Prehistory of Mangareva, French Polynesia
Patrick V. Kirch
Mangareva, or Gambier Islands, lie in southeastern Polynesia at the eastern
terminus of the Austral Ridge, and are thought to have formed a key steppingstone
in the initial colonization of Eastern Polynesia. They may well have been
the jumping-off point for the voyage which led to the settlement of Easter
Island (Rapa Nui). Surface survey of archaeological sites by Kenneth P.
Emory of the Bishop Museum, 1934, suggested that most sites on the main
islands had been destroyed during the missionary period, although a remarkable
set of marae structures remained on the nearby atoll of Temoe. In 1959,
Roger C. Green carried out the first stratigraphic excavations in a series
of rockshelters on Kamaka, Aukena, and Mangareva Islands within the main
group. Green’s work remained unpublished for many years, although
it is now being gradually completed through a cooperative effort by OAL
affiliate Marshall Weisler and Green.
Re-excavations in progress at the KAM-2
rockshelter site on Kamaka Island, first excavated by Roger Green in 1959.
Left to right: Marshall Weisler, Eric Conte, and Tihoni Reasin.
As one outcome of the December 2000 international conference on Eastern
Polynesian Archaeology, co-organized by Prof. Kirch and Prof. Eric Conte,
and held at the Richard Gump Research Station in Mo’orea, it was
proposed that renewed research should be carried out in the Mangareva
Islands, as a high priority. The Government of French Polynesia, in particular
the Minister of Culture Prof. Louise Peltzer, responded by providing a
grant of 50,000 CFP to support a field season in late 2001.
large basalt "table" sits atop the Paepae at Atituiti Ruga
in this expedition were: (1) Prof. Eric Conte of the Université
de Polynésie Française and the University of Paris; (2)
Prof. Kirch of the OAL, Berkeley; (3) Prof. Atholl Anderson of the Australian
National University; and (4) Prof. Marshall Weisler of the University
of Otago. Three weeks were spent in the main archipelago carrying out
work on Mangareva, Akamaru, and Kamaka Islands, and an additional three
weeks on the atoll of Temoe. Results of this work are now in preparation
for publication in 2003; details will be provided in future up-dates to