16 Jul 2014

Research reveals Tonga empire

5:05 pm on 16 July 2014

New research shows Tonga was once the centre of a vast trading empire with economic and political power stretching across the Pacific.

The study was written by Australian National University academics, Geoffrey Clark and Christian Reepmeyer.

Dr Clark says Tonga was the only maritime polity in Oceania to encompass an entire archipelago, and through long-distance voyaging, able to extend its influence to other island groups.

A stone adze/axe which was geochemically analysed to show how far Tongan influence extended in the past.

The stone axe that was analysed by the scientists. Photo: Dr Geoffrey Clark, ANU

"Our study showed that Tonga had very strong links with a number of archipelagos, particularly Samoa and Fiji, but also very far flung links including the Society Islands which are around 2,500 kilometres from Tonga, and as far as we know there is no other society in the Pacific that had this kind of maritime reach in the past."

Geoffrey Clark says their conclusions were drawn from the analysis of hundreds of stone tools and artefacts dating back to 1200 AD.

He says two thirds of stone tools used by Tongans were imported from other islands.