Concerning the lack of salt industry in pre-European New Zealand and other tales from Polynesia and the region

Concerning the lack of salt industry in pre-European New Zealand and other tales from Polynesia and the region.
By:  Eben van Tonder
8 July 2008

Introduction

Salt was “critical to the development of all complex societies, making its production significant to research on ancient society.”  (Flad, et al.; 2005)  There is no question about it.  A transition from hunter-gatherer to an agriculture based society; population pressure; movements away from the sea to the interior; all these are directly related to the specific extraction and mining of salt.    Reasons behind this lie in the utilitarian value of salt.  What is it good for.  Secondary reasons exist such as its value as a form of currency that could easily be weighed, packed, transported and stored for indefinate time periods.  Flad states that “its physiology role in human and mammalian biology, its cultural significance, its role as dietary supplements, its function as meat preservative, its key function of facilitating trade either as a form of currency or as a key bartering commodity, thus facilitating population growth, and its importance as markers for ethnicity and class in culinary traditions.”  (Flad, et al.; 2005)  They correctly make the bold assertion that “no states are known to have developed without stable access to salt.”  (Flad, et al.; 2005)

There are other functions of salt many researchers miss due to a narrow focus on sodium chloride as salt.  Of course, this is not warranted because this is not how salt occurs in nature.  Salt, as a combination of an acid and a base, exist in many forms.  Some of the most famous from antiquity are sodium chloride, potassium, calcium or sodium nitrate, ammonium chloride, magnesium sulfate and sodium bicarbonate.  It also occurs in combination with a wide variety of minerals and other chemical elements.

Unraveling the different salts and the ability to separate them is the story of the development of modern chemistry and modern technology itself.  The technical underpinnings for a culture to advance in terms of glassworks, and different metals such as iron depended on their understanding of different salts and how to separate and refine.  More than that, it is an understanding of salt that ushered in the age of gunpowder and brought with it the enormous benefit in terms of a nations military capability.  Not just were advances in technology related to salt the key to a nations military power, but it also became the basis of modern agriculture in the various nitrate salts, ammonium, and ammonia.  Understanding its value even reach back to the start of animal husbandry without it, this development would not have succeeded.  It is therefore not an overstatement to say that no culture could ever achieve full independence or mastery over its own future without a better understanding of salt.  Without it, there would have remained unsurmountable obstacles in its ability to manipulate the forces of nature for the common good and for its own independence.

It is for this reason that I was completely taken by surprise when I discovered that salt is absent from Māori culture and customs.  Here I first try and understand who were the Polynesians who populated New Zealand and what we can learn about the knowledge of salt and salt extraction technology in the broader region.  What did the Polynesian settlers of NBew Zealand know about salt and since when did they know it?  I discovered that the same reason why chickens did not survive the initial colonialisation of New Zealand by Polynesians, is the same reason why they did not mine or refine salt, at least from salt water.  How true this statement is will become clear soon.

The complete absence of salt sources.

When considering salt in New Zealand, the first fact to understand is that there is no rock salt and no salt marshes on either of the two islands.  There is no record of salt ever being extracted, refined or traded in any pre-European time in New Zealand history.  This fact seems remarkable in light of the sophistication of Māori culture.  The fact that they are surrounded by sea means that they had an easy access to salt sources, right from the start.  Let’s look at the general Polynesian culture and others who influenced the region with their customs and technology.

Who are the Polynesians?

First, we need to define what area we are talking about when we refer to Polynesia.  “Polynesia is … the islands found roughly in a triangle formed by Hawaii, Aotearoa-New Zealand and Easter Island (Rapa Nui).”  (Matisoo-Smith, L. and Denny, M.;2010)

polynesia
The Islands of Polynesia (from Matisoo-Smith, L. and Denny, M.;2010)

Now we can start looking at the neighborhood in which Polynesia is located. We begin by looking at human migration globally before we focus in on Polynesia and its neighborhood.  Which were the original homelands of the people of Polynesia that would have impacted on their culture and technology?

Out of Africa

Let us remind ourselves of the current thinking of human migration through the ages to put the Polynesian migration into context.  Many of my friends will take issue with the model presented below, but it will at least open the discussion.

out of africa
The dispersal of anatomically modern humans out of Africa.  (Graph from Matisoo-Smith, L. and Denny, M.;2010)

Current data seems to indicate “a migration of anatomically modern humans out of Africa around 150,000 – 100,000 BP (Years Before Present), moving east towards Asia and north into Europe.  Part of this migration reached South-East Asia by 60,000 BP.  Populations of these stone-age hunter-gatherers then expanded from Southeast Asia into the Pacific through New Guinea to Australia and the Bismarck Archipelago by about 45,000 BP.  Once in Southeast Asia and Australia, the movement of humans into new areas stopped for nearly 30,000 years.  A later wave of expansion out into the rest of the Pacific took place began around 3,500 BP.  In this migration, the people went east to Samoa and Tonga and from there north to Hawaii, further east to Easter Island and south to New Zealand.  This was the last major human migration event.”  (Matisoo-Smith, L. and Denny, M.;2010)

New look at likely migration patterns into Polynesia

Where did the Polynesians come from, genetically and what cultural influences did they have?  How dynamic was the interaction between the different Polynesian communities which will give us an indication of the dynamics in cross-cultural exchanges?  These are important questions since answering them will allow us to hone in on the right culture, at the right time in an attempt to verify the assumption that salt and its production methods were thoroughly entrenched into Polynesians culture.  At least by the time when New Zealand was colonised.

