Changing Mortuary and Dietary Practices Over Time in South Vanuatu

Fredérique Valentin1, Estelle Herrscher2, Wanda Zinger3, Guy André2, Stuart Bedford4, James Flexner5, Takaronga Kuautonga6, Edson Willie6

1UMR 8068 TEMPS, CNRS, France

2UMR 7269 LAMPEA, CNRS, France

3University of Tübingen, Germany

4Australian National University, Australia

5University of Sydney, Australia

6Vanuatu Cultural Centre, Vanuatu

History of South Vanuatu starts with an early Lapita settlement at 3000 BP, followed by Polynesian contacts about 1000 years ago, and the arrival of Europeans in the region nearly 250 years ago. This presentation reports on funerary and dietary practices using a combination of mortuary and isotopic data (stable isotope ratios of carbon and nitrogen measured in collagen), as well as new 14C dates, and discusses their variations in relation to the complex history of settlement, adaptation, and interaction within and beyond the region. The earliest preserved burials on the three explored islands of Tanna, Aniwa, and Futuna date to the 1st millennium CE, with later changes and continuities of practice into the 19th Century. Early burials are present in sub-surface contexts at Aniwa, Futuna, and Tanna, with individuals, men, women, and children buried in flexed and extended positions with ornaments, in some cases showing evidence of post-depositional manipulation. More recent burials from Futuna are present in surface contexts, in some cases with an over-representation of females. Isotopic results, acquired on 24 individuals, show a lower marine protein intake in Futuna individuals over time than in Aniwa and Tanna, suggesting an influence of geographic and environmental characteristics of the islands and the availability of food resources at a local point on the populations. Diachronic comparisons within the Futuna series demonstrate a homogenization of isotope ratios for the most recent individuals, indicating a decrease in diet breadth over time without a significant change in trophic level of food groups, the significance of which in relation to the changes in burial practices and social rules will be discussed.