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Analysis of plant microfossils in archaeological deposits from two remote archipelagos: the Marshall Islands, eastern Micronesia, and the Pitcairn Group, southeast Polynesia

by admin last modified 2005-11-18 09:33 PM

Horrocks M, Weisler MI. 2006. Pacific Science 60, 261-280.


Pollen and starch residue analyses were conducted on 24 sediment samples from archaeological sites on Maloelap and Ebon Atolls in the Marshall Islands, eastern Micronesia, and Henderson and Pitcairn Islands in the Pitcairn Group, southeast Polynesia. The sampled islands, two of which are ‘mystery islands’ (Henderson and Pitcairn), previously occupied and abandoned before European contact, comprise three types of Pacific island - low coral atolls, raised atolls and volcanic islands. Pollen, starch grains, calcium oxylate crystals and xylem cells of introduced non-Colocasia Araceae (aroids) were identified in the Marshalls and Henderson (c. 1900 yr BP and 1200 yr BP at the earliest, respectively).

The data provide direct evidence of prehistoric horticulture in these islands, and initial fossil pollen sequences from Pitcairn Island. Combined with previous studies, the data also indicate a horticultural system on Henderson comprising both field- and tree-crops, with seven different cultigens, including at least two species of the Araceae. Starch grains and xylem cells of Ipomoea sp., possibly introduced I. batatas, were identified on Pitcairn Island deposits.

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