Cultural and linguistic analysis identified the Polynesian’s to have originated from Taiwan around 4000 years ago.  Recent studies rely on the insight from the more reliable genetic code of current occupants of these lands as well as coding from Polynesian rats, dogs, and chickens and contradict this theory.

Two studies are of interest to us.  The first is work (see Note 1) conducted by Lisa Matisoo-Smith,  Professor of Biological Anthropology at the University of Otago and Principal Investigator in the Allan Wilson Centre. Her research focuses on identifying the origins of Pacific peoples and the plants and animals that traveled with them, in order to better understand the settlement, history, and prehistory of the Pacific and New Zealand. Her research utilises both ancient and modern DNA methods to answer a range of anthropological questions regarding population histories, dispersals, and interactions.  I rely on lecture notes published.

“Her work led her and her coworkers to suggest a new model for Polynesian origins, based on an existing framework for Lapita origins suggested by Roger Green in 1991.  The first human settlers of Remote Oceania are associated with the Lapita culture, which first appeared in the Bismarck Archipelago in Near Oceania around 3500 BP. (An archipelago is a chain or cluster of islands formed from volcanic activity).”(Matisoo-Smith, L. and Denny, M.;2010)

“The Lapita culture is named after the distinctive patterned pottery, which was first found at a site called Lapita in New Caledonia. Anthropologists are very interested in who the Lapita people were and what role they played in the settlement of the Pacific.” (Matisoo-Smith, L. and Denny, M.;2010)

“Remnants of Lapita pottery are now found throughout many areas of Remote Oceania, which suggests that the Lapita people were the first to settle this area. The age of the pottery remains found in each area supports the idea that this settlement spread from west to east from Melanesia into Polynesia.” (Matisoo-Smith, L. and Denny, M.;2010)

“Evidence such as this suggests that the Lapita people are the ancestors of modern Pacific peoples, but questions remain about whether there could also have been contributions from other populations from Asia and Micronesia at later times.”   (Matisoo-Smith, L. and Denny, M.;2010)

Here are the key ideas of the new model for Polynesian origins developed by Lisa and her colleagues, based on an existing framework for Lapita origins suggested by Roger Green in 1991:

1. The Lapita colonists in West Polynesia and the rest of Remote Oceania look very much like the current indigenous populations of Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and western Fiji.
2. Around 1500 BP a new population arrived in Western Polynesia with new and more typically Asian derived physical characteristics, and mtDNA lineages.
3. These new people also introduced new mtDNA lineages of commensal rats, dogs, and chickens.
4. There were intense and complex interactions with the existing Lapita-descended populations as they spread over West Polynesia.
5. This resulted in the formation of the Ancestral Polynesian culture, who then dispersed east, and north into the rest of Polynesia.

This possible scenario is shown in the figure below. The grey arrows show the initial Lapita expansion through Near Oceania and into Remote Oceania. The dotted arrows show the proposed arrival of new population (or populations) from Asia into West Polynesia. The black arrows show the settlement of East Polynesia and a back migration into Melanesia.

Population migration in Polynesia
A new model for the origins of Polynesians
From: Addison, D. J., & Matisoo-Smith, E. (2010)

Secondly, I looked at a 2011 study by Soares, et al. (see, Note 2), which proposes an East Indonesian origin for Polynesian migration.  They talk about a  ‘‘Polynesian motif’’ which they focused on in their research.   The “motif” comprise a clade of mtDNA lineages that together account for >90% of Polynesian mtDNAs.  Soares, et al. states that “for the last 15 years, it has been recognized that the age and distribution of this clade are key to resolving the issue of the peopling of Polynesia.”

They explain that “by analyzing 157 complete mtDNA genomes, they show that the motif itself most likely originated more than 6000 years ago (>6 ka) in the vicinity of the Bismarck Archipelago, [off the northeastern coast of New Guinea] and its immediate ancestor is older than 8000 years (>8 ka) and virtually restricted to Near Oceania (includes New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, Bougainville, and the Solomon Islands). This indicates that Polynesian maternal lineages from Island Southeast Asia (Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysian Borneo) gained a foothold in Near Oceania much earlier than dispersal from either Taiwan or Indonesia between 3000 and 4000 years ago (3–4 ka) would predict.

china, australia, etc.
Map Showing China, Taiwan, MSEA, ISEA, Near Oceania,
and Remote Oceania

Their work shows that there was a spread back through New Guinea into ISEA, which most likely took place approximately between 4000 and 5000 years ago (~4–5 ka).  A more plausible backdrop of the settlement of the Remote Pacific is a model based on the idea of a ‘‘voyaging corridor,’’ facilitating exchange between ISEA and Near Oceania (see map above).

The work further suggests “a convergence of archaeological and genetic evidence, as well as concordance between different lines of genetic evidence.”  The authors state that their “results imply an early to mid-Holocene Near Oceanic ancestry for the Polynesian peoples, likely fertilized by small numbers of socially dominant Austronesian-speaking voyagers from ISEA in the Lapita formative period, approximately 3500 years ago (~3.5 ka)”. They claim that their “work can therefore also pave the way for new accounts of the spread of Austronesian languages.”

