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Evaluating agricultural bet-hedging strategies in the Kona Field System: New high-precision 230Th/U and 14C dates and plant microfossil data from Kealakekua, Hawai‘i Island

by Mark Horrocks last modified 2017-08-25 07:48 AM

McCoy MD, Mulrooney MA, Horrocks M, Cheng H, Ladefoged TN. 2017. Archaeology in Oceania 52, 70-80.


The Kona Field System, located on the leeward side of Hawai‘i Island, is comprised of a network of stone field walls, terraces, mounds and other agricultural, residential and religious features stretched over an estimated 163 km2. Previous research indicates a construction history of the fields that could have begun as early as the Foundation Period (AD 1000–1200), followed by a shift in agricultural strategies from those that reduce variance in yield (AD 1450–1600) to a strategy of production maximisation (after AD 1600) attributed to the growing political economy. However, these propositions are based on radiocarbon dates, many of which do not meet minimal standards for acceptable sample selection.

We report the results of new excavations at the Amy Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Kealakekua that suggest (1) that agricultural infrastructural improvements were being made by AD 1400, and (2) that agronomic infrastructure continued to be added to optimal lands and elsewhere after AD 1700 as decisions regarding agricultural strategies became coopted by political elites. There remains a great deal about the Kona Field System that is still poorly documented through archaeology.


Agricultural strategies, risk management, bet-hedging, political economy, Hawaiian Islands, Kona Field System.

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