Prehistoric Settlement at Anaho Bay, Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands: Preliminary Observations. (Research Reports)

Article excerpt

Abstract

Anaho Bay on the northwest coast of Nuku Hiva Island, Marquesas is a deep well-protected bay that is distinguished by its sizeable coral reef. A small number of test excavations were carried out at two localities. We identified an extensive buried cultural layer along the northern shore at Teavau'ua (AHO-1), dated to ca. the mid-15th century AD. Activities here included production of pearlshell fishhooks and basalt adzes, as well as more generalised domestic functions. We also identified short-term occupations dating to post-1650, and possibly earlier, at the more southern locality of Teonepoto (AHO-2).

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The Marquesas Islands have figured prominently in discussions of East Polynesian colonization, both as an early settlement locality and as a source area for subsequent dispersals (e.g., Sinoto 1970). The chronology of Marquesan settlement, with estimates of colonization ranging from 1000 to 2000 BP, is important not only to regional cultural histories but also to understanding processes of adaptation, rates of human impact on fragile insular environments, and cultural differentiation. Recently, the antiquity of Marquesan settlement has been seriously questioned. This has resulted from systematic reappraisal of the regional radiocarbon database (Spriggs and Anderson 1993), re-dating of early sites elsewhere in the region (Anderson 2000), and renewed excavations at the key Marquesan locality of Ha'atuatua (Rolett and Conte 1995: Suggs 1961: see also Figure 1). Limited testing at Anaho Bay, Nuku Hiva Island (Figure 1) was undertaken in 1997 with these chronological issues in mind. Well watered, protected, and with the archipelago's largest coral reef, Anaho may have been a prime locality for early colonists.

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We were also interested in how settlement at Anaho might relate to those known from the neighboring valleys of Ha'atuatua (Rolett and Conte 1995) and Hatihe'u (Millerstrom 1997; Ottino 2000). Numerous surface artifacts along the northwestern shores of the bay suggested a prehistoric community here of some size, or possibly sequential occupation over an extended period of time. Both this area, Teavau'ua (AHO-1), and another locality where early occupation seemed likely, Teonepoto (AHO-2), were selected for testing (Figure 1).

Excavations

Teavau'ua (AHO-1)

The Teavau'ua (literally "pass of the Giant Trevally") coastal flat is bisected by a spring and its drainage. The area is planted in mature coconut trees and worked pearl-shell (Pinctada sp.), basalt debitage, fishhooks, and coral tools have been brought to the surface by land crabs. Notably, pearlshell inhabits the local reef and abundant flakes and adze performs suggest a nearby source of basalt. Testing was focused north of the spring, in a level area of roughly 200m east-west by 140m north-south (Figure 2). The excavations included two shovel pits (not screened) and three 1[m.sup.2] stratigraphically-controlled test pits (screened with 1/4 and 1/8 inch mesh), as well as one 50[cm.sup.2] unit that sampled an oven feature exposed in a modern trash pit wall.

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A fairly consistent stratigraphy was found over the area tested, with two cultural layers separated by a storm layer. Layer I is a dark gray loamy sand, 10 cm thick, mainly with historic artifacts. Layer II represents a large-scale storm event. Layer III is a very dark gray to black sandy loam, ca. 40 cm thick, with some historic materials in the upper few centimeters but mainly traditional Marquesan artifacts; most of the surface artifacts are attributable to this buried cultural horizon. Layer IV, a yellowish-brown sterile sand, rests on rock which probably is the basal reef platform.

Two radiocarbon samples were analyzed (Table 1). One from an oven feature within Layer III (BETA-108023) dated to cal AD 1400 to 1650 (two sigma) with a mid-point at 1450. …