Now that we have a clearer understanding of the likely migration patterns and regional cultures that influenced the New Zealand Islands, we can look at salt production from the immediate cultural influence sphere to New Zealand.  Our first subject is China and this is not an unwarranted staring place.  Note the conclusions summarised in the 2010 lecture notes of Matisoo-Smith, L., and Denny, M. that around 1500 BP a new population arrived in Western Polynesia with new and more typically Asian derived physical characteristics, and mtDNA lineages.  A strong link with China exist not only genetically, but also culturally.  China, as probably the most advanced society from antiquity would have wielded an unavoidable influence on the region from the very start,

Salt production in China

During the imperial era of China between the third century B.C.E. to the early twentieth century A.D., we find that salt and iron monopolies in China often provided the bulk of the state revenue.  “Historical accounts even suggest that inland salt sources may have played an important role in the unification of China by Qin in 221 B.C.E.. (Flad, et al.; 2005)

Flad, et al. (2005) demonstrated, using the latest research technology, that “salt production was the most significant activity at Zhongba during the first millennium B.C. E.”  (Flad, et al.; 2005)  Zhongba is located in the Zhong Xian County, Chongqing Municipality, approximately 200 km down-river along the Yangzi from Chongqing City in central China.

They furthermore conclude that “the homogeneity of the ceramic assemblage during Phases I and II suggests that salt production may already have been significant in this area throughout the second millennium B.C. The Zhongba data represent the oldest confirmed example of pottery-based salt production yet found in China. The first millennium B.C. dates alone confirm that salt production was established long before the Qin expansion into Sichuan in 316 B.C.”  (Flad, et al.; 2005)

“In southern China, salt from Zhongba was a vital component in the complex process of state formation. For example, the specialized production of surpluses of salt, and possibly salted products, and the trade of these commodities to regions outside the Three Gorges (three adjacent gorges along the middle reaches of the Yangtze River, in the hinterland of the People’s Republic of China) stimulated contacts between the upper and middle reaches of the Yangzi River. As coastal and inland lake-salt sources provided this crucial resource to emerging states in the Central Plains and Eastern China during their formative periods in the late second and early first millennium B.C., so, too, did the salt sources in the Sichuan Basin provide this dietary supplement, preserving agent, and industrial component to the emerging polities in the south. Although the Three Gorges remained a relatively peripheral area into the first millennium B.C., the establishment of trade networks based in large part on the exchange of surplus salt brought some elite practices into the region and stimulated the emergence of social differentiation in the area as elites in nearby polities such as Chu engaged in gift-giving and related practices in attempts to create ever-larger networks of political influence. At the same time, salt from the Three Gorges facilitated the development of more complex economic systems in these same nearby polities by providing a resource that was unavailable elsewhere in the middle reaches of the Yangzi River drainage. Eventually, salt became crucial to the provisioning of armies by expansive states such as Qin and Chu, polities that controlled areas adjacent to the Three Gorges region, and the existing networks of salt exchange became catalysts to the incorporation of this area into a unified Chinese empire.”   (Flad, et al.; 2005)

 So, if we push the history of large-scale salt production in China back to the second millennium B.C.E. and we recognise the key importance of its trade in the region into the 20th century A.D., a picture emerges whereby salt was traded very likely into Polynesia, probably from some time after the 2nd millennium B.C.E., but definitely in the time of the Christian Era which is important to us since it seems that New Zealand was colonised by the Polynesians, around 700 years ago.  The probability that salt, at this time, did not play a hugely important role in Polynesian culture is very unlikely and the first colonists of New Zealand would have been familiar with both salt itself and ancient production methods.

Salt production in Fiji

Solar-evaporation salt-works has been located on the Sigatoka Sand Dunes on the island of Viti Levu. Fiji.  Here seawater was used “on large flanged clay dishes. This short-lived industry of the seventh century AD disappeared beneath the dunes, but its documented nineteenth- and twentieth-century successors offer it many useful analogies: the salt, now extracted by boiling brine, was supplied to inland communities upriver, where it functioned as a prime commodity for prestige and trade and an agent of social change.”  (Salt Production at a Post-Lapita Village reporting on Burley, D. V.; 2011)

“The solar production site is dated to between 2100-900 years ago (BP), with cultural characteristics thought to have been influenced by contact with Vanuatu and New Caledonia.”  (Salt Production at a Post-Lapita Village reporting on Burley, D. V.; 2011)

This is very significant since it utilizes seawater to produce salt.  The late date is however of great interest and is dated just before the Polynesian colonization of New Zealand around 1300 A.D..

Williams, T. (1858) reports on salt from inland sources in Fiji.  I assume these were very old sites.  He also mentions salt regularly as items of trade which leads me to speculate that salt was part of Fijian society for a long time by 1858 when he wrote.  Salt was, without doubt, part and parcel of Fijian culture by the time New Zealand was colonised by Polynesians.  

Use of salt on Samoa

In Samoa, my attention is drawn, not to salt production but to an ancient reference to salt from one of their legends.  In a variety of the legend of Sina and the eel, Sina’s mother went down to the sea to draw salt water for cooking.  This is, in my opinion, probably one of the oldest forms of the use of salt and one that I am sure must have been known by all coastal dwellers.  From such natural liquid brines, I suspect, salt as a condiment and salt for preservation developed.  (Andersen, J. C.; 1928:  251)

Salt in New Guinea

One of the areas in Polynesia with the richest history of salt is undoubtedly New Guinea.  A method used is burning salted plants and collecting the salt grains from the ashes and charcoal.  Here, in “Papua (western part of New Guinea, Indonesia), the Western Dani conduct expeditions and live in temporary habitations built near (salt) springs, where they would work to produce large and hard salt cakes.  After an agreement with the landowners (the Moni), who will furnish the necessary food against shells, fineries, pigs or axes, men will look in the forest for necessary raw material:  young stems of porous edible plants (Elastostema macrophylla Brogn. from Urticaceae family)  and trunks of peculiar trees which produce scant ashes and large charcoal after burning.  After cleaning the spring pool, and reinforce the dam to prevent the inflow of fresh water from the nearby river, plants are soaked for more than a day and a night.  While the plants are soaking in salty water, men go and collect vegetal material (leaves, bark, and rattan) to pack the salt, and clean the flat terrace in front of the houses, in order to install the woodpile where salted plant will be burnt.

