N. VAN DIJK-Who are these people? Human skeletal remains from the Pacific region
which can be done with the skeletal and genetic evidence that we have, but it requires new questions and new ways of looking at the data, for a meaningful reassessment of the validity of some of our current concepts.
There are two main areas of interest
1. The skeletal features which are classified as being "Polynesian" andlor of Lapita ori- gin.
2. The geographic and temporal parameters of Pacific samples included in statistical analyses.
Polynesians skeletal remains have generally been regarded by biological anthropolo- gists as distinctive on the basis of a suite of features. This assumption is based on Houghton's (1980) description of Polynesians as having; a pentagonal-shaped head, rocker jaw, costoclavicularsulcus on the clavicle, oval-shaped fovea capitis on the head of the femur, robust and muscular limb bones, and shovel-shaped incisors (Houghton 1980, 1989, Pietrusewsky 1989).
The question as to whether Polynesians have an unusually high frequency of these fea- tures may not seem important. However the manner in which such traits have been used is critical. In analyses of what little skeletal material there is from Lapita sites, features such as rocker jaw have universally been cited as indicators of Polynesian affinity, hence the comments by Houghton: "one mandible showed Polynesian "rocker" charac- teristics" (1989:223) and Pietrusewsky: "similarities with Pacific populations, espe- cially Polynesians, include "tall stature, presence of rocker jaw.." (1989240)
The problem here however is that none of these features are exclusive to Polynesians; for example shovel-shaped incisors are Asian-derived and have a low incidence in Australoid populations. Some are environmental - the costo-clavicular sulcus is belie- ved to be caused through the action of paddling a canoe (Houghton 1980). Others are an inextricable combination of genetic and environmental effects (eg. tall stature). Nor do such features occur in unusually high frequenciesin Polynesians.
Perhaps the best example of the misuse of isolated features as indicators of biological affinity is that of the rocker jaw. A comparison of Pacific and circum-Pacific popula-