Mid- to late Holocene landscape change and anthropogenic transformations on Mo‘orea, Society Islands: A multi-proxy approach

Jennifer G. Kahn*, Cordelia Nickelsen, Janelle Stevenson, Nick Porch, Emilie Dotte-Sarout, Carl C. Christensen, Lauren May, J. Stephen Athens, Patrick V. Kirch

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    37 Citations (Scopus)


    Archaeology’s ability to generate long-term datasets of natural and human landscape change positions the discipline as an inter-disciplinary bridge between the social and natural sciences. Using a multi-proxy approach combining archaeological data with palaeoenvironmental indicators embedded in coastal sediments, we outline millennial timescales of lowland landscape evolution in the Society Islands. Geomorphic and cultural histories for four coastal zones on Mo‘orea are reconstructed based on stratigraphic records, sedimentology, pollen analysis, and radiocarbon determinations from mid- to late Holocene contexts. Prehuman records of the island’s flora and fauna are described utilizing landsnail, insect, and botanical data, providing a palaeo-backdrop for later anthropogenic change. Several environmental processes, including sea level change, island subsidence, and anthropogenic alterations, leading to changes in sedimentary budget have operated on Mo‘orea coastlines from c. 4600 to 200 BP. We document significant transformation of littoral and lowland zones which obscured earlier human activities and created significant changes in vegetation and other biota. Beginning as early as 440 BP (1416–1490 cal. ad), a major phase of sedimentary deposition commenced which can only be attributed to anthropogenic effects. At several sites, between 1.8 and 3.0 m of terrigenous sediments accumulated within a span of two to three centuries due to active slope erosion and deposition on the coastal flats. This phase correlates with the period of major inland expansion of Polynesian occupation and intensive agriculture on the island, indicated by the presence of charcoal throughout the sediments, including wood charcoal from several economically important tree species.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)333-347
    Number of pages15
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 25 Feb 2015


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