Beach erosion on a remote island in Tonga have revealed petroglyphs archaeologists say are similar to those found in Hawaii ~ 3,000 treacherous ocean miles away.
More than 50 petroglyphs were buried for centuries under several feet of sand until heavy seas exposed them late last year. The carvings were spotted by two Australian visitors who notified Tonga artist and amateur archaeologist Shane Egan, who in turn contacted archaeologist and ethnohistorian David Burley, a professor at Simon Fraser University in Canada. Burley has conducted a number of field surveys and excavations in Tonga, which is about 3,000 miles southwest of Hawaii.
"Initially I was a bit stunned, knowing the distance and difficulty of travel between the two groups of islands," Burley says. "The evidence, however, is visual and difficult to ignore or explain in ways other than direct contact."
The stick figures have open body forms, but one has a closed triangular body not identified anywhere outside of Hawaii, according to Burley. One human form appears with a headdress that is also similar to a Hawaiian form. Another image resembles a kapu stick, a tapa-covered ball on a stick carried as a sign of approaching royalty, indicating it was created by someone knowledgeable in Hawaiian cultural protocols, he said.
Because the Tonga images are carved in beach rock within a tidal zone, any sheen typical of rock art is gone, making it impossible to radiocarbon-date the petroglyphs. However, the style corresponds to Hawaiian petroglyphs dating from A.D. 1200 to A.D. 1500.
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