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Pigs, dogs and chickens in the Pacific past

Dr Karen Greig working in the Otago Archaeological Laboratories at the University of Otago. Photo credit: Tristan Russell

Dr Karen Greig of the University of Otago will study the bones of domesticated animals from across the Western Pacific to study how social networks and structures have changed over time


Pigs, dogs, and chickens have been important to communities across the Western Pacific since their introduction around 4,000 years ago. These domesticated animals are central to exchange systems and ideological and religious practices in many societies across the Pacific. Studying the remains of these domestic animals will provide valuable insight into the complex ways that people formed connections between communities over time, and how social structures developed and changed.

Vanuatu Pig 03 credit Rebecca Kinaston

Vanuatu pig. Photo credit: Rebecca Kinaston

Unfortunately, compared to ceramics and other traditional objects of archaeological study, bones are less durable. If bones survive, they are often highly fragmented and difficult to identify as a particular species. This Marsden Fast-Start grant will allow Dr Greig and her team to use state of the art molecular techniques to determine what species the bones derived from and their how old they are. Additionally, looking at chemical signatures within the tooth enamel of pigs and dogs, they can determine if the animals were moved between regions during their lifetime.  These approaches will allow the researchers to trace the patterns of trade and husbandry of domestic animals, mirroring the interactions and movements of people throughout the Western Pacific.