Plants are taken out of the pool, and put together near the woodpile during the following night, after the night rains.  The slow and controlled combustion of the plants lasts for seven hours.   The flames are blown-out with brine.  In the early morning, during long hours, from amongst the ashes and charcoal, men will carefully sort out the little salt concentrations in the shape of the hollows of the plants.  Collected in a great wooden plate, these concentrations are piled and riddled with a portage net, and the charcoal rejected down the terrace.

The salt and ashes are powder are placed on long pandanus leaves in a rectangular frame limited with thin little boards held vertically with little pegs.  Mixed with brine, the paste is compressed and packed down in the mould before the leaves are folded.  The salt cakes will be carefully dripped and dried during the more than a week above the fireplace until it becomes a hard and compact “stone salt”, resistant to dampness and long-distance transport.

The obtained salt is a light-gray product, rich in sodium chloride and having very few impurities.  New Guinea had a sophisticated form of salt extraction.

Salt in Vanuatu

Vanuatu is a South Pacific Ocean nation made up of roughly 80 islands.  “Archaeological evidence supports the theory that people speaking Austronesian languages first came to the islands about 3,300 years ago”.  (Bedford, et al, 2008) “Pottery fragments have been found dating to 1300–1100 BC.”  Here, the Sago Palm (Metroxylon) has been used as a source of salt from antiquity.

Jean-Michel Dupuyoo (2007) writes that “Sago palms of the genus Metroxylon, is a potential source of salt; or more accurately, vegetable salt. Certain parts of the plant, mainly leaves and petioles, produce ashes rich in salt, which is separated from the ash with water. This saline solution is then used both for seasoning food and the preparation of sauces. Some traditional societies in the center of Espiritu Santo still use these ashes.”  “Some other species, such as banana trees (Musa spp.) and tree ferns (Cyathea spp.) are also used in the extraction of vegetable salt.”  (Dupuyoo, 2007)

Dupuyoo then makes a startling revelation.  He writes, “according to my correspondents, this practice was at one time their only method of obtaining salt, as access to the sea was often forbidden in times of local warfare.” (Dupuyoo, 2007)  This correlates to the practice eluded to the Samoan legend of Sina of boiling food in seawater to obtain the salt.  It is something I have long suspected as the first addition of salt to food and the origins of discovering its preserving power as meat was often stored in water in ancient times as one of the earliest forms of preservation.

This raises an interesting observation.  From my studies of the diets of ancient people from southern Africa, I discovered that a vegetarian diet from the vegetation in this region will not supply you with the necessary daily sodium requirement.  This, however, only applies to certain plants, nuts, berries, and fruits.  Some of them are high in sodium and they are endemic to certain places in the world where it will then be possible to maintain an adequate sodium intake without the consumption of any meat or milk.

Healthline reports that “we should aim for less than 1500 mg of sodium per day, and definitely not more than 2300 mg.  Keep in mind that salt contains both sodium and chloride. Only 40% of the weight of salt consists of sodium, so you can actually eat 2.5 times more salt than sodium.  1500 mg of sodium amounts to 0.75 teaspoons or 3.75 grams of salt per day, while 2300 mg amounts to one teaspoon or 6 grams of salt per day.”

“According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a mammy apple contains the most sodium per serving. One of these large round tropical fruits contains 127 milligrams of sodium.”  If we consume 11 of these apples, per day, we will take sufficient sodium in.  “Guavas and passion fruit are the only other fruits in the raw form that contain 50 milligrams of sodium or more per serving.”  This means we have to eat at least 30 per day to get enough sodium.

One of the leading anthropologists on this region is undoubtedly Joël Bonnemaison whose work stretch from 1960 until his untimely death in 1997. In his work, he covered the archipelago and regional groupings and identities in Maewo, Ambae and, Pentecost in the north, in central Vanuatu, and especially in his classic study of Tanna society.  He lists salt and fish as two of the commodities traded between coastal and inland communities which existed pre-European contact.  (Haberkorn, G., 1992, quoting Bonnemaison)

Salt was undoubtedly part of popular culture in Vanuatu presumably long before the August 1774 contact with Europeans.

Salt in Taiwan

Like New Zealand, no rock salt deposits exist in Taiwan.  Yet, a stela with the inscriptions made by a Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368) official, bearing instructions for the construction of salt fields in Wuzhou, Kinmen was found in Taiwu Mountain in Kinmen.  (atc.archives.gov.tw/salt)

There are records of Europeans, Chinese and Japanese coming to Taiwan as early as the second half of the 16th century, for either transferring commodities to the third countries or for trading with the Taiwanese aborigines with agate, cloth, salt, copper, etc. for buckskin (Nakayama, 1959, 24-25).  The method of production was presumably based on boiling sea water until salt only is left.  This assumption is from the fact that “in the mid-seventeenth century, Cheng Cheng-kung, or Koxinga as he is commonly known, retreated to Taiwan after the fall of the Ming dynasty (around 1644). Chen Yung-hua, one of his generals, disliked the taste of decocted salt which is produced by boiling sea water until nothing is left but a salt residue. Instead, he preferred salt produced using the solar evaporation method. In 1665 he had salt pans constructed at today’s Laikou, located in Tainan County in southern Taiwan.”  (Taiwan Today, 1991)

