Ancient woodlands of Polynesia: A pilot anthracological study on Maupiti Island, French Polynesia

Emilie Dotte, Jennifer G. Kahn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Here we report on the results of a pilot anthracological study (archaeological wood charcoal analysis) conducted on Maupiti Island, in the Society Island archipelago of French Polynesia. The goal was to conduct a first set of anthracological analyses on the island to reconstruct pre-European contact vegetation
composition, histories of vegetation change and differential anthropogenic uses of woody resources according to various site functions. The results demonstrate that, at around the 17th century AD, at least three zones of the lowland coastal band had been successfully modeled into a productive and varied horticultural landscape. At this time, native forests and coastal woodlands surrounding the sites under investigation had been transformed into culturally significant and economically productive treescapes. These complex manipulations of the vegetation likely started during the early phases of human settlement, with current datasets indicating the presence of a specific coastal vegetation including socially important and/or cultivated taxa associated with the first known occupation of the
island, dated to the 13th-14th century AD. The records further provide direct archaeobotanical evidence for the early presence of planted trees such as Artocarpus altilis, Aleurites moluccana, Ficus and Casuarina equisetifolia, the prehistoric association of Ficus trees to marae structures and elite occupation, and the
late appearance of Inocarpus fagifer in East Polynesia. The archaeological contexts of the assemblages demonstrate differential access to woody resources and use of vegetation units, depending on social rank and site function. Finally, our case studies confirm the profound anthropogenic transformation of
Maupiti's vegetation during prehistoric times, but likewise reveal the complex nature of this phenomenon.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6-28
Number of pages23
JournalQuaternary International
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2017


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