to make poorer soils much more viable for agriculture, though only for intermittent use. With the decline in Hawaiian population, the practice appeared to have died out.

“Following European contact in Hawaii, several forms of traditional agriculture rapidly declined, primarily due to the population crash that accompanied the introduction of foreign diseases. Among the practices that declined rapidly was the pakukui,” he wrote.

But the agricultural system still has value, and should be revived, he said. He is working with partners in Hamakua to convert “a long-established pasture back into a candlenut forest to reinitiate the practice of nutrient accumulation and natural fertilization to realize significant taro productivity.”

Lincoln works with Indigenous Crops and Cropping Systems in the Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences Department, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii at Manoa. His pakukui chapter was published in December 2023.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2024

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Fire-prone invasive grasslands need intense work to restore native species

 Invasive grasslands, like those linked to the destruction of Lahaina, are remarkably stable systems, and will be difficult to change.

That’s a conclusion of a new report by federal foresters.

They determined that active and intensive wildland management will be required to restore native-dominated landscapes. The alternative is a continued dominance of fire-prone grasslands.

The study, in the journal Ecology and Evolution, is entitled “Invasive-dominated grasslands in Hawaiʻi are resilient to disturbance.” The authors are Stephanie Yelenik and Eli Rose of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Pacific Island Ecosystem Research Station and  Susan Cordell of the U.S. Forest Service’s Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry.

The conclude that once a native Hawaiian ecosystem is converted to an alien grassland, it becomes difficult to change to another system, such as one dominated by native species that might be less fire-prone.

They did the research by disturbing six 100-square-meter plots with different vegetation mixes.

“We implemented a disturbance experiment to assess how plant communities would reassemble,” they wrote. They included in each plot plantings of two native species, ‘a’ali’i (Dodonea viscosa) and a native bunchgrass known as Hawaiian lovegrass (Eragrostis atropioides.)

The plantings were done on Hawai'i Island, in the Keʻāmuku Maneuver Area of the Army’s Pōhakuloa Training Area.

They found that competitive invasive grasses tended to become dominant after disturbance. They generally do better than native species in disturbed habitats. And once they have taken over, they tend to stay in charge.

“Our results highlight that the altered post-agricultural, invaded grassland landscapes in Hawaiʻi are stable states,” they wrote.

Some of those invasive non-native species they found include buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris,) Kikuyu grass (Cenchrus clandestinus,) fountain grass (Cenchrus setaceus,) Natal red top (Melinis repens,) and a toxic daisy called fireweed or Madagascar ragwort (Senecio madagascariensis.)

This study involved bulldozing the land, but the reaction to this disturbance seems similar to that found after fires, they said.

“While the disturbances that we imposed differ significantly from fire, wildfire resulting from invasive grasses are increasing in Hawaiʻi,” they wrote. “Past research in Hawaiʻi shows that fire in invaded grasslands generally results in the return of the same grass species across various ecosystems including those dominated by invasive grasses…”

They conclude that active management is needed if the goal is to return alien-dominated grasslands to native-dominated ecosystems.

“If the desired management goal is native-dominated ecosystems, such stable states will likely take large inputs of time and resources to alter,” they wrote.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2024