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David Burley

Burley discovers birthplace of Polynesia

January 24, 2008

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Excavations by SFU archaeologist David Burley at the small fishing village of Nukuleka in the Kingdom of Tonga identify it as the earliest settlement in Polynesia. Burley and others have worked at this site previously but “last summer’s discoveries provide a 10-fold increase in the evidence establishing Nukuleka as the earliest,” he says.

The evidence lay in part in a distinctive style of decorated Lapita pottery tying the origins of the settlers to Melanesia. Radiocarbon dates for the site also place it as the earliest. Because Tonga was the first island group to be settled in Polynesia, Burley claims Nukuleka as the cradle of Polynesia. When asked how he can be certain, he says, “I have surveyed pretty much every inhabitable — and some not so inhabitable — island in Tonga, excavated 12 sites related to the Lapita period and run close to 40 radiocarbon dates — Nukuleka is truly unique.”
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