The Tongan low density agrarian urban system

Event details

PhD Seminar

Date & time

Thursday 08 April 2021


Online - Zoom


Phillip Parton


Phillip Parton


The complex social and political institutions of Polynesia have attracted researchers interested in their origins and diverse manifestations. However, rapid and severe depopulation and associated social upheaval often accompanied increasing European interactions in the region which had a substantial effect on the spatial distribution of people and institutions. Consequently, there is now a perception that settlements in Tonga were dispersed and that no true towns existed. This view is at odds with diverse evidence from archaeology and Tongan vernacular literature which indicate the people of Tonga lived close together with an accompanying concentration of religious, political, and economic institutions.

Airborne lidar data collected from the main island of Tongatapu documents a built environment which suggests that in late prehistory the people of Tonga lived in dense settlements organised around a central place which was integrated by terrestrial and maritime transport networks.

The analysis of lidar data alongside historical documents and vernacular literature do not support the view of dispersed settlements and suggest that the built environment of Tongatapu was organised in a low density agrarian form. I draw on urban economics, regional geography, institutional analysis and quantitative urban analytics to reconstruct elements of the Tongan low-density agrarian urban system. Results are used to outline a theory of indigenous Pacific Island urbanism based on the integration of lidar data with social theory to better understand past societies.

Zoom details

Zoom link:

Meeting ID: 889 6199 7641

Password: 167190

Updated:  7 July 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, Culture, History & Language/Page Contact:  CHL webmaster