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ANCIENT TONGA

AND THE LOST CITY OF MU'A

 

Recent findings by archaeologists have suggested that evidence exists of a greater population throughout the Pacific region that was more consistent with the estimates put forward by Cook and Durville and much larger than that recorded by the later European presence in Oceania. This Web site looks at one of the remainders of an earlier civilisation - Ancient Tonga and the Lost City of Mu'a.

 

           

In the traditional view of ancient Tonga, the islands were first settled about 3500 years ago as part of the movement of seafarers from the western islands of Indonesia to the Pacific Islands beyond New Guinea. With their movements determined by the discovery of the distinctive Lapita pottery, the Lapita people continued out into the western Pacific, beyond the already inhabited Solomon Islands and Vanuatu archipelago to the uninhabited islands of Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. Archaeologists speculate that the Lapita people existed for about 1,000 years and then suddenly the use of pottery died out and the technology was lost.

From 1500 B.C. to 500 B.C. an empire of pottery-making people spanned the western Pacific and it is these people that are considered to have made the megaliths of Tonga, including the building of the city of Mu'a and Tonga's great Trilithon. During this period, it is more likely that the Tongans never lost the ability to make long ocean journeys.

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Indeed, evidence indicates that Tonga was the central naval base for a pan-Pacific empire that existed for thousands of years and had only fallen into decline a few hundred years before European contact.

The building of the ancient capital city of Mu'a must have begun many thousands of years ago when the islands were slightly lower in relation to ocean and the lagoon. In fact, Tonga had risen about a metre over the last few thousand years and thus constructions as the wharf at Mounu and the canals are now useless. The lowering of the water into the lagoon is quite possibly the reason for the abandonment of Mu'a.

The central area of Mu'a was surrounded by a huge canal, or moat. This gigantic canal is so large, it was thought to be a sunken road to early archaeologists who could not believe that giant canal fortifications were built, or needed, by the early Tongans. Furthermore, the massive rocks at the ancient port on the lagoon side of Mu'a are evidence of the docking of huge transoceanic vessels in ancient times. The fort of Mu'a was already an ancient ruin, unused by the Tongans, at the time of European colonization of the Pacific.

The emerging picture of ancient Tonga is one of an extremely advanced culture that built a sophisticated system of roads, canals, monumental pyramids, and other large stone remains. The entire island was probably a densely populated much as it is today. Roads left Mu'a in all directions, and the large double canoes and reed ships could even enter into the interior of the island by utilizing the canal. The glory of ancient Tonga has already been forgotten, but the monumental ruins of this ancient land continue to signal the present day with a hint of the former greatness when Tonga was the capital of Polynesia.   

  A map of the pyramid of Mu'a and the
megalithic port of Mounu. The moat is shown in pale blue.

A Tongan double canoe in a shed at Vav'au. Drawn in 1839 by
Dumont-d'Urville's artist, L.le Breton. The huge size of the vessel indicates that
it is easily capable of transoceanic voyages. (From the Turnbull Library, Wellington)

An overgrown ancient pyramid at the Lost City of Mu'a

The above five images show some of the overgrown remains of the Lost City of Mu'a

Archaeologists are unsure as to the exact reason for the abandonment of the Lost City of Mu'a. Evidence does suggest however that a rise in the land level rendered the wharf and the canal system inoperative. This is thought to be one possible reason why Mu'a was abandoned.

Tonga Postcards and Picture Galleries
 
click here Jane's Tonga Home Page                                           
click here Oceania-The Last Voyage of Captain James Cook  
click here Jane's Oceania Home Page                                        

 
Jane Resture
 (E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 19th January 2010)