Arts and Crafts of the Cook Islands
The study of archaeology in Polynesia usually has been confined to surface objects such as stone temples, stone tombs, and stone artifacts. Excavations have been avoided for fear of offending the natives by interfering with their sacred places. Some organized digging has been done in New Zealand, largely in field work conducted by the students of H. D. Skinner of Otago University, the only University College in New Zealand which gives a course in anthropology. These excavations made on old camping sites have shed light on local problems, chief of which is the discovery of evidence that the early Polynesian settlers in New Zealand hunted the large wingless moa for food before it became extinct. The depth of artifact bearing soil was shallow and the material discovered belonged to the one culture. Excavations conducted by the Auckland and Canterbury Museums have also unearthed valuable specimens but they definitely belong to some stage of Maori culture. It is more than probable that excavations in some of the older settled areas of Polynesia would reveal a similar story of one culture. The Franco-Belgian Expedition to Easter Island (1933-34) had the incentive to conduct excavations seeking traces of an archaic civilization which would connect the Easter Island tablets with the seals of the Mohenjo-daro civilization of the Indus Valley, but the Expedition failed to find any ancient sites which could be excavated with profit. Hence we may assume that there is no archaeological evidence of different cultural strata to support the theory of an ancient civilization that preceded the culture which we recognize as Polynesian.
Though archaeological support is lacking, several writers have classified elements of Polynesian culture, social, religious, and material, into two distinct groups or strata. This "two strata" theory, as Piddington (82, p. 202) page 501terms it, assumes that Polynesian culture is a composite product of the fusion of two distinct cultures or sets of cultural influences which entered Polynesia at different epochs. The supporters of the theory regard the more widely distributed elements as belonging to an archaic or early culture and the less widely distributed elements as belonging to a later intrusive culture. Rivers (56a, p. 574) without giving any special names held that "Polynesian culture was made up of at least two elements, an earlier associated with the practice of interring the dead in the sitting position and a later which practiced preservation of the dead." Williamson accepted Rivers' theory and named the two strata, Pre-Tangaloan and Tangaloan. Handy, in analyzing Polynesian religion, termed the two cultural influences, Indo-Polynesian and Tangaloa-Polynesian. Stimson referred to them as palae-Polynesian and neo-Polynesian.
Piddington (82, p. 202) has attacked the two strata theory on the grounds that two important preliminary problems were not considered by its supporters: first, the possibility of cultural variation in Polynesia being accounted for in some other way than by more than one cultural migration; second, the question of whether, even if such migrations had occurred, the material at our disposal made it possible "to assign groups of specific cultural elements within Polynesia to intrusive influences at different epochs of Polynesian history." After a detailed analysis of works by Handy and Stimson, Piddington came to the conclusion that the two strata theory was based on inadequate cultural analysis (82, p. 338) and that variations in Polynesian culture are due to spontaneous development from a single culture (82, p. 301).