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Agriculture, domestic production, and site function: Micro-fossil analyses and late prehistoric landscapes of the Society Islands

by Mark Horrocks last modified 2014-10-09 03:44 PM

Kahn JG, Horrocks M, Nieuwoudt MK. 2014. Economic Botany 68, 246-263.


Pollen, phytolith, and starch analyses of sediment samples from the ‘Opunohu Valley, Mo‘orea, Society Islands were completed to retrieve data on prehistoric vegetation, Ma‘ohi planting practices, and cultigens. A second goal was to test whether micro-fossil data can aid in the identification of food production, storage, and plant processing locales at the local and community level, as modeled from ethnographic and ethnohistoric literature. In addition, we use Fourier Transform InfraRed spectroscopy (FTIR) on degraded and suspected starch, to provide another line of evidence for identifying starch grains.

The ‘Opunohu Valley micro-fossil analyses provide direct evidence for 1) past environments and vegetation, including human-induced environmental change and pre-contact agricultural practices, as well as tentative evidence for 2) cultivation and plant processing, 3) domestic production and consumption, including cooking practices and surplus food storage, and 4) site function and specialization that are referenced in the ethnohistoric literature. Twenty economic taxa were identified in addition to grasses, sedges, and palms. Banana leaf phyotliths found in sub-surface pits in residential contexts provide supporting evidence that such features served for short term food storage or breadfruit fermentation. In addition, we model the potential economic uses of Pandanus, Casuarina, Weinmannia, and paper mulberry based on micro-fossil data and ethnohistoric accounts. While micro-fossil studies are of clear interest for reconstructing landscapes, human-environmental interactions and agricultural practices, they also have relevance to questions concerning socio-economic transformations at the local and community levels.


Society Islands, East Polynesia, archaeology, micro-fossils, plant processing, food storage, prehistoric landscapes, specialization.

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