The Hakaea Beach Site, Marquesan Colonisation, and Models of East Polynesian Settlement

By Allen, Melinda S.; McAlister, Andrew J. | Archaeology in Oceania, July 2010 | Go to article overview

The Hakaea Beach Site, Marquesan Colonisation, and Models of East Polynesian Settlement


Allen, Melinda S., McAlister, Andrew J., Archaeology in Oceania


Abstract

Field explorations at the newly recorded Hakaea Beach site, Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands were spread across a 12500 [m.sup.2] area on the western coastal flat. The site's geomorphic and cultural history is reconstructed based on nine strata and ten radiocarbon determinations. The Hakaea record illustrates the range of powerful environmental processes, including sea level fall, climate change, tsunamis, and tropical storm surges, which have operated on Marquesan shorelines for the last 800 years, and the ease with which past human activity can be obscured or erased. The results highlight the need to systematically search for protected coastal contexts and geomorphic settings where older surfaces might be preserved. Radiocarbon assemblages from the 13th century Hakaea Beach site and seven other early Marquesan sites are considered in light of three models of East Polynesian dispersal: 1) Leap-frog; 2) Stepping-stone; and 3) Advancing Wave. Along with chronometrics, the processes and mechanisms which might account for regional patterns of mobility and settlement are emphasized. The Marquesan record is unique amongst central East Polynesian archipelagos in the number of pre-14th century sites, a pattern that might relate to the antiquity of human settlement, and one which should be considered alongside the late Holocene sea level record.

Keywords: Polynesia, settlement models, coastal geodynamics, climate change, colonisation process, sea level fall

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The settlement of East Polynesia was one of the most geographically expansive prehistoric colonisations by any one group of closely related peoples. The origins, timing, and mechanisms of that settlement process are of long-standing scholarly and public interest. Over the past 50 years radiocarbon dating has played an integral role in detailing the cultural historical sequences of the archipelagos which comprise this region. Further, recent technological advances in radiocarbon dating, combined with new archaeological protocols, have radically altered ideas about the antiquity and character of the East Polynesian settlement process. In this paper we present evidence from a new early settlement site in the Marquesas Islands, Hakaea Beach on Nuku Hiva Island. We then review the current suite of Marquesan sites with pre-1300 AD age estimates and three models of regional colonisation. The importance of considering not just chronometrics, but also the processes and mechanisms which might account for regional patterns of mobility and settlement, is emphasized.

Hakaea Valley

Hakaea is a long narrow valley on the windward coast of Nuku Hiva (Figure 1). It opens onto a ca. 300 m wide coralline sand beach (Figure 2) and a deep narrow bay. This coastline has a dynamic and complex geomorphic history, with the narrow topography of both the valley and the bay potentially aggravating the impact of terrestrial and marine forces, both of which have left dramatic signatures on the contemporary landscape. The western portion of the coastal flat has been scoured by high wave action, and large coral heads (some more than a metre across) have been tossed onto the shore, probably by tsunami (see Schindele et al. 2006). Alluvial processes have also been active, with an intermittent stream bisecting the western half of the coastal plain (Figure 3). The now dry channel records past episodes of high-energy deposition in its 2-3 m high banks. East of this is a discontinuous beach ridge that rises to a maximum height of nearly 10 m in the east. The term "beach ridge" is used here as these features parallel the coast and most likely formed by wave action, while dunes are the result of aeolian deposition, the sand accumulations at Ha'atuatua being an example (Dickinson, pers. com. 2010). The near-shore beach ridge at Hakaea is bisected by a spring, a washout gully, and small run-off channels. In the west, the area inland of the ridge is gently sloping, mildly undulating (Figure 4), and dominated by an aging coconut plantation (Figure 5). …

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