Assessing Island Habitability and Land Use on Polynesia’s Smallest Islands


In a series of papers Bill Dickinson has outlined the timing of late Holocene sea level fall across the Pacific and its effects on island habitability and human settlement. He proposed that island settlement, particularly in East Polynesia, was constrained, or in some cases impossible, during the mid-Holocene sea level highstand, when low-lying islands (e.g., atolls) were awash and shallow near-shore environments restricted. Stable islets of modern configuration only developed after declining high tide levels fell below mid-Holocene low tide levels (i.e., the crossover date), a process that was regionally variable. We examine his model, and build on his research on the near-atoll of Aitutaki, southern Cook Islands. Specifically we consider: 1) the timing of human settlement both on the Aitutaki mainland and at recently dated islet localities, 2) the elevation of dated cultural deposits across Aitutaki in relation to current shorelines; 3) the age of emerged microatolls that mark former sea level high stands; and 4) land availability at key points in time. The analysis gives insights into the timing and distribution of human activities in relation to the evolving land and seascape.

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Cite this Record

Assessing Island Habitability and Land Use on Polynesia’s Smallest Islands. Melinda Allen, Alex E. Morrison, Andrew M. Lorrey, Geraldine Jacobsen. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 395140)


Spatial Coverage

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