AbstractsEarth & Environmental Science

Holocene hunter-gatherer subsistence practices in the montane Ivane Valley of PNG: a study of ancient starch residues.

by Sindy Luu

Institution: University of New South Wales
Department: Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences
Year: 2014
Keywords: Starch grains; Archaeology; Residues; New Guinea Highlands
Record ID: 1053946
Full text PDF: http://handle.unsw.edu.au/1959.4/54111


Major cultural changes that appeared during the early to mid-Holocene (c.10,000 - 4000 years) are preserved in the archaeological record around the world. A clear understanding of the dynamics of occupation and subsistence in the New Guinea Highlands, however, has yet to be realised due to the few archaeological sites that encompass this significant period of change. The archaeological materials of one of these sites, the Ivane Valley, were investigated to provide insights on their subsistence strategies. The Ivane Valley stratigraphic sequence includes five archaeological horizons. Of particular interest is the Layer 2 record, with radiocarbon dates bracketing the sequence of 8380 - 8200 and 4410 - 4160 years cal. BP. This early to mid-Holocene record is thus contemporary with the important development of wetland exploitation and agriculture at Kuk Swamp, approximately 450km to the northwest. To document the subsistence changes associated with this cultural development, this study examined use-related residues of the Ivane Valley Layer 2 archaeological record, as it can provide insights on the use of economically important plants through time. Ancient starch residues were extracted and documented from a range of stone artefacts that were excavated from the Ivane Valley between 2005 and 2009. The results of the study provide direct evidence and new information about the exploitation of certain plants during the early to mid-Holocene in the New Guinea Highlands. A range of starchy plants were targeted, including tubers and tree nuts, specifically Castanopsis acuminatissima. Of note, an excavated stone mortar fragment was discovered to have high frequencies of C. acuminatissima starch grains preserved on its surface. Interesting contrasts emerged when the ancient starch results from the Ivane Valley were compared to the findings from Kuk Swamp and similar sites. The Ivane Valley has yielded no evidence for the targeted manipulation of the swamp or its resources. This difference suggests that prehistoric cultural developments of the Highlands may have occurred independently of each other, with limited transmission of innovations along the cordillera. The overall results of this research also provide a balance to an archaeological narrative biased towards an agricultural subsistence within the New Guinea Highlands; as the archaeological starch record of the Ivane Valley document the continued hunter-gatherer subsistence economy during the Holocene.