Small is not Necessarily Bad: 2000 Years of Sustained Habitation on Ebon Atoll, Marshall Islands


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 kilometres in land area—exhibit some of the best evidence for ancient societies living sustainably. Totalling less than 6 km2 in land area, Ebon Atoll, southern Marshall Islands, consists of 22 islets that surround a 104 km2 lagoon. At nearly 2 km long, Ebon has the largest pit agricultural system of any atoll that parallels a near-continuous habitation zone. A multi-year archaeological program resulting in more than 100 m3 of excavations is used to examine a 2,000 year record of continuous occupation. Here, we key on the records of shellfish and finfish exploitation to show that, unlike other island types, atolls may exhibit some of the best evidence for humans living sustainably.

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Cite this Record

Small is not Necessarily Bad: 2000 Years of Sustained Habitation on Ebon Atoll, Marshall Islands. Matthew Harris, Weisler Marshall, Ariana Lambrides. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 395066)

Spatial Coverage

min long: 111.973; min lat: -52.052 ; max long: -87.715; max lat: 53.331 ;