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Refining the Society Islands Cultural Sequence: Colonization Phase and Developmental Phase Coastal Occupation on Moʻorea Island

Jennifer G. Kahn, Yosihiko Sinoto

JPS, Vol 126, No 1 pg (33-60)


The Society Islands are critical to chronology building in East Polynesia, as the archipelago served as a potential first landfall for voyagers moving out of the West Polynesia homeland. Yet determining the particulars of migration sequences and settlement chronology in the Society Islands, like the rest of East Polynesia, has been challenging. Here, we report on a dating and re-dating program of four coastal sites on the island of Moʻorea, Windward Society Islands, aimed at refining the archipelago’s cultural chronology and its place within larger settlement trends for East Polynesia. We begin with a brief discussion of 1960s archaeological research in the Society Islands and the archipelago’s role in the East Polynesian colonisation debate before turning to a discussion of the newly dated and re-dated Mo‘orea coastal sites. Our new corpus of 14C dates provides evidence for two well-studied Mo‘orea Island sites dating to the Colonisation Phase (GS-1 and ScMf-5). The earliest dated occupation of the ScMf-5 site contained an earth oven, diverse artefacts and dense faunal remains indicative of a permanent, and perhaps large, settlement along the north shore of Moʻorea. Results point to established Society Island populations from the 11th to 13th centuries AD, supporting both the Conservative Model of East Polynesian settlement and more inclusive synthetic models. Developmental Phase dates from ScMf-2 illustrate that new parts of the Moʻorea north shore were inhabited at this time, while other earlier coastal sites continued to be occupied, tentatively suggesting population increase. The re-dated M5 site, with its elaborate temples of the ‘Oro cult style, fits well into accepted dates for the Classic Phase. Our re-dating program has not only allowed us to refine the Society Islands cultural sequence, but has permitted precise identification or confirmation of two sites dating to the Colonisation Phase.


Chronology building, settlement, Society Islands, central East Polynesia, colonisation, Mo‘orea Island

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