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New research indicates that the royal tomb Paepaeotelea was built c. AD 1300–1400, more than 200 years earlier than its traditional association with Uluakimata I, who ruled when the Tongan polity was at its greatest extent. The large and stylistically complex tomb marks a dramatic increase in the scale of mortuary structures. It represents a substantial mobilisation of labour by this early archaic state, while the geochemical signatures of stone tools associated with the tomb indicate long-distance voyaging. The evidence suggests that the early Tongan state was a powerful and geographically expansive entity, able to rapidly organise and command the resources of the scattered archipelago.
Studies of trade routes across Southeast Asia in prehistory have hitherto focused largely on archaeological evidence from Mainland Southeast Asia, particularly the Thai Peninsula and Vietnam. The role of Indonesia and Island Southeast Asia in these networks has been poorly understood, owing to the paucity of evidence from this region. Recent research has begun to fill this void. New excavations at Sembiran and Pacung on the northern coast of Bali have produced new, direct AMS dates from burials, and analytical data from cultural materials including pottery, glass, bronze, gold andsemi-precious stone, as well as evidence of local bronze-casting. This suggests strong links with the Indian subcontinent and Mainland Southeast Asia from the late first millennium BC, some 200 years earlier than previously thought.
Monumental construction is commonly associated with the rise of complex societies and frequently supported the ceremonies and ideologies that were instrumental in the creation of the new social order. Recent fieldwork at Heketa in eastern Tongatapu recorded stone-built platforms for houses and seats, and a three-tiered tomb and trilithon. Tongan tradition and archaeology combine to show that these were the setting for new ceremonies instituted by the emergent Tu’i Tonga lineage in the fourteenth century AD as they laid the foundations of the early Tongan chiefdom. Key to their success were activities that emphasised the sacred origins of the living Tu’i Tonga, including the drinking of kava and the presentation of first fruits to the chiefs.
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