Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

Assessing the Role of Climate Change and Human Predation on Marine Resources at the Fatu-Ma-Futi Site, Tutuila Island, American Samoa: An Agent Based Model

Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

Assessing the Role of Climate Change and Human Predation on Marine Resources at the Fatu-Ma-Futi Site, Tutuila Island, American Samoa: An Agent Based Model

Article excerpt


In the tropical Pacific, climate change has been implicated as a causal variable in the development of a variety of social processes, including resource scarcity, cultural diversification, changes in spatial organization, and conflict. Hypotheses concerning the effects of climatic variability on cultural change can be better evaluated once links between environmental processes and subsistence patterns are established. Here we present data on approximately 1500 years of shellfish exploitation at the Fatu-ma-Futi site, Tutuila Island, American Samoa. We generate an Agent Based Model to test hypotheses regarding resource exploitation and the effects of climate change on near-shore marine fauna. To date, little archaeological data regarding prehistoric marine resource use in Samoa is available, demonstrating the need for more field research. Integrating models generated from foraging theory and agent based computer simulations provides a new technique for modeling social and ecological processes in complex environments.

Keywords: climate change, coral bleaching, foraging theory, agent based modeling, Samoa


The potential impacts of prehistoric human populations and natural climatic phenomena on island ecosystems and human cultural change have long been recognized by archaeologists working in Oceania (e.g. Athens and Ward 1993, 1997; Kirch 1983, 1997; Kirch and Hunt 1997; Steadman 1995; Anderson et al. 2006; Field 2004; Nunn 2000a, 2000b). Understanding the effects of environmental variability on Pacific islands requires constructing models that distinguish between the empirical result of human impacts and those related to natural climate variability. Furthermore, environmental variability occurs at scales varying from global phenomena to more localized processes that must be assessed in each context. The situation is made even more complex with recognition that prehistoric habitat alteration is likely influenced by numerous processes occurring simultaneously (Rietz 2004:65-66; Wolverton 2001).

Documentation of climate change in the Southern Hemisphere, including the islands of the tropical South Pacific, has been hindered by a lack of instrumental and proxy climate records, with twice as many reconstructions available from the Northern Hemisphere (Jones et al. 2001:663). Nevertheless, increasing numbers of multiproxy records for the tropical Pacific are being constructed (e.g. Cobb et al. 2003; Jones et al. 1998; Mann et al. 1999; Linsley et al. 2000; Hendy et al. 2002) and offer the potential for a better understanding of past local climate variability in the central Pacific (Allen 2006). In order to critically assess the relationship between cultural changes, including variability in spatial organization, competition, and subsistence, formal links between climate and the empirical expectations of the archaeological record must be established. Consequently, a detailed understanding of marine-resource use in the prehistoric Pacific is necessary.

Recent research in the West Polynesia region, including the islands of Fiji and Samoa (Figure 1), examines the relationship between climate and environmental variability and changes in settlement (Pearl 2004), competition (Field 2004), landscape alteration (Pearl 2006), and ceramic diversity (Cochrane 2004; Cochrane and Neff 2006). Exploring the mechanistic relationship between climate change and marine resources is essential for providing the necessary link between environmental variability and cultural changes (Allen 2006:531).

In Samoa, given the relative paucity of archaeological research in the archipelago over the last 20 years and the difficulty associated with locating well preserved faunal remains, the use of marine resources (and subsistence in general) are not well documented (but see Nagaoka 1993 for an exception). However, recent excavations at Fatu-ma-Futi, on Tutuila Island recovered substantial mollusc and fish assemblages in a stratified sequence covering the last ca. …

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