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The Siixtaguna culture had its height at around -1000YP and is formally identified as covering only a short period: from -1000YP to -750, after which time it merges with the Isles cultural sphere on the islands and splits into distinct cultures on land. However, it in fact encompasses several smaller cultural groupings which had existed in the area from at least 1000 years (and possibly as long as 2000 years) earlier.

Pre-Siixtaguna Culture (-2500 to -1500)


The culture located across the islands east of Siixtaguna and on the Siixtaguna eastern coast at the beginning of this period was largely homogeneous. Only two groups can be usefully distinguished in this era: the widespread, disparate Núalís-Takuña culture spread across the islands; and the very closely related culture located on the Siixtaguna mainland whose westward migration had preceded the Núalís-Takuña by a few centuries. Both are covered by the term Siixtaguna culture, the former specified as the coastal Siixtaguna culture and the latter as the continental Siixtaguna culture.

The homogeneity of cultural traits exhibited in the archaeological record as well as the ease with which the most recent common ancestor of the Takuña-Núalís family can be reconstructed suggests one of two things: that the beginning of this period saw a sudden, rapid expansion across the islands and into Siixtaguna, leaving little time for divergence; or that the wide and disparate distribution of the settlements at this time belied the fact that the groups were not isolated and population movement, communication and trade were widespread. The likely explanation is in fact a combination of these two. The archaeological record clearly demonstrates that the culture was new to the area and still actively migrating westwards at this point, having reached the isles absolutely no earlier than -3000YP. However, shared cultural traits across the isles and peninsular make regular communication across large distances likely also, even at this early point.

By a point considerably in advance of the height of the Siixtaguna culture, several more distinct groups may be defined. The distinction between the larger, dominant coastal group and the continental group remained relevant; indeed, the two groups continued slowly to diverge as the coastal group spread and forced the continental group further inland. However the coastal group had itself broken up by this point into a series of subcultures. The most influential and widespread of these were the Takuña and the Núalís, after which the family of languages spoken by the coastal group is named. During this period these two groups were exceptional in their range: where the continental group was forced westwards leaving no lasting settlements behind, the Takuña and Núalís groups left permanent settlements scattered across the isles and up and down the Siixtaguna eastern coast. They thus were the first Siixtaguna groups to come into contact with the Isles culture, and both showed significant culture influence from Isles groups. The Takuña were the faster moving of the two groups, reaching the westernmost islands earlier and having a stronger hold on the Siixtaguna coast; the Núalís had larger numbers of settlements further east and further north, on the islands. This fact was also reflected in their comparative cultures: the Núalís, the slowest moving of the various Siixtaguna groups, showed the most conservative cultural and linguistic features; the continental group was the most divergent; the Takuña showed features of both groups.

Other, smaller subgroups could also be identified among the coastal Siixtaguna culture by the end of this period. None of these had the range of the Núalís or Takuña, but were reasonably long-lived and well-established within their local areas. All coastal groups from this period onwards see significant influence from the Núalís and Takuña cultures. The two largest coastal groups other than the Núalís and Takuña during this period were the Tâhasu:na (“octopi”) and Taláhanutina (“round-house”) peoples (both of these are Takuña exonyms); both groups were located some way to the south of the Takuña and Núalís heartlands. Another group, the Lu:iŋu:íŋwi (“river-sailers”, again a Takuña exonym) people, can be identified as being part of the coastal sphere both culturally and linguistically, but were found some way further inland on the Siixtaguna mainland. Whether they were a coastal group that later migrated westwards or whether they were an earlier, continental group who assimilated to the coastal culture is unclear.

The continental group during this period decreased in spread and population whilst still moving westwards and southwards, and remained relatively homogeneous; it appears that only a small group of interrelated, mutually comprehensible dialects were spoken throughout continental settlements and the coastal cultures had only a single exonym for the entire continental culture (which was not applied to the Lu:iŋu:íŋwi despite their similar location, perhaps suggesting that the Lu:iŋu:íŋwi had indeed originated as a coastal group). Throughout this period the continental group shows increasing influence from the neighbouring Isthmus cultures.


At the beginning of this period two varieties were spoken: Proto-Núalís-Takuña and Proto-continental-Siixtaguna. The first was spoken by the coastal cultural group, the second by the continental group. It is likely that these were not in fact distinct languages but were a continuum of mutually comprehensible dialects; PNT was the more conservative variety, while PIS was comparatively divergent and innovative.

Throughout the period the language of the continental Siixtaguna continued to diverge from the Núalís-Takuña family, converging towards the local Isthumus varieties, but remained internally reasonably homogenous. Núalís-Takuña, on the other hand, split during this period into several different varieties. The most significant of these were the highly innovative Takuña and the conservative Núalís. However several other varieties, more or less distinct from Núalís and Takuña, were associated with the smaller subcultures.

Non-linguistic cultural features

During this period, all of the Siixtaguna cultures shared various cultural features: these are assumed to be retained archaisms rather than shared innovations. Increasingly, differences were found between subgroups also.