“During the Ching dynasty, six more saltworks were developed. When Liu Ming-chuan was governor of Taiwan in the late nineteenth century, he also served as salt supervisor for the province and established a government salt bureau in Taipei, with a branch in Tainan. Despite his bureaucratic innovations, the island was only able to produce 25,000 tons of salt annually, not enough for local consumption, so additional amounts were imported from the mainland.”  (Taiwan Today, 1991)

In the 17th century, there are references from literature that Taiwan barter traded goods like sulfur, deer hides, and gold for salt, fabrics, and iron with the outside world.  (HuangFusan; 2005)  This is consistent with the fact that local salt production was too low to supply the local demand.

Conclusions about the Lack of Salt Production in New Zealand

Implications to the NZ question from lessons learned in Fiji:

Important conclusions can be made based on an analysis of the salt production site in Fiji.  Burley, et al. (2010) drew parallels between population growth and the establishment of the salt processing site in Fiji.  A large population requires such specialization and large salt production is a  logical step for large population growth.  Unlike in Fiji, it is unlikely that the Māori population ever reached the numbers that would necessitate salt production.  Seafood was sufficiently available in New Zealand for the numbers of mostly coastal dwelling Māori’s.  The abundant seafood and other meat would have been such a good source of salt that nothing else would have been required.  Examples from Africa shows that people who relied on meat had no need for salt and in reality showed little interest in its production.  Salt production then seems to be a function of access to meat, relative proximity to the coast and population size.

Burley et al. (2010) also report on a well-established trade network in Fiji.  They write that the “Sigatoka River continued to provide a principal corridor into interior highland communities, and is later well-documented as a route for coastal/interior trade. Historical references by Tonganivalu (1917: 9) and Williams (1858:94) specifically highlight salt as a component of this exchange, leading Tanner (1996: 234) to claim salt as a resource both prized and essential.”  I have to investigate but doubt if such well-established trade corridors ever existed in New Zealand due to the young nature of the population.  

Implications to the NZ question from lessons learned in Samoa:

The mention of cooking food in salt seawater from the legend of Sina and the eel in Somoa leads me to suspect that it was practiced by all ocean dwelling communities, including the Māori.  Why would it not have been if it was known and practiced since antiquity?  Its mention from the Samoan legend strengthened my suspicion of this ancient nature of this practice and the likelihood that the Māori was well aware of salt and its properties and chose not to mine salt from the ocean, rather than being ignorant of salinity or the technology of mining salt.

Implications to the NZ question from lessons learned in Vanuatu:

Like in Samoa, food was boiled in salt water.

Implications to the NZ question from lessons learned in Taiwan

The boiling off of salt crystals would be associated with the formation of inland communities and seems to have been a progression of the “boil meat in seawater” practice.  Since no large inland Māori community ever developed, the need never arose to create salt that is tradable to such inland communities.

Conclusion

The preeminence of China in shaping salt extraction technology cannot be doubted.  Salt production by boiling seawater must be ancient in Taiwan, the rest of the region and indeed, around the world.  The references of it in Polynesia and Asia offers a suggested progression from the boiling of food in seawater.  From our look at ancient fermentation and meat storage before fire and cooking became part of food preparation, sea water (any salt water for that matter) would have been particularly effective for long-term meat storage.  As fire became widely used for meal preparation, it would have been natural to boil the meat in the exact liquid (sea/ salt water) it has been stored in very successfully for millennia.  (How did Ancient Humans Preserve Food?)

It would have added to the foods taste and probably the primary reason being preservation.  The data from Fiji shows that population size, even located by the sea, is a key function of the development of salt extraction technology.  Inland communities had the added problem by its removal from seawater.

It would be my guess that migrants from Taiwan would have spread their technology throughout the lands of Polynesia. The boiling off of water to leave only the salt crystals would be associated with an increased population even by the sea and the formation of inland communities.  Every evaluation of salt on the islands which we considered supports this.  China would undoubtedly have been a key driver in the region in progressing salt extraction technology with Pappa New Guinea playing a large role with its own unique approach.  Solar evaporation of seawater, extracting salt through plant material and burning plants, naturally high in salt are a few of the developments from the region, which all presumably have their roots in the practice of simply boiling seawater; in turn, this was probably a progression of the practice of cooking food in seawater; which, in turn had its roots in storing meat in saline solutions; which had its roots in simply immersing carcasses in bodies of water for storage.  When we are at this point, we are clearly at the very early age of the existence of anatomically modern humans.

In a discussion with a curator from the Canterbury Museum about the matter of salt production and trade being absent from New Zealand ancient history, he drew my attention to the interesting practice of the Maori to slow boil large quantities of shellfish.  Had they not done so, it would not have been possible to consume large quantities at a time.  There seems to be evidence that they did, in fact, consume large quantities of this at a time.   It supports the notion that they knew about salt.  They probably knew at least some of the techniques of extracting it, but the local population never developed to the point where this was ever necessary.  They definitely knew to remove some of the salt from shellfish before consuming it.  (They have a word for salt which shows that they definitely knew about its taste).

