The Beaked Adze in the Western Pacific

Implications for Social Identification and Late Prehistoric Interaction


  • John Craib Bonhomme Craib & Associates


Recent investigations of interactions in the western Pacific have focused on post-settlement contact between Micronesia and Melanesia. In the process they have largely overlooked the importance of the beaked adze, an unique adze form with a pointed cutting edge. The few dated contexts suggest that the presence of beaked adzes in the western Pacific did not occur until the last 500-700 years, spreading rapidly across Micronesia and islands along the northern fringe of Melanesia.

Using ethnographic and archaeological sources, a distinct, albeit limited, pattern of occurrence, provenance and chronology of beaked adzes is emerging in the western Pacific. Their rarity, workmanship and specific provenances suggest that at least among many of the Caroline and Marshall Islands they have served as symbols of prestige and social identity. Less is known about their function amongst the Polynesian Outliers although an ethnographic account indicate beaked adzes functioned as both tools and ceremonial objects. Using oral histories to provide a cultural context, it is argued here this artifact requires more detailed attention and analysis.