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A radiocarbon chronology for prehistoric agriculture in the Society Islands, French Polynesia.

Dana Lepofsky


I discuss a suite of 29 radiocarbon age determinations from four valleys on the islands of Mo'orea and Raiatea in the Society Archipelago. These dates provide the first sequence for the development of prehistoric agricultural production and human-induced environmental change in the Society Islands. Indirect evidence of small-scale agriculture, and by association, human occupation, dates to at least the 7th-10th centuries AD. Agricultural sites themselves date from the early 13th century AD until the late prehistoric/early historic period, with most agricultural activity clustering at the end of the temporal sequence. Valleys with the greatest arable potential were cultivated earlier than less preferred sites. Evidence for extensive landscape transformation in the Opunohu Valley, likely associated with clearing for agricultural purposes, begins soon after the earliest evidence for cultivation and continues throughout prehistory. A larger sample of (super 14) C determinations from stratigraphic excavations in both archaeological sites and "off-site" contexts is required to address many as yet unanswered questions about the prehistoric social and economic development of the Society Islands.


Mo' orea;Opunohu Valley;Raiatea;Society Islands;landscapes;agriculture;French Polynesia;Oceania;Polynesia;human activity;archaeology;archaeological sites;Holocene;chronology;Cenozoic;charcoal;Quaternary;C 14;carbon;dates;isotopes;radioactive isotopes;absolute age

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