Here the reference to the chickens becomes relevant.  The Polynesian who populated New Zealand brought with them the Polynesian rats, hiding in the canoes, the Polynesian dog, and chickens.  Chickens did not survive very long.  The reason is simple.  Nine species of large, flightless birds known as moas (Dinornithiformes) thrived in New Zealand when humans arrived.  Some of them weighed over 200kg.  Why bother with chickens if you have these kinds of ready meals available all around you?  The Moa went extinct around 600 years ago and coincides with the arrival of the first humans.

The need for the Maori for extracting salt and trading it would have been the same.  I doubt that they did not know at least some of the techniques for extracting salt from seawater, but why do it if there is no reason.  Salt production is absent from pre-European times, not due to a lack of knowledge, but probably due to a lack of environmental pressure to engage in it.

I must still investigate the use of salt in Hawaii, Australia, India and the rest of Polynesia to complete this work.  The full spectrum of every extraction technique used in China and Japan must be understood and listed and the likely mechanisms of influence in New Guinea must be analysed.  I do however believe we have enough here to start drawing these firm conclusions.

Implications about the origin of nitrite/ nitrate curing

This study of salt also brings me back to my work on nitrite/ nitrate curing which has been a major focus for me over many years.  While people living in desert areas would have discovered that certain salts have the ability to change the colour of meat from brown, back to pinkish/ reddish, along with increased preservation power and a slightly distinct taste, it is certainly true that coastal dwellers would have observed the same.  They would have noticed that sea salt or bay salt have the same ability.

Dr. Francois Mellett, a renown South African food scientist, sent me the following very interesting theory about the earliest discovery of the curing process in a private communication between us on the matter.  He wrote, “I have a theory that curing started even earlier by early seafarers: when a protein is placed in seawater, the surface amino acids are de-aminated to form nitrite for a period of 4 to 6 weeks. Nitrite is then converted to nitrate over the next 4 weeks. Finally, ammonia and ammoniac are formed from nitrate. It is possible that they preserved meat in seawater barrels and that the whole process of curing was discovered accidentally.”

I think he is on the right track.  I suspect that people discovered this even long before barrels were invented. The use of seawater for meat storage and further preparation was so widespread that it would have been impossible not to have noticed meat curing taking place.  If it is generally true that earliest humans first settled around coastal locations before migrating inland, it could push the discovery of curing many thousands of years earlier than we ever imagined, to a time when modern humans started spreading around the globe.  When did it develop into an art or a trade is another question altogether, but I think we can safely push the time when it was noticed back to the earliest cognitive and cultured humans whom we would have recognized as thinking “like us” if we could travel back in time and meet them.  I think the question of recognition in different regions we can safely put at the time when these areas were populated.  The story of salt and meat curing is truly a story as old as cognitive and cultured humanity itself.

The journey remains fascinating!

Notes.

1. Extracts from the Matisoo-Smith, L. and Denny, M. (2010) lecture notes.

Likely migration patters into Polynesia

“When looking at human settlement of the Pacific, anthropologists divide the Pacific into two regions namely Near Oceania, which was settled by humans by 30,000 BP and remote Oceania, which was not settled until around 3000 BP.” (Matisoo-Smith, L. and Denny, M.;2010)

Near and Remote Oceania
Near and Remote Oceania (from Matisoo-Smith, L. and Denny, M.;2010)

“The first human settlers of Remote Oceania are associated with the Lapita culture, which first appeared in the Bismarck Archipelago in Near Oceania around 3500 BP. (An archipelago is a chain or cluster of islands formed from volcanic activity).”(Matisoo-Smith, L. and Denny, M.;2010)

“The Lapita culture is named after the distinctive patterned pottery, which was first found at a site called Lapita in New Caledonia. Anthropologists are very interested in who the Lapita people were and what role they played in the settlement of the Pacific.” (Matisoo-Smith, L. and Denny, M.;2010)

“Remnants of Lapita pottery are now found throughout many areas of Remote Oceania, which suggests that the Lapita people were the first to settle this area. The age of the pottery remains found in each area supports the idea that this settlement spread from west to east from Melanesia into Polynesia.” (Matisoo-Smith, L. and Denny, M.;2010)

“Evidence such as this suggests that the Lapita people are the ancestors of modern Pacific peoples, but questions remain about whether there could also have been contributions from other populations from Asia and Micronesia at later times.”   (Matisoo-Smith, L. and Denny, M.;2010)

The first study of Matisoo-Smith and Denny (2010) “looked at the variation in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of living populations of Pacific rats from islands around the Pacific. mtDNA is inherited only from the mother, therefore there is no mixing with the father’s DNA or recombination during meiosis. This means that differences in the mtDNA due to mutation can be traced back through the generations. Scientists use the variation in the mtDNA to work out the relationships between different populations.”  (Matisoo-Smith, L. and Denny, M.;2010)

“The results of this study suggested that it is highly likely that there were multiple introductions of the Pacific rat to the Pacific Islands. This raised the question, “did these introductions all occur at the same time or at different times?” If they were at different times then this suggests that another group of people migrated into the Pacific sometime after the Lapita people.”  (Matisoo-Smith, L. and Denny, M.;2010)

“This question cannot be answered by studying modern mtDNA, as variation in modern mtDNA only shows different origins,—it doesn’t show the timing. Ancient DNA, however, could be used to answer this question. Ancient DNA is any DNA extracted from tissues such as bone that are not fresh or preserved for DNA extraction later. When an organism dies, the DNA molecules immediately start to break down, which makes it difficult to extract good quality DNA for analysis. The hot and wet environment found in most of the Pacific makes it just about the worst area for DNA preservation. Despite this Lisa and other Allan Wilson Centre researchers have been able to obtain DNA from Pacific samples as old as 3000—4000 years.”  (Matisoo-Smith, L. and Denny, M.;2010)

“If the age of the remains is known then the likely date of the introduction of new genetic material can be estimated. The team next investigated ancient DNA from the remains of Kiore (Pacific rat) found in different archaeological sites around the Pacific looking for patterns in the haplotypes in mtDNA. A haplotype is a combination of alleles that are located closely together.

