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New pollen, sedimentary, and radiocarbon records from the Marquesas Islands, East Polynesia: Implications for archaeological and palaeoclimate studies

by Mark Horrocks last modified 2011-04-16 12:25 PM

Allen MS, Butler K, Flenley J, Horrocks M. 2011. The Holocene 21, 473-484.


Three sediment cores, from one upland and two lowland sites on Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands, provide a ca. 750-year record of palaeo-environmental change on the island. AMS dating of pollen concentrates from the base of each core indicates that the three widely separated marshes developed between AD 1220 to 1350, after the known period of human colonisation and establishment. Detailed analyses (pollen, sediments, and charcoal) and additional dating of the upland core from Tōvi’i Plateau (810 m) allows for identification of four chronozones. The core sediment data and agedepth curve suggests an alternation of wet-dry-wet conditions over the ~750-year period. The pollen spectra, in contrast, are fairly stable, with ferns dominating but arborescent species also present. The micro-charcoal evidence points to regional burning and longdistance transport until ~AD 1640, after which localised burning may be indicated. Among the more notable changes is a major increase in pollen and spore deposition after ~AD 1640, a trend most evident in the pollen concentration diagram.

Overall, the data suggest rapid sedimentation in the 14th century AD, followed by drier and/or more settled conditions until the mid-17th century, and finally wetter conditions after ~AD 1640. The latter in particular is consistent with emerging regional evidence for warm-wet conditions in the central eastern Pacific during the 17th century, the height of the Northern Hemisphere “Little Ice Age”. The charcoal record also provides insights into human activities on the island, suggesting burning in the lowlands from the 14th century AD, probably inconjunction with forest clearance preparatory to tree and root crop cultivation.


Palynology, human colonisation, climate change, Little Ice Age, Polynesian prehistory, Marquesas Islands, Pacific.

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