'Opunohu Valley Archaeological Project, Mo'orea
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Jennifer Kahn
School of Social Science
Michie Building
The University of Queensland
Brisbane, Queensland
4072 Australia
'Opunohu marae

Households in 'Opunohu Valley, Mo'orea
by Jennifer Kahn

For the last four years, I have been directing my Ph.D. research project, aimed at understanding aspects of prehistoric household variability in the ‘Opunohu Valley, Mo’orea (Society Islands, French Polynesia). My work on Mo’orea has been partially funded by the U.C. Berkeley Gump Research Station, which has provided lodging and laboratory space for my field research. The work has been a collaborative effort between myself, U.C. Berkeley undergraduates and graduate students, archaeologists from the Service de la Culture et du Patrimoine, and most importantly, the local Tahitian community, whose members have made up the bulk of individuals on my field crews.

fare haupapeView of completed aereal excavations at a round-ended habitation site (fare pote'e).

My excavations in the ‘Opunohu Valley have been directed towards understanding inter and intra-household variation in residential architecture, household activities, and the use of house space. To this end, I have completed extensive, horizontal excavations at five prehistoric house sites in three neighboring, but separate residential complexes located in the Tuapuruuruu sector of the ‘Opunohu valley. My aim is to interpret the archaeological data from these excavations using a “House Societies” theoretical approach that broadly utilizes multiple lines of evidence, including archaeological data, linguistic analysis, and ethnohistoric records. The goal is to understand the patterning of material culture in these excavated houses as a means to understanding the social relations that structured prehistoric Tahitian society.

Currently, I am completing laboratory work on the material remains excavated from the ‘Opunohu Valley house sites. This includes further radiometric dating of charcoal samples to develop a controlled chronology of site construction, reduction stage analysis of the lithic artifacts, sorting of the heavy fraction and wet-screened sediments for micro-artifacts, geochemical analysis of lithic debitage and adzes, and analysis of micro-morphological blocks cut from site profiles.

My continuing field research in the ‘Opunohu valley involves an intensive re-survey of portions of the valley, in order to better document the relationship between marae (temple) construction, the establishment of habitation sites, and the use and construction of agricultural features, within the overall settlement landscape of the ‘Opunohu Valley. In the summer of 2002, I began work on this re-survey project, focusing on a small sector of the Upper and Middle Amehiti portions of the valley, where all relocated sites were cleared of brush, mapped by compass and tape, and described in detail. This work was generously funded by the Roger Green Fund for Archaeological Research.

In the summer of 2004, I directed an archaeological field school in the ‘Opunohu valley, sponsored by the UC Berkeley Summer Session and the UC Berkeley Gump Station. The field school involved reconaissance survey and site mapping in the upper portions of the Amehiti sector of the valley which have never before been surveyed. My limited 2002 survey confirmed that the Upper Amehiti sector has many unrecorded archaeological sites, including house sites, marae, and large terrace complexes. It was imperative to study these sites in order to augment the settlement pattern survey data already recorded for the ‘Opunohu Valley.

'Opunohu Valley Archaeological Project Mo’orea, French Polynesia
by Patrick V. Kirch
(in .pdf format)

The ‘Opunohu is a large, amphitheatre-headed valley situated on the northern side of Mo’orea Island, in the Society Islands group of French Polynesia. The valley was the setting for Roger C. Green’s pioneering settlement-pattern study in 1960-61, and much of the upper valley consists of a cultural preserve under the protection of the French Polynesian government.

Murphy, Murphy, Kellum, and Green Old Mo'orea Hands: At the marae of Teti'iroa, from left to right: Frank Murphy, Hinano Murphy, Marimari Kellum, and Roger C. Green.

In 1991, Dana Lepofsky, then a graduate student at Berkeley and member of the OAL, began renewed archaeological investigations in the ‘Opunohu Valley under the overall supervision of Prof. Kirch. Lepofsky spent several field seasons in the valley, concentrating primarily on the remains of prehistoric agricultural systems, a site category which had been largely neglected in earlier studies. Lepofsky also conducted a study of human-induced environmental change in the valley, based on sediment profiles from trenches in the valley floor and from other excavations. Her doctoral dissertation (UC Berkeley, 1994) focuses on the sequence of prehistoric agricultural intensification.

OAL research in the ‘Opunohu Valley recommenced in 1999, with an emphasis on household archaeology. This research is being conducted by Jennifer Kahn, with assistance and supervision by Prof. Kirch, and will form the basis for Kahn’s doctoral dissertation. Since 1999, field work has been carried out in the valley every summer, using Berkeley’s Richard Gump Research Station as a base of operations. To date, areal excavations have been carried out at three extensive household complexes in the Tupauruuru section of the valley, including both rectangular (fare haupape) and oval-ended (fare pote’e) house types.
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1992 D. S. Lepofsky, H. Harries, and M. Kellum, Early coconuts on Mo’orea Island, French Polynesia. Journal of the Polynesian Society 101:229-308.

1994 D. S. Lepofsky, Prehistoric Agricultural Intensification in the Society Islands, French Polynesia. Doctoral dissertation, University of California, Berkeley.

1996 D. S. Lepofsky, P. V. Kirch, and K. P. Lertzman, Stratigraphic and paleobotanical evidence for prehistoric human-induced environmental disturbance on Mo'orea, French Polynesia. Pacific Science 50:253-273.
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Photos courtesy of Patrick Kirch and Jennifer Kahn.