The Head of “Mana” – the earliest-known Fijian?
On the island of Moturiki, between Ovalau and eastern Viti Levu, a research team from the Fiji Museum and the University of the South Pacific found one of Fiji’s earliest human settlements in June-July 2002. Located in the south of the island (see MAP) at a place called Naitabale, the ancient settlement (Naturuku) was established about 900 BC (more than 2900 years ago) in the lee of a sandy beach at the mouth of the Mataloaloa River.
Excavations by the researchers at Naitabale found numerous pieces of Lapita pottery, some of which were decorated in characteristic dentate designs (Photo 1). Analysis of this pottery shows that 80% of it was made by the Lapita people on Moturiki but that some was imported by them from Lau (possibly Lakeba), from Kadavu, and from southeast Viti Levu (perhaps the Rewa Delta) more than 2500 years ago.
The most incredible discovery at Naitabale was that of a complete skeleton of a woman in one of the pits (Photo 2). Named Mana by her discoverer (Chris Suri from USP), we know from radiocarbon dating that she lived sometime between 650 and 750 BC (more than 2700 years ago) and died between the age of 40 and 60. Mana had clearly been deliberately buried in the sand at Naitabale, at least one metre deep. From the position of her skull, it seems that her head had been unable to lie flat (Photo 3), perhaps because she had been buried with a large head-dress, something that might mean she was a woman of chiefly status.
With the permission of local people, the skeleton of Mana was carefully removed from her ancient grave in July 2002 and her remains analysed so that we might learn about how she had lived (Photo 4). For example, we know from her arms that these would have been muscular and that the elbows had been used a lot; her jaw was well developed; she was right-handed. By the time she died, Mana would have enjoyed generally good health – she was tall, muscular and tough – although her adult life is thought to have been marked by strenuous physical activity involving the neck, arms and feet. Mana had at least one child. Mana’s remains were returned to Naitabale in 2004 and formally reburied at the site.
One of the most remarkable things about the Mana skeleton was the excellent state of preservation of her skull. So well was this preserved that it proved possible to reconstruct her head in some detail. The face you see here is an accurate representation of how Mana would have looked. The only thing that is impossible to know for certain is her hair – in this model, scientists have given Mana the hair that seems to best match her features.
The head of Mana is that of a woman living more than 2700 years ago at the Lapita settlement of Naitabale on Moturiki Island in central Fiji. Although we know that there were people in Fiji before this – perhaps as much as 3100 years ago in Nadroga – the remains of Mana are those of the earliest-known person to have been found to date in Fiji.
Note: The 2002 excavations at Naitabale were directed by Patrick Nunn with the support of Roselyn Kumar and Sepeti Matararaba and a multinational research team. Skeletal analysis of Mana was directed by Kazumichi Katayama. A full report was published in Volume 46 (2007) of Asian Perspectives, a scientific journal published by the University of Hawai’i Press.