The Siixtaguna culture is characterised by a belief system involving a form of animism. A parallel world is conceived of as existing alongside the material world; everything in the landscape of the material world exists in this spirit world also. The spirit world is inhabited by spirits of various types, associated with landscape features, locations, plants and animals. Some are named and are attributed personality traits and thoughts; however, speakers assume that many anonymous, unknown spirits exist also. All named spirits are specifically associated with places, however, and no named spirits are universal to all Siixtaguna cultures (although some are quite widely shared, associated with different places by each tribe). Spirits are said to have control over weather, seasons, tides, celestial bodies, the growth of plants and the behaviour of animals, fish and birds.

Speakers encode a great deal of cultural knowledge crucial to their survival in descriptions and stories of spirits and their behaviour. As they are said to control the movements and behaviour of fish, it is through spirit stories that speakers record their knowledge of the predictable, seasonal migrations, spawning times and other behaviours of fish. Their knowledge of currents and weather relevant to seafaring are also remembered in terms of the habits and personalities of relevant spirits. On land, the directions and routes are remembered in terms of movements between the domains of various spirits.

Properties of the spirit world also determine much ritual behaviour: offerings must be made to certain spirits at certain times; complex, interrelated systems of taboo words are defined in terms of spirits offended by certain vocabulary.


Seafaring formed a central part of Siixtaguna culture across the islands and the Siixtaguna mainland at the beginning of this period. By the end of it, however, the continental group had been pushed too far inland for seafaring to remain useful, and old seafaring technology had been adapted to river-faring. Nevertheless, clear similarities between this river-faring technology and the coastal Siixtaguna seafaring technology remained clear.

The Siixtaguna travelled using dugout canoes and log-rafts. The islanders used mostly canoes, using rafts only for moving larger quantities of goods (such as foodstuffs) across short distances in shallow water. Whenever making longer journeys over deeper water, fleets of dugout canoes were used. The continental Siixtaguna developed raft technology further, having greater resources available for the larger rafts and finding them more useful on the more predictable and shallow river waters.

Throughout this early period, sea- and river-faring technology remained central to Siixtaguna culture; it was extremely widely used and well developed. It remained, however, small-scale and, although reliable for short-range journeys, unsuited to stormy weather or long journeys requiring a larger bulk of supplies. The longest island-hopping journeys regularly made by the Siixtaguna during this period were customarily made by larger groups, using flotillas of canoes. If unexpected stormy weather hit, the travellers could connect their canoes with loose ropes and be on hand to help one another if capsized.


Fish and other seafood formed a central part of the diet of all Siixtaguna groups during this period. Groups settled on the mainland increasingly supplemented this with fruit, nuts and other foraged plants. The continental group had to adapt to the different freshwater ecosystem and additionally borrowed agricultural innovations from the Isthmus cultures. Their diet thus different significantly from their coastal relatives and was based in significant part on cultivated crops. At no point during this period, though, did they develop large scale agriculture: plant cultivation involved forest gardens and individual plots, not large areas of homogeneous cultivation. The only organised agriculture practised by the coastal groups was the cultivation and harvesting of seaweed; this seaweed was mainly used to make ropes and in building construction, but some varieties were eaten.

Notably, the Siixtaguna groups shared a taboo around eating mushrooms and other fungi, presumably related to the difficulty of distinguishing poisonous from edible varieties.


A single, distinct custom around the dead was shared by both the coastal and continental Siixtaguna cultures at the beginning of this period. This custom involved the burying of some bodies on land but carrying others far out to sea where they were weighted and sunk. The distinction between these two methods of disposal was theoretically associated with the achievements and personalities of the dead: accomplished seafarers and fishers, individuals who had had particularly good relations with nautical and meteorological spirits and particularly distinguished individuals were buried at sea; this was considered a great honour. All others, including children, were buried on land. In practice, however, land fit for burying bodies was often too scarce on the islands for too many to be so buried and a large majority were given the honour of being buried at sea.

Over the period, burial customs diverged somewhat. The most significant divergence was found in the customs of the continental Siixtaguna culture; as they were forced away from the coast, they needed to acquire new habits and so borrowed burial customs from the Isthmus groups. Among the coastal subcultures divergence was less significant; in practice, customs remained largely the same, but the explicit distinct between the two types of burial changed. Some groups buried only children on land; others buried only those who had never left the island of their birth on land; still others, especially those on the mainland coast and on the largest islands buried all women on land and men at sea.

Early Siixtaguna Culture (-1500 to -1000)

During this period the Siixtaguna culture saw little further expansion of range but increased in population and became more established within its existing territory.


By the beginning of this period the distinction between tribe and village was well established. Villages and larger settlements became progressively more established and contained more permanent buildings, but the majority had no specific names. Each settlement was associated with a larger tribal grouping which determined its linguistic, religious and ceremonial behaviour; fishing, hunting, building and other practices more closely related to local geography were shared by neighbouring settlements as opposed to the settlements of a tribe.



Continental Siixtaguna


Shared non-linguistic cultural features

Distinct non-linguistic cultural features

Late Siixtaguna Culture (-1000 to -750)



Shared non-linguistic cultural features

Distinct non-linguistic cultural features