Sponsored by: Archaeological Institute of America
For centuries, peoples from the island of Yap in the western Pacific voyaged southward to the Palauan archipelago to quarry their famous stone money in limestone caves. The carving and transport of stone money by Yapese Islanders, however, remains one of the most archaeologically dramatic, but least understood instances of “portable” artifact exchange in the Pacific. These limestone disks (also referred to as rai or fei) up to 4.5 m in diameter and weighing over eight metric tons, were carved almost exclusively in the “Rock Islands” of Palau and then transported by ocean-going canoes or European trading ships sailing back to Yap Island almost 400 km away. The production of these exotic valuables is known, in part, from European explorers who participated in the transport of these disks back to Yap in the 1800s as well as a rich collection of ethnographic data and oral traditions. Archaeological research in Palau adds a new dimension to the understanding of how these megaliths were quarried and moved over jagged karst terrain and across the sea, highlighting the importance that stone money had in Micronesian interisland exchange systems.
Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:
Scott M. Fitzpatrick
2016 Yap’s Famous Stone Money. In The Archaeology of Money (C. Haselgrove and S. Krmnicek, eds.): 43-65. Leicester Archaeology Monographs 24. Leicester: School of Archaeology & Ancient History, University of Leicester.
2004 Banking on Stone Money. Archaeology 57(2):18-23.
2001 Archaeological Investigation of Omis Cave: A Yapese Stone Money Quarry in Palau. Archaeology in Oceania 36:153-162.