Eastern Polynesia-Introduction

Article excerpt

AT THE END OF NOVEMBER 2000, a group of 25 archaeologists convened at the Richard Gump Research Station of the University of California, Berkeley, for an international conference on "The Archaeology of Eastern Polynesia: Retrospect and Prospect." The conference was co-organized by us, with financial support from the France-Berkeley Fund of the University of California, and from the Ministry of Culture, Territory of French Polynesia. (1) The participants were a truly international group, with representatives from Australia, Chile, France, French Polynesia, Hawai'i, New Caledonia, New Zealand, and the continental United States. Over the course of a week, in the relaxed setting of the Gump Station, situated on the shores of Cook's Bay, Mo`orea Island, the conferees presented a series of papers reviewing past and present work throughout various islands and archipelagoes of Eastern Polynesia, and engaged in stimulating discussions of current theoretical and methodological issues. This issue of Asian Perspectives offers revised versions of seven papers presented at the Mo'orea conference, largely focusing on the results of new and often cutting-edge research in Eastern Polynesia.

The nature of early Eastern Polynesian voyaging and interaction spheres has been a topic of considerable debate and discussion in recent years, in part stimulated by advances in geochemical sourcing of basalt artifacts, allowing archaeologists to track inter-island and inter-archipelago exchanges through direct material evidence. In his paper, Barry Rolett considers the processes that may have led to a subsequent decline in such voyaging after about A.D. 1450.

Fishing is another aspect of Eastern Polynesian prehistory with a long history of archaeological research, originally centered on the analysis of fishhooks and other fishing gear, and later expanded to include zooarchaeological analyses of fishbone assemblages. In her contribution, Melinda Allen builds upon these traditional approaches with the application of new methods such as sequencing of mtDNA from archaeological fishbones to develop fine-grained identifications. In particular, she examines a model of resource depression with respect to certain fish faunal assemblages from the Cook Islands.

The Mangareva group of islands was one of the first to be investigated by modern archaeological techniques, in 1959 by Roger Green. Reanalyzing the Asian Perspectives, Vol. 41, No. 2 [c] 2002 by University of Hawai'i Press. materials uncovered in that pioneering study, Green and Weisler have produced a new culture-historical sequence for Mangareva, which they then proceed to integrate with Weisler's more recent work on the Pitcairn and Henderson Islands to the east. Bringing in as well considerations from historical linguistics, Green and Weisler argue that Mangareva was probably first settled ca. A.D. 700-800, and played a key role in the geographic expansion of Polynesians into the southeastern parts of the triangle.

As readers familiar with recent debates in Polynesian prehistory will be aware, one of the most contentious issues has centered around the timing of early settlement--the so-called "long vs. short chronology" debate. Critical to resolving this debate are good series of well-controlled radiocarbon dates from key sites. …