Cooks history found in stone tools

Thursday November 13, 2014 Written by Release Published in Culture
Team member Andrew McAlister demonstrates the XRF device being used in the National Geographic-funded study (photo by Joseph Lynch). 14111308 Team member Andrew McAlister demonstrates the XRF device being used in the National Geographic-funded study (photo by Joseph Lynch). 14111308

A team of archaeological researchers from the University of Auckland, New Zealand are now on Aitutaki hoping to learn more about Cook Island voyaging and Aitutaki’s connections with other Polynesia islands in pre-European times. 

The toki study is part of a larger research project, “The Dynamics of Polynesian Voyaging: Interaction, Agency, and Climate Change at a Cook Islands Cross‐road”, which is being funded by National Geographic Society. 

Among the most valued tools of ancient Polynesians were their toki or stone adzes. 

Before the arrival of metal, toki were used for making canoes, felling and trimming house timbers, carving work, and for clearing bush to make way for gardens. 

Although no longer used for these tasks, new research shows toki can provide valuable information on life in ancient times and oceanic voyaging before the arrival of Europeans. 

The toki study will be integrated with evidence from archaeological excavations, a computer voyaging simulation, and palaeo-climate research. 

Project leader Associate Professor Melinda (Sue) Allen explains that by using several lines of evidence our understanding of when the Cook Islands were first settled, connections with other Polynesian islands, and changes in long-distance voyaging will be improved. 

The toki study involves the use of some exciting new technology which previously was limited to laboratory settings. 

Specialist Dr. Andrew McAlister is using a portable X-Ray - Fluorescence instrument to gain information on the chemistry of toki stone in a non-destructive way.  

Results on individual toki are rapid and can be done in anyone’s living room. 

The results are compared to a database of sources of tool-quality rock from throughout the Pacific.

Matches between individual toki and natural geological sources allows the researchers to say where a given toki stone originated. 

The best rocks for toki or adzes were fine-grained basalts with few crystals, which were easy to flake without shattering or breaking. 

Past research shows that Cook Island toki were made mainly using stone from select areas of Mangaia, Rarotonga, and Aitutaki. 

The rocks of Ma’uke and Mitaro, in contrast, are too weathered for toki manufacture.   

Although there is good quality toki stone in the Cook Islands, some tools found in local archaeological excavations can be sourced to Samoa, the Society Islands, and even the Marquesas Islands which lie over 2500 km to the east. 

The most famous examples of imported toki from a Cook Island site are the Ngati Tiare collection, which is on display at the Cook Islands Library and Museum Society. These foreign tools raise many questions. 

The research team hopes that Aitutaki residents will get involved in the study and bring their family toki for testing. 

The process takes around 15 minutes and interested parties on Aitutaki can contact the team through the Aitutaki Island Council or Melinda (Sue) and team at Sunny Beach Lodge. 

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