Priests' Houses and Architectures of Ideology in East Polynesia

Author(s): Jennifer Kahn

Year: 2015


Most studies of East Polynesia religion focus on the largest monumental sites, those related to the "marae complex". Yet ethnohistoric documents indicate that a wide range of site types had ritual importance, including specialized structures within monumental ritual centers that had diverse functions. Priest houses form one element of the architecture of ideology. Can we identify the houses of full time ritual specialists in the archaeological record of East Polynesian in order to enrich our understanding of religion and social complexity in prehistory? Utilizing ethnohistoric data and archaeological case studies drawn from the Society Islands and the Hawaiian archipelago, I argue that priests’ houses conform to specialized house sites and differ in sometimes dramatic ways from mundane sleeping houses, both in their spatial context and in their suites of artifacts and sub-surface features. I conclude that identifying formalized occupational specialists in the archaeological record adds to our understanding of the integrated nature of ideology and social and economic control as important power bases for socio-ritual elites in complex societies. Such a bottom-up perspective draws on the strengths of household archaeology while allowing for a contextualized approach to identify ritual practitioners and their association with monumental architectures of ideology.

SAA 2015 abstracts made available in tDAR courtesy of the Society for American Archaeology and Center for Digital Antiquity Collaborative Program to improve digital data in archaeology. If you are the author of this presentation you may upload your paper, poster, presentation, or associated data (up to 3 files/30MB) for free. Please visit for instructions and more information.

Cite this Record

Priests' Houses and Architectures of Ideology in East Polynesia. Jennifer Kahn. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 396759)


Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

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