This research was conducted by palaeontologists Dr. Trevor Worthy and Dr. Arthur White, from the UNSW School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences. A host of archaeologists from the Australian National University also assisted in uncovering this bizarre turtle bone bed.
These land-dwelling reptiles are known as meiolaniid turtles. Fossils around millions of years old were discovered in Australia and Argentina. However, researchers have been able to understand them better by the bones found at Lord Howe Island, which are tens of thousands of years old.
“It is the first time this family of turtles has been shown to have met with humans and there are many turtle bones in the middens,” asserted Dr White. “Initial excavations in 2004 by the ANU team revealed that the first use of the site was as a cemetery and provided the first real opportunity in more than 50 years of research to describe a group of Lapita people and glean insights into their ritual and mortuary practices.”
The bones found in the graveyard belonged to land-dwelling turtles had heads adorned with multiple horn and large knobby tails. It was because of this that they could not retract back into their enormous armored shells. The species discovered at Vanuatu is said to be new for the animal world of science. The bones are found to be the most recent known remains of this unfathomable family.
The human cemetery is at Teouma situated on the south coast of Efate Island in Central Vanuatu. The burial site houses the remains of the Lapita people. These people are the foremost colonizers from eastern Polynesia and Melanesia and were famous for their decorated earthenware pottery. Previously, this place was alongside the sea however due to successive geological events, it is now around 800 meters from the coast.
Middens are the post-Lapita waste dumps, which roughly dates to 2500-2800 years ago. These may have been deposited unintentionally on top of the earlier burials, which dated back to almost 2900-3000 years ago. There were some human bodies which had been beheaded after death, with the heads placed in pots. On the other hand even turtle bodies were headless, mostly the remains consisted of animals’ haunches with some shells.
“This biased skeletal representation suggests butchering at more remote locations, perhaps inland, and transport back to the village,” commented Dr Worthy. “We are hoping the ongoing excavations will find middens from the first settlers and with them there should be more complete turtle remains.”
It is known that prior to the arrival of the humans at Teouma, a bulky stratum of volcanic debris called tephra was deposited over the site. Thus, it created a smooth surface on top of the jagged uplifted reef. 66 burials of more than 85 humans had been reported to be unearthed from their shallow graves. These graves had been dug in places where the tephra had previously sealed gaps in the reef.
Subsequently, the site might have lost its cultural significance since it was turned into a village dump on top of the graves. Villagers probably abandoned the settlement due to its distance from the sea. It showed no signs of inhabitance till a coconut plantation was established on the site around a century back.
The study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
This entry was posted on Thursday, August 19th, 2010 at 1:38 pm and is filed under Archeology / History.
These giant horned chelonians were of a very ancient breed and were functionally much the same as Ankylosaurs. Some of them even had tail-clubs. They lived in Australia during the Pleistocene and evidently colonised the islands of Melanesia by way of New Guinea. Prior to this date, their remains in Postglacial strata have been identified in some smaller islands to the south and offshore from Australia: it now seems they mustve been still fairly widespread at the time the humans entered the islands. The Lapita Ware peoples were the ancestors of the Melanesians and forerunners of the Polynesians: we are definitely talking indications of the original Lemurian (Sundaland) expansion into the area. And the way the chelonians's remains were treated-buried in human cemeteries and ceremonially beheaded even as the humans were- bespeaks a religious reverence of some sort. I would not be surprised if the early Islanders had not shipped them from island to island when they were smaller and easily transported: I would be delighted if some survived to the present day and were being reported as Cryptids.
Best Wishes, Dale D.