Households, Specialization, and Social Production in Society Islands Chiefdoms

Funded by NSF BCS-0725173, two seasons of fieldwork in the ‘Opunohu Valley included intensive survey and area excavation of household and ritual complexes in both the Amehiti and Tupauruuru sectors. The Amehiti sector represents a lower-status commoner habitation zone whereas the Tupauruuru sector incorporates elite and specialized housing with elaborate ceremonial sites (marae). A total of 292 m2 was excavated in 29 residential and ceremonial sites, situated in a strongly anthropogenic and intensified landscape. Our results provide the most comprehensive dataset for understanding the emergence of complex chiefdoms in the Society Islands. Both 14C (Kahn, in press, a) and U/Th dates (Sharp et al., 2010) provide a firm chronology for the rapid settlement and development of this socioecosystem from AD 1350 until European contact. We can now situate this rapid inland expansion within a period where status differences and occupational specialization were already pronounced, based on variation in residential architecture and material culture assemblages. This inland expansion was concomitant with a phase of agricultural intensification. A second period of sociopolitical and ideological transformation occurred c. 1650 AD when the largest and most elaborate forms of temples were constructed, in association with specialized house sites used by elite occupation specialists and mid-level managers responsible for monitoring production (Kahn 2010a, 2010b; Kahn and Kirch, submitted).

Our results provide important data on changes occurring at the household level with respect to economic production and intensification, including control over resources such as fine-grained basalt for tool production. These results, combined with earlier U. C. Berkeley research in the ‘Opunohu Valley (Hamilton and Kahn 2007; Kahn 2003, 2005a, 2005b, 2006, 2007; Kahn and Kirch 2004; Lepofsky 1994, 1995, 1999; Lepofsky et al. 1992, 1996), provide a firm baseline for further archaeological research on Mo‘orea.

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