The University of Arizona
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Chronometric dating and late Holocene prehistory in the Hawaiian Islands; a critical review of radiocarbon dates from Moloka'i Island.

Marshall Weisler


The importance of chronometric dating in archaeology cannot be overemphasized. Indeed, most chronologies developed throughout the world during the past three decades have depended on radiocarbon age determinations to provide a temporal framework for examining change over time in cultural sequences during the late Pleistocene and Holocene. With the advent of legislation in the mid-1960s designed to protect archaeological sites in the United States threatened by increased urban development or government sponsored projects, archaeological surveys and excavations were mandated as a means for preserving information otherwise destroyed. As a result, thousands of projects have contributed to a growing body of "gray literature," i.e., unpublished proprietary or manuscript reports with very limited circulation. Within these reports are hundreds, if not thousands, of 14C age determinations, most of which are not accessible in published form. One objective of this paper is to present all the 14C age determinations for the island of Moloka'i, Hawai'i as of December 1988, including 41 dates never before published with stratigraphic details. Despite Polach's treatise on the limitations of 14C dating in archaeology written over 10 years ago (Polach, 1976), the validity and utility of 14C "dates" are most often accepted by researchers at face value. However, several recent critical examinations of 14C data have produced some unsettling evaluations. Of fundamental concern is the relationship of the dated material to the actual archaeological event of interest (Butler and Stein, 1988; Dean, 1978; Grayson, in press; Mead and Meltzer, 1985). Other objectives of this paper are to critically review the significance of 14C age determinations for Moloka'i, and to use these dates to outline the prehistoric sequence of the island. Although Kirch (1985) has provided a general summary of the prehistory of the Hawaiian Islands, the discussion that follows focuses on the 14C data from the island of Moloka'i and critically evaluates their relation to stratigraphic context and archaeological significance.


Maui County Hawaii;Molokai;Hawaii;East Pacific Ocean Islands;Oceania;Polynesia;artifacts;archaeology;Holocene;upper Holocene;United States;Cenozoic;Quaternary;methods;geochronology;C 14;carbon;dates;isotopes;radioactive isotopes;absolute age

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