Recent Fieldwork on Cikobia, FIJI


Christophe Sand (Service des Musées et du Patrimoine, Nouvelle-Calédonie), Frédérique Valentin (Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris) and Tarisi Sorovi-Vunidilo (Fiji Museum, Suva, Fiji)

sand@offratel.nc

fvalenti@mnhn.fr

fijimuseum@is.com.fj

This note outlines the most recent field-season on the island of Cikobia in north-east Fiji, where our team worked during September 1999. This season was mainly planned to attend to final details of a three-year joint-project undertaken by the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle (Paris), the Department of Archaeology of New Caledonia and the Fiji Museum (Suva) on two isolated Fijian Islands.

We re-excavated the early ceramic site of the Nakasaga-Naselala dune, hoping to find a more significant part of the Lapita-period deposits characterizing the first settlement. Unfortunately the test-pits did not succeed in doing so. However, we have an impressive collection of shell-beads, one complete adze in the lowest layer and a very large quantity of ceramics. As in previous other test-pits, we found a major reduction in shellfish remains after about one millennium of occupation: the small local lagoon has never completely recovered since. What is probably the most interesting discovery is a human skeleton at about 60cm depth, surrounded and partly covered by beachrock slabs, placed in a flexed position similar to the burials of Sigatoka. The burial probably dates to somewhere in the first millennium AD, in a position clearly different to that of more recent sites (see later).

The mapping of the different wall-enclosures around the Lobau swamp, the only regular source of water of the island, found that the enclosure system extends to distances far away from the swamp center. Walls are even present in the uplifted coral zones, that have no horticultural potential. Some of these structures seem to have been abandoned a long time ago, while others are still connected to the present-day soil occupation. The complexity of former land divisions and land use is clearly apparent here. The recording of oral traditions has been completed by Sepeti Matararaba. We have a set of traditions, but nothing very different from what Biggs collected in the 1970 on the same island. This seem to be the situation in a lot of places in Fiji.

It was hoped to get the authorization to excavate a burial ground, as part of the more general work on DNA and funerary traditions. This has been done this year on one of the central areas of Korotuku fort, a fortified village over 650m long, located on top of the largest hill of Cikobia. The excavation has been conducted on a set of joining burials marked on top of a mound by coral stone surroundings. In all, ten skeletons have been discovered, at a depths of between 60cm and 90cm, most of them in individual enclosures. The adult bodies where all lying on their back, some of them having their hands on their shoulders, but one woman was in a more flexed position. We did not observe any traces of decomposed mats or bark cloth, but in view of the position of the bones, the bodies had probably been wrapped in such material. The burial ground dates from the very first period of European contacts, with ornaments like trocus-shell armbands, pigs’ and sharks’ teeth and very small glass beads of European origin.

An important objective of this year was to study and partly reconstruct one of the eight fortifications discovered on this small island, only 10km long. We chose the site of Rukunikoro, located on top of an uplifted coral platform about 10m high. The site is over 60m long, with a central platform of about 40m and different lower platforms. Two weeks of intensive work enabled us to understand most of the construction structure and rebuild most of the walls, reaching highs of between 3.5m and 5.5m for the biggest parts of the structure. Some of the material found on site seems to be foreign to the island, with specially one possible West Polynesian adze. In its final stage, the site is a good example of Fijian limestone fortification and has – we hope – found a new life as a cultural visiting spot.

The field component of the Cikobia project is now finished. A first general overview has been published in French-English-Fijian for the general public in Nouméa[1]. A monograph publication should be published in a year.
[1] Cikobia-I-Ra. Archaeology of a Fijian Island. Les Cahiers de l’Archéologie en Nouvelle-Calédonie, vol. 9. Dpt Archéologie, New Caledonia Museum. BP: 2393, 98846 Nouméa, New Caledonia