Abstract: Analyzing and Interpreting Sediment Samples from Maupiti, Central East Polynesia.

Maupiti is the smallest island in the Society Island archipelago in Central East Polynesia. The island was settled sometime between 900 AD and 1200 AD, however sites this age are hard to find as many are underwater due to the island subsiding, while others have been buried by sediment (Kahn et al 2015).

This summer, using resources at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), I plan to analyze at least 25 soil samples. These samples derive from excavations on Maupiti in 2012 and 2014 by Dr. Jennifer Kahn and her team at two important sites, MAU-5 and MAU-11. In order to reconstruct the processes that form these sites, including climatic events and human induced landscape changes, I will be analyzing these samples for pH, organic content, and grain size distribution.

MAU-11 is located on the southern side of the island and is an elite habitation site that was transformed into a temple site (Kahn et al 2015). Radiocarbon dates reveal that that the site was occupied from the 13th century to the 19th century with three distinct occupation layers (Kahn et al 2015). Excavations at the site revealed a high concentration of faunal remains, primarily pig and dog, probably from offerings and feasts at the temple (Kahn et al 2015). There is also evidence of temple renovation (repaving of floors) (Kahn et al 2014).

Site MAU-5 is located west of MAU-11. The site was likely residential and had deposits of stone tools and marine food sources, particularly fish, unlike MAU-11 which had a high concentration of pig and dog remains (Kahn et al 2014). While both MAU-5 and 11 are downslope of similar geological deposits, and are situated in the same catchment area, MAU-5 exhibits significant deposition of alluvial/fluvial sediments from the island’s interior, presumably as a result of slash and burn agriculture (Kahn et al 2015). The nearby MAU-11, however, does not, suggesting that agricultural practices in the island’s interior were different above the higher status/temple site, possibly in order to protect the area (Kahn et al 2015).

This research is important because it will demonstrate the effect that humans can have on their environments. Evidence of impacts on the environment by Society Islands inhabitants will aid in dispelling long-held myths about indigenous people being in complete harmony with nature (when in fact their interactions were far more complex) (Kirch 2005). This research also concerns questions of land management in the past, themes which are important to environmental science and sustainability studies today.



Kahn, Jennifer G.
2014 Annual Report of Archaeological Research Activities Between May 30 to August 1, 2014 Maupiti and Mo‘orea Islands, French Polynesia.

Kahn, Jennifer G., Emilie Dotte-Sarout, Guillaume Molle, and Eric Conte
2015 Mid- to Late Prehistoric Landscape Change, Settlement Histories, and Agricultural Practices on Maupiti, Society Islands (Central Eastern Polynesia). The Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology :1-29.

Kirch, Patrick V.
1997 Microcosmic Histories: Island Perspectives on “Global” Change. American Anthropologist 99(1):30-42.

Kirch, PV
2005 Archaeology and global change: The Holocene record. ANNUAL REVIEW OF ENVIRONMENT AND RESOURCES 30(1):409-440.