Tuesday, August 16, 2005

More on "Mana"


Face of ancient Fiji shows Pacific's past


Aug 11, 2005 — By Paul Tait

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Three thousand years of history came to life on Thursday when scientists unveiled the face of one of the first people to settle Fiji at the start of the colonization of the Pacific Ocean's far-flung islands.

Pacific islanders were given the first realistic glimpse of what one of their ancestors looked like after researchers from Fiji and Japan were able to construct a representation of the face of a 3,000-year-old female skeleton.

"It's not a discovery that is simply significant for Fiji, it's significant for all Pacific islands," said project leader Patrick Nunn of the University of the South Pacific (USP) in the Fijian capital, Suva.

While their discovery did not challenge accepted theories about how the Pacific was settled, the result of their work did cause some surprises because the face of the woman they have named "Mana" bore little or no resemblance to modern Fijians.

"It's more 'Gosh, look at our ancestors!'," Nunn said.

"I have a research assistant from the Philippines and the two of them side-by-side look almost identical," he told Reuters by telephone from Suva.

Tall and muscular, Mana was about 50 when she died, about 15 years older than the average islander's life span 3,000 years ago. She was probably right-handed and had given birth to at least one child.

Mana was about 164 cm (5 ft 4 in) tall, her skeleton suggested a life of strenuous physical activity and her teeth were stained dark brown, probably from chewing the roots of the kava plant.

"She was very healthy, she had a big body, she had well-developed muscles and there was no signs of bone degeneration. It was mainly only the teeth that were pretty awful," Nunn said.

Nunn and his USP team found the skeleton and pieces of distinctive pottery in the tiny settlement of Naitabale on the island of Moturiki, just to the east of Fiji's main island of Viti Levu, in 2002.

The skeleton was sent to Kyoto University's Primate Research Institute, where computer modeling was used to reconstruct Mana's face from her well-preserved skull.

Paul Kekai Manansala