Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

A Radiocarbon Sequence for Samoan Prehistory and the Pulemelei Mound

Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

A Radiocarbon Sequence for Samoan Prehistory and the Pulemelei Mound

Article excerpt


We examine radiocarbon dates from Samoan archaeological sites using the fourfold division of Samoan prehistory established by Green (2002). The context of dating samples was assessed to recognize potentially "reliable" determinations in the Samoan [sup.14]C corpus. Radiocarbon dates associated with earth and stone structures were identified to one of four phases of construction/use to develop a chronology for the emergence and use of domestic and monumental architecture. The 17 radiocarbon determinations from the Pulemelei mound site were used to generate a local prehistoric sequence for the Letolo area. In general the results parallel the prehistoric sequence for Samoa, but the chronology of the Pulemelei mound demonstrates that monumental architecture in West Polynesia can have a complicated developmental history spanning several centuries.


The first radiocarbon dates from the Central Pacific were obtained from Fiji by Edward Gifford (1951), and it was not until the 1960s that the first [sup.14]C determinations from Samoa, on archaeological samples collected by Golson in 1957 (Golson 1969a), showed that Polynesian pottery had an antiquity of at least 2000 years (Grant Taylor and Rafter 1963; Green and Davidson 1965). Subsequent archaeological work resulted in radiocarbon dates from significant investigations published by Green and Davidson (1969, 1974a), and Jennings and colleagues (1976, 1980).

From 2002 to 2004 excavations by the authors at the Pulemelei mound site on Savai'i provided new radiocarbon dates relating to the extensive prehistoric structures and features that had been mapped in the Letolo Plantation in the 1970s (Jennings et al. 1982). The radiocarbon results from earlier and recent archaeological projects provide the data to construct a prehistoric sequence, particularly of the last 1000 years when large mounds emerged. We have not included determinations from American Samoa as the prehistoric sequence of the small islands appears to differ from that of Samoa, particularly the absence of monumental mounds, and possibility that pottery manufacture lasted longer in American Samoa than it did in Samoa (Clark 1996; Green 2002).

In previous research Samoan prehistory has been viewed as an aperiodic cultural succession (Green and Davidson 1974a). However, the development of the settlement pattern in prehistoric Samoa, which has chronological connotations, has recently been suggested by Green (2002:134-146).

1. Initial settlement represented by distinctive Lapita ceramics;

2. Settlement patterns during the period when Polynesian plainware was produced;

3. The interval when evidence of the settlement pattern is extremely limited (the so called 'Dark Age');

4. Late prehistoric settlement patterns marked by the construction of earth and stone structures.

Green's settlement sequencing is based on evidence of the use of pottery with patterns/no patterns, use of pottery/ no pottery, the apparent absence of settlements activities, and the use of large stone and earth mounds. Tied to the discussion are various dates presented for the changes in the settlement pattern.

To date 89 [sup.14]C determinations (Table 1) have been reported for Samoa by Green and Davidson (1974b:214-5), Jennings and Holmer (1980:7-10), and from our investigations at the Pulemelei mound (Martinsson-Wallin et al. 2003, 2005; see Martinsson-Wallin et al., this publication). In this paper we outline the Samoan radiocarbon sequence. Following the discussion of radiocarbon dates for Samoa as a whole, we discuss the dated samples from the Pulemelei mound site to construct a detailed chronology for the Letolo Plantation.

Site Location

Radiocarbon assays have been obtained for archaeological sites on Upolu, Savai'i, and Manono. The excavated sites are listed (see Martinsson-Wallin this publication, Table 2). …

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