Lisa found three distinct groups of haplotypes, – shown as Groups I, II and III in Figure 7.

Polynesian rat distribution
Distribution of the three groups of Pacific Rat haplotypes in Near and Remote Oceania.
From: Matisoo-Smith, E., & Robins, J. H. (2004)

“Three clearly different haplotypes (or genetic groups) is an indication that these populations of rats are likely to have quite different ancestral origins.  Group III does not fit the expected pattern. It shows no genetic link with the haplotypes found in Near Oceania. This suggests that this haplotype may be the result of a later introduction of the Pacific Rat into Polynesia sometime after the Lapita introduction.”  (Matisoo-Smith, L. and Denny, M.;2010)

“To test this hypothesis Lisa and her team carried out similar studies of variation in both modern and ancient mtDNA in pigs and chickens. In both of these animals the results showed there are introductions that are consistent in geographic distribution and time of appearance in the archaeological record with a Lapita introduction. But other mtDNA studies on dogs of the Pacific, plus the rat and chicken data all indicate a second introduction. This suggests a second population migration out of Asia sometime after 2000 BP.”  (Matisoo-Smith, L. and Denny, M.;2010)

“These results have led Lisa and her colleagues to suggest a new model for Polynesian origins. It is based on an existing framework for Lapita origins suggested by Roger Green in 1991. Here are the key ideas:

1. The Lapita colonists in West Polynesia and the rest of Remote Oceania look very much like the current indigenous populations of Vanuatu, New Caledonia and western Fiji

2. Around 1500 BP a new population arrived in Western Polynesia with new and more typically Asian derived physical characteristics, and mtDNA lineages.

3. These new people also introduced new mtDNA lineages of commensal rats, dogs and chickens.

4. There was intense and complex interactions with the existing Lapita-descended populations as they spread over West Polynesia.

5. This resulted in the formation of the Ancestral Polynesian culture, who then dispersed east, and north into the rest of Polynesia.

This possible scenario is shown in the figure below. The grey arrows show the initial Lapita expansion through Near Oceania and into Remote Oceania. The dotted arrows show the proposed arrival of new population (or populations) from Asia into West Polynesia. The black arrows show the settlement of East Polynesia and a back migration into Melanesia.

Population migration in Polynesia
A new model for the origins of Polynesians
From: Addison, D. J., & Matisoo-Smith, E. (2010)

2.  Extracts from a 2011 study by Soares, et al., proposing an East Indonesian origin for Polynesia and discounting the “Out of Taiwone model

A 2011 study by Soares, et al., proposes an East Indonesian origin.  They talk about a  ‘‘Polynesian motif.’’   The “motif” and its descendants comprise a clade of mtDNA lineages that together account for >90% of Polynesian mtDNAs.  Soares, et al. states that “for the last 15 years, it has been recognized that the age and distribution of this clade are key to resolving the issue of the peopling of Polynesia.”

They explain that “by analyzing 157 complete mtDNA genomes, they show that the motif itself most likely originated more than 6000 years ago (>6 ka) in the vicinity of the Bismarck Archipelago, [off the northeastern coast of New Guinea] and its immediate ancestor is older than 8000 years (>8 ka) and virtually restricted to Near Oceania (includes New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, Bougainville, and the Solomon Islands). This indicates that Polynesian maternal lineages from Island Southeast Asia (Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysian Borneo) gained a foothold in Near Oceania much earlier than dispersal from either Taiwan or Indonesia between 3000 and 4000 years ago (3–4 ka) would predict.

china, australia, etc.
Map Showing China, Taiwan, MSEA, ISEA, Near Oceania,
and Remote Oceania

Their work shows that there was a spread back through New Guinea into ISEA, which most likely took place approximately between 4000 and 5000 years ago (~4–5 ka).  A more plausible backdrop of the settlement of the Remote Pacific is a model based on the idea of a ‘‘voyaging corridor,’’ facilitating exchange between ISEA and Near Oceania (see map above).

How did the cultural markers and the linguistic similarities between these regions and that of Taiwan develop?  Soares, et al. suggests that there is evidence of further small-scale bidirectional movements across this region when Austronesian-speaking voyagers integrated with coastal-dwelling groups in the Bismarcks, perhaps stimulating the rise and spread of the Lapita culture and the dispersal of the Oceanic languages.  “Other lineages from Southeast Asia are also found at low frequencies in Near Oceania, and still, others are candidates for dispersal from Taiwan into eastern Indonesia via the Philippines, but they did not reach Oceania.  Some of these may have also been involved in the transmission of Austronesian culture and languages, although they evidently had no demic role in the founding of Polynesia.

Thus, although the results of the Soares, et al. study “rule out any substantial maternal ancestry in Taiwan for Polynesians, they do not preclude an Austronesian linguistic dispersal from Taiwan to Oceania between 3000-4000 years ago (3–4 ka),  mediated by social networks rather than directly by people of Taiwanese ancestry but perhaps involving small numbers of migrants at various times.”

