Academic journal article Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific

The Age of the Bellows Dune Site 018, O'ahu, Hawai'i, and the Antiquity of Hawaiian Colonization

Academic journal article Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific

The Age of the Bellows Dune Site 018, O'ahu, Hawai'i, and the Antiquity of Hawaiian Colonization

Article excerpt

A FEW YEARS AGO a consensus developed among Hawaiian archaeologists that the initial Polynesian colonization of the archipelago occurred in the A.D. 100-500 range (Chun and Spriggs 1987; Hunt and Holsen 1991; Kirch 1985:87, 298; Tuggle 1979: 189), with the language used by the various authors clearly indicating a preference for the early end of the range. (1) However, the consensus has now disintegrated, with some archaeologists holding the line on the early age (e.g., Cordy 1996; Graves and Addison 1995) and others arguing for colonization sometime after A.D. 600 (Spriggs and Anderson 1993) and in some cases as late as A.D. 800 (at least for O'ahu: Athens and Ward 1993; Athens et al. 1999). Graves and Addison (1995) refer to these as the "long" and "short" chronologies. (2) Taken at their extremes, these two positions represent a discrepancy of as much as 700 years for the proposed settlement of Hawai'i (that is, C. A.D. 100 vs. C. A.D. 800).

The argument for a short chronology has developed as a result of two major factors: (1) new data derived from wetland coring, and (2) the re-evaluation of archaeological dates and dating methods.

Wetland coring provides a set of data that defines the beginnings of human modification of the landscape, and thus is related to the dating of colonization but is independent of cultural sites. For O'ahu, a substantial amount of coring data have been accumulated that are consistent in suggesting human presence in the environment around A.D. 800 or later (Athens 1997; Athens and Ward 1993; Athens et al. 1999).

For the dating of archaeological sites, the long chronology was developed in the 1970s based not only on-radiocarbon but on volcanic glass hydration as well (see Emory and Sinoto 1969; Kirch 1974, 1985, 1986; Tuggle et al. 1978). For volcanic glass dating, a detailed review in the late 1970s indicated that the basis for age calculation of the hydration of Hawaiian volcanic glass was scientifically spurious and possibly had been fraudulently developed and applied (Tuggle and Olson 1978). Volcanic glass hydration gradually dropped from use as a dating method in Hawai'i, and is now seldom if ever cited in the arguments for early Hawaiian settlement (see, for example, Cordy 1996; Graves and Addison 1995). Radiocarbon dating has, of course, continued with numerous refinements, but a recent reconsideration of early radiocarbon dates for Hawai'i indicates that problems of provenience, analysis, and interpretation leave little support for early settlement in Hawai'i in general (Spriggs and Anderson 1993) or at specific sites that had been included in the category of early settlement (Dye 1992; Spriggs 1991; Tuggle 1997).

One of the critical sites in the models of the colonization of Hawai'i is O18, Bellows, O'ahu (3) (Kirch 1985:298). The present paper is a site-specific analysis of the chronometric data from this site, including presentation of newly obtained radiocarbon determinations.


Bellows Dune site O18 (now Hawai'i State Site 4852, Location O18) (4) is located at the mouth of Waimanalo Stream (this is a modern name for the stream known traditionally as Puha) located on the windward side of O'ahu (Figs. 1 and 2). It is well known for its status as an "early site" and clearly matches the model of where early sites should be: it lies in a rich windward environment, adjacent to a permanent stream. It was first excavated in 1967, and in the summary site report (Pearson et al. 1971), the radiocarbon determinations are interpreted to indicate a total occupational span for the site of A.D. 600-1100, although the authors point out the numerous problems with the dates and are careful not to suggest a specific date for the first occupation of the site.


The unusual artifactual assemblage at the site also suggested early occupation, and both sets of data compared favorably to the information from the sites at Ka La'e (H1 and H8), island of Hawai'i, the prevailing primary cases for an early settlement phase in Hawai'i. …

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