Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

Central East Polynesia: An Introduction

Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

Central East Polynesia: An Introduction

Article excerpt

The collection of papers in this issue was inspired by recent conference presentations where the interesting and diverse research underway in central East Polynesia was high-lighted, including symposia at the 11th Pacific Science Inter-congress in Papeete (2009) and the Indo-Pacific Prehistoric Association meetings in Ha Noi (2009). Along with a longer contribution by Kirch and associates (underway before the issue was conceived), these papers highlight not only new substantive results, but also novel technologies and analytic strategies that have wide applicability. The collection of papers articulate with four key areas of central East Polynesian research: 1) the timing, mechanisms, and patterning of regional settlement, 2) human-environment relations, 3) patterns of social interaction, and 4) spatio-temporal variability in sociopolitical systems. Four archipelagos within the central core are represented, including the Societies, Marquesas, Gambiers, and Rapa Nui, and as a whole they incorporate much of the East Polynesian settlement sequence. In this brief introduction, we consider the present contributions in relation to both historical perspectives and notable publications of the last five years, the latter aimed at extending the recent regional review of Kirch and Kahn (2007).

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Since the inception of a scientific archaeology in the 1950s, the timing and origins of East Polynesian settlement have been dominant research themes. Current debates trace to Kirch's (1986) paper, "Rethinking East Polynesian Prehistory", where he identified crucial geographic gaps, problems related to radiocarbon dating, and key questions about material culture relationships. Spriggs and Anderson (1993) followed with a call for critical assessment of the regional radiocarbon database, and provided protocols for evaluating the accuracy of individual determinations. From these seminal papers and related research, two distinct views emerged as to what constitutes valid evidence of human presence in Pacific Island settings. "Long chronology" models were built largely on palaeoenvironmental evidence (proxy measures of human activities), arguments about the quality and intensity of sampling, and ideas about initial population sizes and rates of dispersal. In contrast, "short chronology" models relied more strictly on radiocarbon dates that were directly associated with cultural activities and met a rigorous set of criteria.

Initially, long chronology advocates placed human arrival between 2400 and 1500 BP, while short chronology supporters posited arrival between 1350 and 1000 BP (e.g. Kirch and Ellison 1994; Spriggs and Anderson 1993). In recent years the gap between these two positions has narrowed, partly due to new and refined chronometric tools (e.g. Kirch and Sharp 2005; Petchey 2009; Petchey et al. 2008; Weisler et al. 2006). There is now near-consensus that settlement took place within the last 1500 years or less, but those using the most restrictive protocols place human arrival no earlier than the 11th to 13th centuries AD (e.g. Anderson and Sinoto 2002: 253; Hunt and Lipo 2006). Interestingly, new proxy data, specifically rat-gnawed seeds, fruits, and snails, are now being used to support these shorter chronologies (Wilmshurst et al. 2008). Overall, the distance between the two positions on regional settlement has been reduced to only a few centuries, with nearly all agreeing that regional settlement was much later than envisioned two decades ago. Nevertheless, many of the concerns raised by Kirch (1986) and Spriggs and Anderson (1993) remain, including limited sampling in most archipelagos, insufficient dating of known early sites, and far too few radiocarbon determinations on identified materials, despite evidence for long-lived tropical species (Allen and Wallace 2007).

Attention also has been directed to the "how" of East Polynesian settlement, particularly the challenges of increasing inter-island distances, smaller island targets, and windward sailing. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.