Polishing Facets, Leone, American Samoa

The Big Picture Portfolio, #6


The last light fades away on the ancient foaga of Tutuila, coastal polishing facets near the Tataga-Matau stone quarry site in American Samoa. Leone Bay quietly darkens in the background, while saltwater pools reflect fading light and passing clouds. This is a series of foaga, or polishing facets, formed by people in final step of making stone tools (primarily adzes or matau) hundreds or even thousands of years ago. A long stretch of this coastline is covered by these unique and quiet features, this being one of many impressive areas.

FACTS:

Where: The island of Tutuila, American Samoa, 53 square miles
What:  A natural shelf of volcanic rock, basalt, into which basins have been worn over the years by people working stone on stone
When: From as early as 3,000 years ago
Close to: Tataga-matau Prehistoric Quarry, on the National Register of Historic Places
How many: Hundreds of basins (thousands of adzes?!)
Where Tutuilan adzes have been found:  Chemical analyses show trade/movement from here to Manu’a, Western Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, and the Cook Islands

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MYSTERY:

I kept coming back to this place the several months I lived on Tutuila, and I’ll go back when I return. The late light, the worn stone, the waves. Deep thoughts may come and go, but then there’s a simpler kind of question that you really can’t help but wonder, “how long would it take me to grind out a basin like ONE of these?”

I reckon I’d be there a long, long time. Even though the production line has long been abandoned, when you recognize where the material came from (mostly a massive quarry in a nearby valley), how it was initially shaped (a reduction sequence using other stone tools), where it was polished up and finished (right here on the water), and where it eventually went (all over the Pacific), you gain an appreciation for those people of so long ago. You are seeing one of the ways that they were – literally – shaping their landscape.

If you have to labor away grinding stone on stone, this is one hell of a place to do it. Yet work being work, what kind of “office dynamics” were going on here? As I stumble about looking for a place to watch the sun sink into the water I conclude that there is more than one preferential seat in this house, and finding them all is going to require many more visits.

ASIDE:

The summer is long gone, and I’ve finished this post from a desk back in Honolulu! Good to be home but the South Pacific ain’t so shabby.

LINKAGE:

The Adze Quarries of Tutuila. John Enright (2001), CRM.

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