WELLINGTON, March 6 (Xinhua) -- A study of 3,000-year-old skeletons belonging to a people thought to be the ancestors of modern Polynesians is offering an insight into the earliest human colonization of the Pacific, New Zealand researchers said Thursday.
The University of Otago researchers analyzed bones from 49 Lapita adults buried at the Teouma site on Vanuatu's Efate Island, the oldest known cemetery in the Pacific islands.
The results suggested the early Lapita settlers ate reef fish, marine turtles, fruit bats, free-range pigs and chickens, rather than primarily relying on growing crops for human food and animal fodder.
Study lead author Dr. Rebecca Kinaston said it was the most detailed analysis of Lapita diet ever undertaken and provided intriguing insights into the socio-cultural elements of their society.
The researchers analyzed the isotopic ratios of carbon, nitrogen and sulphur in adult human bone collagen and compared these with ratios in ancient and modern plants and animals from the location, which provided a comprehensive dietary baseline.
"Examining these ratios gave us direct evidence of the broad make-up of these adults' diets over the 10 to 20 years before they died, which helps clear up the long-running debate about how the Lapita settlers sustained themselves during the early phases of colonizing each island during their eastward drive across the Pacific," Kinaston said in a statement.
It appeared the Lapita, rather than relying mainly on a " transported landscape" of the crop plants and domesticated animals they brought with them, were practicing a mixed subsistence strategy.
"The dietary pattern we found suggests that in addition to eating pigs and chickens, settlers were also foraging for a variety of marine food and consuming wild animals -- especially fruit bats -- and hat whatever horticultural food they produced was not heavily relied on," she said.
The study also found Lapita men had more varied diets and greater access to protein from sources such as tortoises, pigs and chicken than women did.
"This may have resulted from unequal food distribution, suggesting that males may have been considered of higher status in Lapita society and treated preferentially," Kinaston said.