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The Archaeological Excavation of an Outrigger Canoe at the Nasilai Site, Rewa Delta, Viti Levu, Fiji

University of Hawai'i Press (Honolulu)
Publication Date
  • Pacific Archaeology
  • Fiji
  • Outrigger Canoe
  • Amphidromous
  • Decked Platform Cabin
  • Maritime Technology
  • Prehistoric Peoples--Asia--Periodicals.
  • Prehistoric Peoples--Oceania--Periodicals.
  • Asia--Antiquities--Periodicals.
  • Oceania--Antiquities--Periodicals.
  • East Asia--Antiquities--Periodicals.
  • Archaeology
  • Design
  • Earth Science
  • Political Science


This paper presents the results of archaeological excavations of portions of a late prehistoric/early historic Fijian camakau, or outrigger canoe. The excavations, conducted under the auspices of the Fiji Museum, were undertaken in 1987 at the site of Nasilai, in the Rewa Delta, Viti Levu, Fiji. The Nasilai canoe remains provide direct evidence of a medium-size outrigger canoe that had a cabin with upper deck situated on the canoe platform. This "early" feature has been known to scholars previously only on the basis of oral histories and historical references (Neyret 1976). Further, the Nasilai canoe remains provide the earliest direct archaeological evidence for the incorporation of a specifically Micronesian maritime technological feature into the Fijian canoe design. This is witnessed in a technique of mast fitting seen on the Nasilai canoe. The notched base of the mast, set onto a step placed on the platform of the canoe, permitted the entire sail to pivot in accordance with changing wind directions. This amphidromous canoe design is dated at Nasilai, on the basis of two He readings in combination with stratigraphic evidence indicating an absence of historic objects in the canoe-bearing stratum, to A.D. 1440-1830. The amphidromous canoe design had implications for regional seafaring-the newly incorporated technique permitted vessels to beat against prevailing winds, facilitating inter- and intraisland interactions and hence potentially larger sociopolitical trends. KEYWORDS: Pacific archaeology, Fiji, outrigger canoe, amphidromous, decked platform cabin, maritime technology.

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