Human-Environment Interactions in Mangaia
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Professor Patrick V. Kirch
Archaeological Research Facility
2251 College Ave.
University of California, Berkeley Berkeley, CA 94720
Mangaian adzes

Human-Environment Interactions in Mangaia, Cook Islands
by Patrick V. Kirch
(in .pdf format)

The Mangaia Project is a collaborative endeavor between the OAL and the University of Florida (Gainesville), co-directed by Prof. Patrick Kirch (Berkeley) and Prof. David Steadman (Florida). The principal objective of the project is to study the dynamic interactions between a Polynesian population and their island ecosystem over a several thousand year period.

The Tangatatau Rockshelter (MAN 44), excavated in 1989-91, yielded a rich sequence of artifacts, faunal remains, and floral materials dated from ca. AD 1000 to the early post-contact period.

Mangaia is the southernmost of the Cook Islands, in central Eastern Polynesia. The island has a unique geological structure, with a central volcanic cone surrounded by a ring of upraised reef limestone (makatea). The island was divided into six traditional land districts, each occupying a valley with a radial drainage pattern. Irrigated taro fields in the swampy valley bottoms were the most important economic resource.
Interdisciplinary fieldwork was carried out primarily in 1989 and 1991, with a team including archaeologists, palynologists/geomorphologists, and avian paleontologists. During these field seasons, major excavations were carried out at the well-stratified Tangatatau Rockshelter site (MAN-44), which yielded a sequence dating from ca. A.D. 1000 up to European contact. Other rockshelter and open sites were also test excavated. Sediment cores were recovered from all of the major drainage basins, and several of these were analyzed for pollen content and for geochemistry. Continued fieldwork since 1991 (by J. Endicott of the OAL, and by D. Steadman and S. Anton of Florida), has focused on open habitation sites and on an additional rockshelter site with specialized, ritual use.

Selected artifacts from the MAN-44 rockshelter include a coral gaming stone, coral and sea-urchin spine files, bone awls, and tattooing needles. (From PV Kirch, DW Steadman, J Flenley, S Dawson, and F Lamont "Ancient environmental degredation: prehistoric human impacts on an island ecosystem, Mangaia, Central Polynesia". Research and Exploration 9:166-179.)

The 1989-91 fieldwork produced a 7,000-year long record of environmental change, including significant anthropogenic impacts following Polynesian colonization. The arrival of Polynesians on Mangaia may have been as early as 2500-2000 B.P., although this is signaled only through the proxy indicators of charcoal influx and vegetation changes in the pollen records. The rockshelter excavations have demonstrated massive avifaunal extinctions and extirpations between about A.D. 1000-1500.

Results of the Mangaia Project have been published in a number of journal articles and book chapters. In addition, a major monograph on the MAN-44 site excavations is in preparation, and will be published in the Contributions of the Archaeological Research Facility, University of California at Berkeley.
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1990 D. Steadman and P. V. Kirch, Prehistoric extinction of birds on Mangaia, Cook Islands, Polynesia. Proceedings of the U. S. National Academy of Sciences 87:9605-9609.

1991 J. Hather and P. V. Kirch, Prehistoric sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) from Mangaia Island, Central Polynesia. Antiquity 65:887-893.

1991 P. V. Kirch, D. Steadman, and J. Flenley, A radiocarbon chronology for human-induced environmental change on Mangaia, Southern Cook Islands, Polynesia. Radiocarbon 33:317-328. (with D. Steadman, J. Flenley).

1992 P. V. Kirch, D. W. Steadman, J. Flenley, S. Dawson, and F. Lamont, Ancient environmental degradation: prehistoric human impacts on an island ecosystem, Mangaia, Central Polynesia. Research and Exploration 8:166-179.

1994 P. V. Kirch, M. I. Weisler, and J. Endicott, The Mata'are basalt source: implications for prehistoric interaction studies in the Cook Islands. Journal of the Polynesian Society 103:203-216.

1994 P. V. Kirch and J. Ellison, Paleoenvironmental evidence for human colonization of remote Oceanic islands. Antiquity 68:310- 321.

1995 P. V. Kirch, D. Steadman, V. L. Butler, J. Hather, and M. I. Weisler, Prehistory and human ecology in Eastern Polynesia: Excavations at Tangatatau Rockshelter, Mangaia, Cook Islands. Archaeology in Oceania 30:47-65.

1996 P. V. Kirch, Late Holocene human-induced modifications to a central Polynesian island ecosystem. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 93(11):5296-5300.

1996 M. Weisler and P. V. Kirch, Interisland and interarchipelago transport of stone tools in prehistoric Polynesia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 93:1381-1385.

1997 P. V. Kirch, Microcosmic histories: Island perspectives on 'global' change. American Anthropologist 99:30-42.

1997 P. V. Kirch, Changing landscapes and sociopolitical evolution in Mangaia, Central Polynesia. In P. V. Kirch and T. L. Hunt, eds., Historical Ecology in the Pacific Islands, pp. 147-165. New Haven: Yale University Press.

2000 D. Steadman, S. Anton, and P. V. Kirch, Ana Manuka: A prehistoric ritualistic site on Mangaia, Cook Islands. Antiquity 74:873-83.
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Photos courtesy of Patrick Kirch.