“The mtDNA patterns point to the possibility of a staged series of dispersals of small numbers of Austronesian speakers, each followed by a period of extensive acculturation and language shift.  Overall, though, the mtDNA evidence highlights a deeper and more complex history of two-way maritime interaction between ISEA and Near Oceania than is evident from most previous accounts. Archaeological and linguistic evidence for maritime interaction between ISEA and Near Oceania during the early and mid-Holocene is strengthening, however, and it has been suggested that contacts might have been facilitated by sea-level rises and improvements in conditions on the north coast of
New Guinea. Early to mid-Holocene social networks between New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago are marked by the spread of stone mortars and pestles,
obsidian, and stemmed obsidian tools from approximately 8000 years ago (~8 ka) until
before or alongside the advent of Lapita pottery in the Bismarcks at around 3500 years ago (~3.5 ka). The absence of early Lapita pottery on New Guinea suggests major disruptions to preexisting exchange networks within Near Oceania before or at approximately 3500 years ago (~3.5 ka), with increasing social isolation of some areas and increasing interaction between others.”

“There is also emerging evidence from both archaeology and archaeobotany for the spread of domesticates during the mid-Holocene, before the presumed advent of Austronesian dominance from approximately 4000 years ago (~4 ka). Molecular analyses suggest that bananas, sago, greater yam, and sugarcane all underwent early domestication in the New Guinea region.  These cultivars and associated cultivation practices diffused westward into ISEA, where the plants and linguistic terms for them were adopted by Proto-Malayo-Polynesian speakers upon their arrival approximately 4000 years ago (~4 ka). The vegetative cultivation of these plants evidently occurred within ISEA before any Taiwanese influences became significant.”

The work suggests “a convergence of archaeological and genetic evidence, as well as concordance between different lines of genetic evidence.”  The authors state that their “results imply an early to mid-Holocene Near Oceanic ancestry for the Polynesian peoples, likely fertilized by small numbers of socially dominant Austronesian-speaking voyagers from ISEA in the Lapita formative period, approximately 3500 years ago (~3.5 ka)”. They claim that their “work can therefore also pave the way for new accounts of the spread of Austronesian languages.”

References:

https://atc.archives.gov.tw/salt/english/02_history/01_story_a.asp?menu=1

Andersen, J. C..  1928.  Myths and Legends of the Polynesians.  Dover Publications.

“Background Note: Vanuatu”. US Department of State. Archived from the original on 13 May 2008.

Bedford, Stuart; Spriggs, Matthew (2008). “Northern Vanuatu as a Pacific Crossroads: The Archaeology of Discovery, Interaction, and the Emergence of the “Ethnographic Present””.Asian Perspectives. UP Hawaii. 47 (1): 95–120. JSTOR 42928734  

Burley, D. V.,  Tache, K., Purser, P., Balenaivalu, R. J..  210.  An archaeology of salt production in Fiji. ANTIQUITY 85 (2011): 187–200.  http://antiquity.ac.uk/ant/085/ant0850187.htm187

Flad, R., Zhu, J., Wang, C., Chen, P., von Falkenhausen, L., Sun, Z., & Li, S. (2005). Archaeological and chemical evidence for early salt production in China. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America102(35), 12618–12622. http://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0502985102

Haberkorn, G.  1992.  Temporary versus Permanent Population Mobility in Melanesia: A Case Study from Vanuatu.  The International Migration Review; Vol. 26, No. 3 (Autumn, 1992), pp. 806-842; Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. on behalf of the Center for Migration Studies of New York, Inc.; DOI: 10.2307/2546966; Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/2546966; https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-much-sodium-per-day

Jean-Michel Dupuyoo, 2007, Notes on the Uses of Metroxylon in Vanuatu, Jardin d’Oiseaux Tropicaux Conservatoire, Biologique Tropical, 83250 La Londe-les-Maures, France, Metroxylon in Vanuatu Vol. 51(1) 2007, PALMS 51(1): 31–38, jmdupuyoo@yahoo.fr

HuangFusan (2005), A Brief History of Taiwan: A Sparrow Transformed into a Phoenix, Taipei: Government Information Office.

Matisoo-Smith, L. and Denny, M..  2010.  LENScience Senior Biology Seminar Series Rethinking Polynesian Origins: Human Settlement of the Pacific.  Copyright © Liggins Institute.  http://LENS.auckland.ac.nz

Nakayama, T., (1959), “Taiwan’s Buckskin Production and Its Exports to Japan in the 17th Century,” (translated into Chinese), Volumes on Taiwan Studies, no. 71. Taipei: Bank of Taiwan.

Roberts, J. A. G., 2011.  A History of China, 3rd ed., Palgrave Macmillan.

From the article, “Salt Production at a Post-Lapita Village in Nadroga.”  https://coralcoastfiji.org/fiji-tradition-culture/salt-production-lapita-nadroga

Soares, P., Rito, T., Trejaut, J., Mormina, M., Hill, C.,Tinkler-Hundal, E., Braid, M., Clarke, D. J., Loo, J-H., Thomson, N., Denham, T., Donohue, M., Macaulay, V., Lin, M., Oppenheimer, S., Richards, M. B.; 2011.  Ancient Voyaging and Polynesian Origins, AJHG, Volume 88, Issue 2, p239 – 247, 11 February 2011.

Taiwan Today, Publication Date: December 01, 1991; The Last Salt Farmers; https://taiwantoday.tw/news.php?unit=12,29,33,45&post=22441

Williams, T.  1858.  Fiji and the Fijians.  London: Alexander Heyland.
Photo Credit:

 

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