Asian Perspectives, vol. 41, no. 2 (2002): Eastern Polynesia

Special Issue: Eastern Polynesia
Guest Editors: Patrick V. Kirch and Eric Conte


Eastern Polynesia
Patrick V. Kirch and Eric Conte


Voyaging and Interaction in Ancient East Polynesia
Barry V. Rolett

The origins of East Polynesian culture are traced to a regional homeland that was centered on the Society Islands but which also included neighboring archipelagoes. Archaeological evidence suggests a fall-off through time in the frequency of opensea voyaging within this homeland, with marked declines in voyaging and interaction after A.D. 1450. A range of social and environmental factors may have contributed to these declines. The regional distribution of terrestrial resources is significant because the smallest islands often suffered the most acute consequences of human-induced environmental change. Tahiti, in the Society Islands, is unique in terms of the unparalleled scale of its resource base and its high degree of voyaging accessibility. If Tahiti and the Societies played the role of a regional hub in early interaction spheres, developments in Tahiti may have influenced inhabitants of the outer archipelagoes. Specifically, if circumstances restricted the flow of timber and canoes from the Societies to outlying archipelagoes, and this coincided with the depletion of forest reserves on the smaller outlying islands, these developments could help explain the contraction of early central East Polynesian interaction spheres. It is likely that voyaging patterns in the Marquesas and the Pitcairn Islands, comparatively isolated archipelagoes, were little affected by internal developments in the Societies.
Keywords: East Polynesia, ancient voyaging, interaction spheres.

Resolving Long-Term Change in Polynesian Marine Fisheries
Melinda S. Allen

There is growing evidence that patterns of marine fisheries on some Pacific islands underwent significant changes over the period of human occupation. One such island is Aitutaki in the Southern Cook Islands. Over the millennia of human occupation, there were shifts in habitat use, changes in targeted prey, and the abandonment of some fishing technologies. However, the most striking trend was an apparent decline in fishing altogether. This paper brings together several lines of evidence in an effort to understand why fishing became less important on this small Polynesian ”almost-atoll.” The possibility of over-harvesting or resource depression is considered. Resource depression could have been a factor at one mainland locality, where occupations were at least semipermanent, but was apparently not involved in declines at an offshore islet site where occupations were short term but intensive. However, fishing on the offshore islet, and deeper water fishing in general, may have been adversely affected by the loss of a key raw material traditionally used for fishhooks, namely pearlshell (Pinctada margaritifera). Further consideration of the offshore islet assemblages is assisted by mtDNA analyses, which have allowed for species level determinations within a key family, the Serranidae. Considering the suite of changes as a whole, the costs of fishing apparently increased significantly over the 1000-year period of occupation. What is less certain is the potential role that terrestrial components (i.e., agriculture and animal husbandry) of subsistence played in fishing declines. Stable isotope studies, now underway, may further elucidate the relationships between marine and terrestrial components of subsistence.
Keywords: Polynesian fisheries, Cook Islands prehistory, marine economies, zooarchaeology, mtDNA analyses, fishhooks, resource depression.

The Mangarevan Sequence and Dating of the Geographic Expansion into Southeast Polynesia
Roger C. Green and Marshall I. Weisler

A recently published archaeological sequence supported by information from six sites excavated in the Mangarevan group in 1959 is summarized in the context of additional data and current interpretations of the prehistory of southeastern Polynesia. The known part of the Mangareva sequence covers the period from ca. A.D. 1200 to the time of early nineteenth-century contact with Europeans, with its dating enhanced by four new radiocarbon age determinations plus four previous ones, all on samples collected in 1959. More recent information from archaeological investigations on nearby Pitcairn and Henderson islands, showing they formed part of a long-term interaction sphere with Mangareva, indicate that while the early part of the Mangareva sequence from ca. A.D. 800-1200 remains undocumented, buried cultural deposits for this interval probably exist within Rikitea village on the main island of Mangareva.

An A.D. 700-800 settlement for the Mangareva group is consistent with a similar age and origin for the first inhabitants of Easter Island, as aspects of the thirteenth century assemblages from both places are comparable. A similar age is also supported by several dates for an initial colonization of Henderson Island in this period. Recent linguistic reworking of the early subgrouping of Eastern Polynesian suggests Easter Island, Original Mangarevan, and probably the extinct Polynesian languages of Henderson and Pitcairn were the first in the region, placing the age of that subgroup around A.D. 700-800. A major secondary contact with Marquesan speakers who may have settled in Mangareva at A.D. 1100-1300, seems to have been the basis for changing it into a Marquesic language, of a form then taken to Rapa. The archaeology, biological relationships, and linguistic history of the region now provides a robust and consistent outline for the geographic expansion into Southeast Polynesia.
Keywords: culture-historical sequence, Mangareva group, Southeast Polynesia, geographical expansion, radiocarbon dating.

