Tonga May Have Been a Vast Seafaring Empire: Page 2

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These findings revealed that Tonga was the center of a maritime empire that goods flowed toward as tribute from distant locales. The researchers suggest these exotic artifacts may have served as status symbols among Tongan elites.

"Complex societies like the Tongan maritime chiefdom had extensive contacts with other island groups," Clark told Live Science. "The chiefdom was an important interaction hub through which ideas, goods and people could move over large distances."

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In addition, these findings could help explain puzzling discoveries seen elsewhere in Oceania.

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"It has been observed that many of the significant chiefdoms in the Pacific began to build monumental architecture around the same time as one another — 1300 to 1500 A.D. — and it's been unclear why this should be, as the societies are often separated by thousands of kilometers of ocean," Clark said. This new work suggests the formation of the Tongan state may have stimulated these widespread changes in the Pacific.

In the future, the researchers want to find and examine stone tools from before the rise of the Tongan state to understand how interactions between Tonga and other islands changed over time.

"At the moment there are few sites and no significant stone assemblages from this important period," Clark said. "We also want to know whether the high proportion of exotic tools found at the central place of the Tongan state exists at other sites in Tonga of the same age. For example, did everyone in Tonga have access to stone tools from Samoa and other places, or did the central place have a higher proportion because exotic stone tools were chiefly valuables?"

The scientists detailed their findings online July 7 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Original article on Live Science.

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