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Polynesia - Tuvalu

Caves of Nanumanga tuvalu island - Courtesy of

Caves of Nanumagna


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Overview of Caves of Nanumagna

Off the northern shore of Nanumaga island in western Polynesia's Tuvalu island group last year, two scuba divers investigating a local legend of 'a large house under the sea' found an underwater cave morethan 40 metres down the wall of a coral cliff. Dark patches on the roof and walls and blackened coral fragments on its floor suggest the use of fire by human occupants. The last time people could possibly have occupied the cave was during a time of low sea level more than 8000 years ago, a date sharply at odds with the view that the Pacific was settled just 6000 years ago. The evidence of fire may be ambiguous, but the durable cultural memory of the cave's existence is not so easily dismissed.

A reef blasting team from New Zealand was working in Tuvalu in the late 1970's and 1980's – they were helping to make safe thoroughfares through the reefs, because many islands here were surrounded by dangerous, nearly impenetrable rings of coral reefs. One such thoroughfare was made also in Nanumanga island.

In 1986 two scuba divers of the team decided to investigate an interesting local legend of Nanumanga about 'a large house under the sea'. In the northern end of the island, in the steep submarine wall of coral reef they really found a cave. The dive to the cave was deep – more than 40 m deep. Divers noticed dark patches on the walls and ceiling and blackened coral fragments on the cave floor – signs of habitation and use of fire in this submarine cave.

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