Ruins on remote Pacific island are ‘much older’ than once thought, study reveals

The Tongan island of Tongatapu — located about 1,400 miles northeast of New Zealand — is covered with clusters of man-made mounds long believed to have been built sometime after 1000 A.D.

But new research has revealed that the ruins are “much older than previously thought,” according to a study published on April 4 in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory.

Researchers with the Australian National University came to this conclusion after using a two-pronged approach: mapping the ruins from the air and examining them up close on the ground.

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Their findings indicate the structures were built around 300 A.D., revising their established timeline by 700 years.

Their results also revealed for the first time that the ruins were once part of a sprawling ancient city, one of the earliest established urban centers in the Pacific.

“When people think of early cities they usually think of traditional old European cities with compact housing and windy cobblestone streets,” Phillip Parton, the lead author, said in a university release. “This is a very different kind of city.”

The city was believed to have been built by a dynastic society that came to dominate much of the southwest Pacific region in ancient times. The low-density settlement appears to have been home to 50,000 to 60,000 people.

Among the structures observed by researchers were a network of roads — up to 12 feet wide — that stretched for around 70 miles.

The remains of other structures were also located, including: “elite residences and burial structures, civic architecture, fortifications (and) public space,” researchers said.

Large mounds were also discovered that were associated with pigeon snaring, an ancient sport, researchers said.

In addition, researchers revealed that the urban center preceded political institutions on the island by hundreds of years, “providing a clear distinction between urbanization and state formation.”

The large-scale society appeared to flourish up until the arrival of Europeans in the late 18th century.

“It didn’t collapse because the system was flawed; it was more to do with the arrival of Europeans and introduced diseases,” Parton said in the release.

As a result, the islands in the region have largely been depopulated in modern times, and few researchers have considered that they may have once been home to large cities.

“This is just the beginning in terms of early Pacific settlements,” Parton concluded. “There’s likely still much to be discovered.”

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