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The Rat’s-Eye View: Tracing the Impacts of the Human-Introduced Pacific Rat (Rattus exulans) on Mangareva through Stable Isotope Analysis and Zooarchaeology

Author(s): Patrick Kirch ; Jillian Swift

Year: 2015

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Early Polynesian voyagers transported a suite of plant and animal species to each new island they colonized, forming the foundation of the Polynesian subsistence economy and leading to long-lasting transformations of island landscapes. The Pacific rat (Rattus exulans) was nearly ubiquitous on these journeys, perhaps as a potential food source or simply an inadvertent stowaway. With few natural predators, rat populations multiplied quickly after arrival and spread across island landscapes. Their introduction was potentially devastating to native forests and their consumption of small birds and eggs may have led to or exacerbated avifaunal extinctions and extirpations. The limited home range of Pacific rats offers potential to investigate changing environmental conditions on a localized scale. Recent excavations on Mangareva (Gambier Islands) uncovered three sites with continuous well-stratified deposits dating from colonization to European contact (~AD 950-1650). Dietary reconstruction of Pacific rat remains from these sites via bone collagen stable isotope analysis reveal an archipelago-wide pattern of rat dietary change postdating the disappearance of most avifaunal species from the zooarchaeological record. Inter-site analysis indicates variation in the nature of these dietary changes, suggesting rat dietary reconstruction provides a new outlook on localized environmental change and adaptive response in island systems.

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The Rat’s-Eye View: Tracing the Impacts of the Human-Introduced Pacific Rat (Rattus exulans) on Mangareva through Stable Isotope Analysis and Zooarchaeology. Jillian Swift, Patrick Kirch. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 395440)


Spatial Coverage

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

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America