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Crossing the line: the enveloped cross in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia. (News & Notes).

Third largest of the islands in the tropical northwest Pacific and by far the largest of the eastern Caroline Islands, Pohnpei is mountainous with a volcanic origin and a land surface area of 330 sq. km. In the southeast of the island is Madolenihmw district and it is here, near Sapwalap village by the Lehdau River, that the petroglyph site of Pohnpaid (also known as Indenlang, Takai-nin-Talang, Takai en Intolen, Tilen and Takaien) is located. Here we report on a single aspect of detailed survey work conducted by the authors in 1997, which involved the recording of over 750 individual engraved rock-art motifs (Rainbird & Wilson 1999). The engravings at Pohnpaid are located on two distinct geological components. The main concentration occurs on a large, metamorphic rock outcrop measuring approximately 60x25 m at its widest points. The outcrop slopes in four natural terraces towards the Lehdau River, which is some 20 m below the lowest terrace. The second part of the site is located some 70 m to the north of the main outcrop, where a grassy plateau is dissected at the edges by gullies. In the grassland we located two tall rock outcrops and approximately 19 large boulders (some obscured by the tall grass).

From a comparative archaeological perspective there is little doubt that the engravings at Pohnpaid are ancient and Oceanic in origin (Bellwood 1978: 276). We are able to draw this conclusion from the presence of a highly distinctive motif type, the enveloped cross (FIGURES 1 & 2). This form has a restricted distribution in the western Pacific, and may have emerged alongside Lapita pottery decoration starting between c. 3500 and 3300 BP in the Bismarck Archipelago (Roger Green and David Roe pers. comms), or between c. 2000 and 1100 BP based on pottery designs in New Caledonia (Sand 1996: 52-4; Spriggs 1997: 183).


The closest affinities to many of the motifs at Pohnpaid are only known from south of the equator in mainland Papua New Guinea, Manus, New Hanover (New Ireland), Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia (FIGURE 3). Other than in Papua New Guinea, where it is mostly painted, the enveloped cross is engraved and often found on boulders. While images on rock may have the potential for illuminating aspects of island colonization and later inter-island communication, unfortunately it is a relatively neglected area of archaeological research in Micronesia and other parts of tik Pacific (Wilson 1998). Ancient links between the eastern Caroline Islands and island groups south of the equator have been suggested before (e.g. Rainbird 1999); these engravings therefore add another significant element to that proposal. Specific motifs, such as the enveloped cross, with parallels that extend south into other island groups of the western Pacific as far as Vanuatu and New Caledonia, will allow for more detailed regional analyses that might enable us to better place Pohnpaid within the evolving canvas of Oceanic migrations and contacts.



BELLWOOD, P. 1978. Man's conquest of the Pacific. Auckland: William Collins.

RAINBIRD, P. 1999. The use of landscape in identifying potential sources of Caroline island colonisation, in J.-C. Galipaud & I. Lilley (ed.) Le pacifique de 5000 a 2000 avant le present. Supplements a l'histoire d'une colonisation. The Pacific from 5000 to 2000 BP: 451-60. Paris: Editions de IRD.

RAINBIRD, P. & M. WILSON. 1999. Pohnpaid petroglyphs, Pohnpei. Unpublished report prepared for the Pohnpei State Historic Preservation Office.

SAND, C. 1996. Recent developments in the study of New Caledonia's prehistory, Archaeology in Oceania 31: 45-71.

SPRIGGS, M. 1997. The Island Melanesians. Oxford: Blackwell.

WILSON, M. 1998. Pacific rock-art and cultural genesis: a multivariate exploration, in C. Chippindale & P.S.C. Tacon (ed.), The archaeology of rock-art: 163-84. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


* Rainbird, Department of Archaeology, University of Wales, Lampeter, Ceredigion SA48 7ED, Wales. Wilson, Department of Archaeology & Natural History, Research School of Pacific & Asian Studies, Australian National University, Canberra ACT 0200, Australia.
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Title Annotation:engraved rock-art
Author:Rainbird, Paul; Wilson, Meredith
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:8MICR
Date:Sep 1, 2002
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