Life in the Diminutive Realm: Human Adaptations to Smaller Island Environments

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 80th Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA (2015)

In the archaeological study of islands worldwide, research has generally focused on larger land masses. This is primarily based on the assumption that human colonizing groups require certain necessities—suitable land for cultivation, easier access to resources such as fresh water, and room to expand as populations grow. However, it is becoming increasingly demonstrated that smaller islands within archipelagoes were equally, if not more, attractive for settlers due to their superior marine and/or terrestrial resources, isolated locations for ritualized activities, and more manageable defense. Smaller islands, however, are also more susceptible to human impacts given myriad social and natural processes. In this symposium, we will explore how people settled and lived on small islands in various parts of the world, with an emphasis on how they differ from other settings. Potential topics are diverse and will encompass a range of issues and theoretical perspectives—from historical ecology and ethnoarchaeology, to more specific case studies and comparative analyses. The overall goal is to present how current research on smaller islands is changing how these seemingly peripheral and less important locales are pivotal to our understanding of human survivability in aquatic environments.

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  • Documents (7)

  • The centrality of small islands in Arctic Norway from the Iron Age to the recent historic period (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Stephen Wickler.

    The definition of island marginality in northern Norway was radically altered by the advent of motorized fishing vessels in the early 20th century. Prior to this development, small offshore islands were of central importance for settlement and marine related activity due to their proximity to fishing grounds. In this paper I discuss three settlements on small and ‘marginal’ islands in Arctic Norway from 68°19’ to 71°05’ N latitude that illustrate the centrality of such locations since the Early...

  • Increase rituals and risk management on the precarious small sandy cays of central Torres Strait (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Ian McNiven.

    The Kulkalgal of central Torres Strait are marine specialists who established a series of viable hunter-horticultural communities on small sandy cays highly vulnerable to seasonal drought and associated water and plant food shortages. Here risk management strategies focused on the well-known buffering mechanisms of high mobility, translocation, food and water storage, and plant food importation. However, for the Kulkalgal, risk management strategies for survival also involved a broad range of...

  • Marginalization of the Margins: The Importance of Smaller Islands in Human Prehistory (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Aaron Poteate. Scott Fitzpatrick.

    Across the world’s seas and oceans, archaeological research focused on islands has traditionally privileged those which are larger in size. Myriad reasons can explain this phenomenon, ranging from the (mis)perception by scholars that prehistoric peoples would have been attracted to the greater number and diversity of resources typically available on larger islands, to the ephemeral aspect of archaeological evidence on smaller land areas along with issues that archaeologists face in terms of...

  • Maritime adaptations and Indian Ocean trade in East Africa: The role of small offshore islands (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Patrick Faulkner. Alison Crowther. Mary Prendergast. Mark Horton. Nicole Boivin.

    Decades of pioneering archaeological research have firmly established East Africa’s offshore islands as important localities for understanding the region’s pre-Swahili maritime adaptations and early Indian Ocean trade connections. While the importance of the sea and small offshore islands to the development of urbanized and mercantile Swahili societies long been recognized, the formative stages of island colonisation – and in particular the processes by which migrating Iron Age groups...

  • No Man or Woman is an Island Revisited: The Social Construction of Small Island Space (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only William Keegan.

    The construction of space usually begins with the georeferencing of physical boundaries. As such, space becomes an external container that affects the structure of it contents. This paper explores the construction of space from the perspective of the individual. It begins by recognizing the minimal distance of face-to-face interactions and expands outward from there. The first step is to reject three-dimensional space and to situate the individual in an n-dimensional space. Production,...

  • Small is not Necessarily Bad: 2000 Years of Sustained Habitation on Ebon Atoll, Marshall Islands (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Matthew Harris. Weisler Marshall. Ariana Lambrides.

    Islands have long been extolled as ideal ‘laboratories’ where comparative analyses between high volcanic, continental, makatea (or raised limestone) and low coral islands or atolls have provided insights into the speed and tempo of social, technological, and economic change of insular societies over centuries to millennia. The severity and chronology of human impacts on pristine landscapes is a common theme in island archaeology. Ironically, the diminutive atolls—most only a few square...

  • Small, But Not Insignificant: Human Subsistence, Ecology, and Land Use on Anacapa Island, California (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Torben Rick. Leslie Reeder-Myers. Kenneth Gobalet. Nicholas Jew. Thomas Wake.

    Anacapa Island (2.9 km2) is the second smallest of California’s Channel Islands and has limited freshwater and terrestrial biodiversity. Called ‘Anayapax, a word meaning deception or mirage, by the Chumash, archaeologists have long speculated that the island was occupied seasonally or as a stopover by people based on the mainland or other islands. Here, we focus on our recent archaeological research at CA-ANI-2 and other Anacapa sites. Occupied between about 3130 and 2750 cal BP, CA-ANI-2...