Waitui Kei Vanua: Interpreting Sea- and Land-Based Foodways in Fiji

  • Sharyn Jones
  • Rhonda Quinn


We outline a method that both incorporates quantitative and qualitative elements and positions ethnoarchaeological analogy at the center of analysis and interpretation. Exploring ethnographic analogs provides models that assist in the articulation of disparate data, such as paleoethnobotanical and zooarchaeological remains, and frameworks for interpretation of stable isotopic results. Our approach is meaning-focused, with the goal of understanding the social life of people in the past through their foodways. This method is illustrated with data from Jones’ ethnoarchaeological research in Fiji’s Lau Island Group and Quinn’s laboratory-based stable isotope analysis of human bone. We argue that food and customs associated with eating are mechanisms for the definition and maintenance of meaningful social structures and cultural identities that are accessible to archaeologists through interdisciplinary approaches. In this case study, we reconstruct a holistic view of subsistence and foodways using zooarchaeological and stable isotopic data, interpreted through a framework of ethnoarchaeological analogs.

This chapter is written from the perspective of a practicing zooarchaeologist and ethnoarchaeologist (Jones), and a bioarchaeologist and geochemist (Quinn). The results from zooarchaeological and related archaeological human stable isotope analyses are described here and provide information about the entire Lauan diet, including marine and terrestrial plant and animal foods consumed over the pre-European occupation of the study sites. We envision the perfect study of subsistence as one that incorporates both zooarchaeological and paleoethnobotanical lines of evidence; in the absence of available plant data, this can be effectively achieved via ethnoarchaeology and tested with isotopic analysis of human bone. Ultimately, we aim to conduct research that will bring zooarchaeology closer to the anthropology of foodways, illuminating lifeways and meaning in the past.


Reef Fish Stable Isotope Analysis Crassulacean Acid Metabolism Pelagic Fish Stable Isotopic Data 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors gratefully acknowledge the late Na Gone Turaga Na Tui Lau, Tui Nayau Ka Sau ni Vanua ko Lau, The Right Honourable Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, and his family for allowing our team to work on Lakeba, Nayau, and Aiwa. We thank the Fiji Museum and especially Sepeti Matararaba for their important assistance. We are grateful to the people of Nayau and Lakeba for welcoming and facilitating this research, in addition to providing us with a wealth of local knowledge. Vinaka vakalevu Tui Liku, Tui Naro, Jack, Sera, Caka, Meli, Mote, Sina, Semeti Guvaki, Colati, and Rusila. We also thank the Florida Museum of Natural History for use of multiple laboratories and comparative collections; Heather Walsh-Haney of Florida Gulf Coast University for identifying the human remains submitted for radiocarbon dating; and Joseph Ortega for assistance with the illustrations. We thank Linda Godfrey and Jim Wright at the Stable Isotope Laboratory in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Rutgers University for assistance with isotopic analyses. This research was partially funded by a National Geographic Research and Exploration Grant and UAB-NSF ADVANCE grants to Sharyn Jones.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of Alabama at BirminghamBirminghamUSA

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