Palaeoenvironmental Evidence for Human Colonization of Remote Oceanic Islands

By Kirch, Patrick V.; Ellison, Joanna | Antiquity, June 1994 | Go to article overview

Palaeoenvironmental Evidence for Human Colonization of Remote Oceanic Islands


Kirch, Patrick V., Ellison, Joanna, Antiquity


Not every first footstep on a virgin shore leaves enduring trace, nor every first human settlement an enduring deposit that chances to survive, and then chances to be observed archaeologically. Good environmental evidence from Mangaia Island, central East Polynesia, gives -- it is contended -- a fairer picture of the human invasion of remote Oceania than the short and sceptical chronology recently published in ANTIQUITY.

Since Willard Libby provided the first Polynesian radiocarbon date to Kenneth Emory in 1951, yielding an 'absolute' estimate of the age of initial habitation at Kuli'ou'ou rockshelter (O'ahu, Hawaiian Islands), archaeologists have continued to debate the chronology of human expansion into the islands of Remote Oceania.(1) From a wide range of archaeological, historical-linguistic and human-biological evidence, virtually all prehistorians agree that East Polynesia (including Hawai'i, New Zealand, Easter Island, the Societies, Marquesas, Tuamotus, Australs, Gambier and Cook archipelagos) was the last region within Remote Oceania to receive human settlers. However, just when this final expansion took place continues to be a matter of debate (e.g. Sinoto 1970: Irwin 1981; 1992; Kirch 1986; Sutton 1987; Hunt & Holsen 1991; Anderson 1991). This issue is not trivial, because whether the time depths of the prehistoric sequences of particular East Polynesian islands were relatively 'long' or 'short' has major implications for the processes of evolutionary divergence and social transformation (see Kirch & Green 1987).

In a recent ANTIQUITY, Spriggs & Anderson (1993) continued this debate, arguing that there has been a systematic bias towards early radiocarbon dates, and proposing to 'rein in the speculation' (1993: 201). Their argument extends a methodology of 'chronometric hygiene', previously applied by Spriggs (1989; 1990) to radiocarbon dates from island southeast Asia and Melanesia. Anderson (1991) has also used this methodology to argue for a short chronology for the human occupation of New Zealand. In brief, their method consists of setting out a 'protocol of acceptability' for 14C ages, whereby dates are accepted or rejected according to sample material, pretreatment conditions, stratigraphic context, cultural associations, and other criteria (see Spriggs & Anderson 1993: 207-8; Anderson 1991:782-3 for details). Applying chronometric hygiene to a suite of 147 dates from East Polynesian sites, Spriggs & Anderson conclude there is 'nothing to demonstrate settlement in East Polynesia earlier than AD 300-600', and then only in the Marquesas Islands (1993: 211).

Spriggs & Anderson recognize that evidence for human colonization of islands may derive not only from habitation sites, but from evidence for 'anthropogenic environmental changes, particularly forest disturbance' (1993: 210). Convinced by their hygienic cleansing of the radiocarbon corpus for habitation sites that East Polynesia was settled late, however, they dispute recent palaeoenvironmental evidence for considerably earlier human disturbance in the Hawaiian, New Zealand, and Mangaia ecosystems (1993: 210-11). In particular, they question recent reports by Kirch et al. (1991; see also Kirch et el. 1992) that pollen records derived from stratigraphic cores on Mangaia Island in the southern Cook group provide evidence for Polynesian activity by at least 1600 BP, if not earlier. Although they do not adduce evidence to support their position, they invoke 'enrichment of sampled sediments by ancient coralline carbon' and imply that 'the radiocarbon determinations from the [Mangaia] pollen core do not record accurately the period of colonization' (1993: 211).

Our aim in this paper is not to debate the methodology of 'chronometric hygiene' as applied to radiocarbon dates from habitation sites, even though we believe that some of the rejection criteria used by Spriggs & Anderson (1993) may be over-zealously applied.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Palaeoenvironmental Evidence for Human Colonization of Remote Oceanic Islands
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.