- Archaeological Investigations in the Mangareva Islands (Gambier Archipelago), French Polynesia
In November of 2000, Patrick Kirch and Eric Conte hosted the Eastern Polynesian Archaeology: Retrospect and Prospect conference, which saw an international [End Page 299] group of participants sharing ongoing studies and debating future research directions (see Asian Perspectives fall 2002). It was in this context that a major expedition to Mangareva, at the southeast margin of East Polynesia, was conceptualized and financial support secured from the French Polynesian government. Dedicated to Roger Green, this volume reports on the first two field seasons and builds on Green's pioneering Mangareva research (e.g., Green and Weisler 2000; Weisler and Green 2001).
The volume begins with an overview of recent themes in East Polynesian research, many also reflected in the conference papers. Kirch and Conte consider questions of settlement chronology, regional variation, landscape evolution, long-distance exchange and interaction, and the development of diverse economic and social orientations. With respect to the timing of East Polynesian settlement, they suggest that Mangareva occupied a central position at the southeastern confluence of the Tuamotu and Austral Island chains and may have been a source area for populations that settled Pitcairn, Henderson, and Rapa Nui. The recent work thus had the potential to inform on settlement not only on Mangareva but also in this southeast province generally. Not surprisingly, the theme of landscape evolution is also prominent, being a research area to which many of the contributors previously have made substantial contributions. Mangareva offers a particularly interesting case, as historic accounts describe a highly degraded landscape and, while human populations have been implicated in this process, their role in this transformation and the dynamics of cultural-environmental relationships have thus far been largely undemonstrated. The place of Mangareva in long-distance interaction networks is also highlighted, the islands previously having been identified as a central player in the southeast interaction sphere (Weisler and Green 2001). A final theme is the temporal development of Mangarevan society and its differentiation from those elsewhere in East Polynesia. Interesting in this regard are characterizations of Mangareva as a small stratified society, but one with parallels to "open societies" in which sociopolitical statuses are fluid and often nonhereditary. These discussions lead directly to the four main objectives of the 2001–2003 field research and provide the context for the remainder of the volume.
Chapter 2 (Kirch) backgrounds the natural and cultural environments of Mangareva. Three environmental features stand out: the isolation of the group, the small land area (only 24.4 km2), represented by ten main volcanic islands, and the extensive lagoon and encircling barrier reef. Kirch's overview of traditional Mangarevan society draws extensively on the research of Te Rangi Hiroa (Peter Buck). The tremendous changes experienced by both the land and people are highlighted, particularly the loss of native flora and fauna in prehistory and cultural change at the hands of Roman Catholic missionaries after 1834.
Approximately one-third of the volume is devoted to detailing the archaeological field studies undertaken by Conte, Kirch, Weisler, and Anderson (chapter 3). The field strategy was explicitly extensive rather than intensive, in an effort to sample a diversity of localities and as many islands as possible. Surface surveys, coring, and test excavations were carried out at six main localities on seven islands. The work is well reported and accompanied by useful illustrations (photos, maps, and profiles), but unfortunately the photos are poorly reproduced (no fault of the authors). Where appropriate, the new findings are integrated with the earlier survey of Kenneth Emory, the 1959 excavations of Green (Green and Weisler 2000), and a recent surface survey by Weisler (1996).
An important contribution here is the enlarged corpus of radiocarbon determinations, from 8...