Geospatial analysis of fortification locations on the island of Tongatapu, Tonga

Reepmeyer, Christian, Clark, Geoffrey, Parton, Phillip, Melekiola, Malia, and Burley, David (2022) Geospatial analysis of fortification locations on the island of Tongatapu, Tonga. In: Clark, Geoffrey, and Litster, Mirani, (eds.) Archaeological Perspectives on Conflict and Warfare in Australia and the Pacific. Terra Australis, 54 . ANU Press, Canberra, ACT, Australia, pp. 171-189.

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Recent research investigating earthwork fortifications on Tongatapu, Kingdom of Tonga, using lidar data identified numerous defensive sites on the island (Parton et al. 2018), with the antiquity of the earliest building phase dating to at least 1300 CE (Clark et al. 2018; Spennemann 1989). This corresponds well with the hypothesis that fortifications appear in the Pacific at 1300–1800 CE (Field 2008). However, it is widely held that most fortifications on Tongatapu were constructed during the civil war era, from 1799 to 1852 CE (McKern 1929; Spennemann 1986; Wood 1975). Beyond questions about the exact timing of initial fortification construction, there is considerable debate about the reasons populations need to defend their land. This debate is not limited to Tonga, as it has been suggested that environmental factors and climate shifts played a significant role in the emergence of social conflict in the Pacific in general (Field 2004; Field and Lape 2010).

The selection of natural defensive locations on islands has been reported from numerous parts of Oceania (Field 2008). Hill fort/ridgeline location is a common occurrence on well-researched island groups, such as Fiji (Best 1993) and Samoa (Golson 1969). This argument is also reflected in previous descriptions of fort construction under Tongan influence, such as Spennemann’s (1989:481, see also Best 1993) assertion that Tongans constructed a large upland fort on the island of Lakeba in east Fiji:

Tongans were actually responsible for the erection of the Ulunikoro fortification, and Best’s argument appears convincing in the light of present evidence, it is a good example to show that fortification types are predominantly governed by topographical conditions rather than by ‘cultural’ traits.

In this chapter, we report geospatial analyses of earthwork fortifications on Tongatapu (Figure 9.1). Our primary concern is the location of forts in the landscape rather than the age of defensive sites as the majority of Tongatapu forts are currently undated. In addition, we focus on enclosed/partially enclosed earthwork fortifications that are the dominant type of defensive site on Tongatapu compared with the small number of linear earthworks (Parton et al. 2018). Tongatapu is a low-lying limestone island with few natural defences. There are no steep escarpments on the lagoon side of the island, and few inland high points or vertical ridges.

Item ID: 72991
Item Type: Book Chapter (Research - B1)
ISSN: 9781760464882
Copyright Information: This title is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).
Date Deposited: 13 Jun 2022 01:49
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