New Radiocarbon Ages of Colonization Sites in East Polynesia
Atholl Anderson and Yosihiko Sinoto

The archaeological chronology of initial human colonization in East Polynesia has relied substantially upon radiocarbon dating results from a small number of sites in the central region, notably Motu Paeao cemetery (Maupiti) and Vaito’otia-Fa’ahia (Huahine) in the Society Islands, and Hane (Ua Huka) and Ha’atuatua (Nuku Hiva) in the Marquesas Islands. Recent field research and new radiocarbon dates showed that Ha’atuatua and Motu Paeao were occupied significantly later than had been suggested by earlier results. We now report the results of new radiocarbon dating on the remaining two sites. Leaving aside questionable results on bone and wood samples, six shell samples from Vaito’otia-Fa’ahia indicate occupation in the period A.D. 1050-1450. Five shell and five charcoal samples from Hane indicate that occupation did not begin earlier than about A.D. 1000. Taken together with other recent research on the chronology of initial colonization in East Polynesia we suggest that habitation did not begin until A.D. 900 or later.
Keywords: East Polynesia, radiocarbon dates.

Current Research on the Island of Ua Huka, Marquesas Archipelago
Eric Conte

Since 1991, an ethnoarchaeological research program has been carried out on the islandof Ua Huka (Marquesas Archipelago, French Polynesia). The program included test excavations of early sites, the examination of dwelling and funerary sites, an inventory of surface monuments, an analysis of space utilization in recent periods, and ethnographic observations, all conducted concurrently. The aim of this program is to piece together the history of the Polynesian community inhabiting the island from the time of its arrival, through European contact, and even further.
Keywords: archaeology, Marquesas, French Polynesia, prehistory, ethnoarchaeology.

Dryland Horticulture in Maupiti: An Ethnoarchaeological Study
Mickaelle-Hinanui Cauchois

Maupiti (Society Islands, French Polynesia) is a small high island where dry and nonmechanized horticulture is still practiced. These practices can be seen in small orchard-gardens on the coastal plain and on mountainsides. Dryland cultures can seldom be organized in larger fields in the mountain, where staple species such as taro and bananas can be mixed among fallow. A quasi-exhaustive archaeological survey has been made in Maupiti and no evidence of prehistoric horticultural remains were found. This lack of archaeological remains and the presence of several dryland orchard-gardens were the beginning of a study whose main purpose was to try to understand how dryland horticulture should appear in the archaeological record.
Keywords: horticulture, Maupiti, Society Islands, French Polynesia, ethnoarchaeology, agriculture, dryland horticulture, burning.

Melanesian Tribes vs. Polynesian Chiefdoms: Recent Archaeological Assessment of a Classic Model of Sociopolitical Types in Oceania
Christophe Sand

The late prehistoric period is crucial to the study of anthropology, as the area of Island Melanesia has provided the world with one of its great anthropological stereotypes, the ”Big Man” society. This was developed by Sahlins (1963) on the basis of Oliver’s (1955) ethnography of the Siwai of southern Bougainville as observed during the late 1930s. It has led to a gross ethnographic oversimplification of Melanesia as having Big Man societies, contrasted with Polynesia having chiefly societies. Where chiefs were found in Melanesia, their presence has often been interpreted as a cultural borrowing under Polynesian influence (Spriggs 1993 : 198).
Keywords: Melanesia, Polynesia, Big Man society, Polynesian chiefdom


Waihou Journeys. The Archaeology of 400 Years of Maori Settlement, Caroline Phillips
Reviewed by Christophe Sand

Sigatoka: The Shifting Sands of Fijian Prehistory, Yvonne Marshall, Andrew Crosby, Sepeti Matararaba, and Shannon Wood
Reviewed by Jeffrey T. Clark

Gardens of Lono: Archaeological Investigation at the Amy B. H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Gardens, Kealakekua, Hawaii, edited by Melinda S. Allen
Reviewed by Joan Wozniak

Splendid Isolation: Art of Easter Island, edited by Eric Kjellgren
Reviewed by Georgia Lee