Land and Agriculture in Samoa

Here’s the 100 word summary of my recent grant submisstion:

“Despite being the archetype of socially stratified and hierarchical ancient cultures, we do not know how the Polynesian chiefdoms arose from less complex societies. The untested orthodox theory proposes that innovations in land tenure and agriculture lead to chiefly control of populations. Our international team will test this theory through new drone-based mapping and innovative soil analyses that track changes in land boundaries and agricultural productivity. Our research will discover the origins of the Polynesian chiefdoms with significant results for explanations of Polynesia prehistory, the functioning of stratified societies, and the global rise of persistent, institutionalized inequality.”

Falefa viewed from Lemafa pass.

This is very much a LKFS type of project where we will try to determine the chronology of agriculture and different types of land use in Falefa Valley, ‘Upolu, Samoa. My grant collaborators are Seth Quintus and Matthew Prebble.

Evolution and the Colonization of the Pacific

Giving a talk at UCL on Monday, and also at the University of Bristol on Wednesday, has forced me to think a lot about relevant evolutionary and ecological processes that explain “mass” human movements: proximate triggers such as climate change, selection and the cost of migration, and other issues. All very relevant today.


South American Demography Study

A new study in Nature by Goldberg et al. ( examines demographic patterns after initial colonization of South America. They rely on radiocarbon dates (summed probability distributions) and site distributions. I wonder if a similar procedure could be used for Lapita colonization of Remote Ocean and later East Polynesia. We do not have enough “clean” radiocarbon dates however (

However, the explanation of the South American pattern is interesting: rapid dispersal and low impact on the enviroment through hunting/gathering and low level food production. Later agriculture increases and population growth turns exponential–sounds like Oceanic colonization to me…


I’ve been admonished by students for not posting enough, so I will redouble my efforts. Shouldn’t be difficult redoubling nothing. Here are some shots from recent meetings of Pacific archaeologists.

SAA 2015 Dickinson Symposium.

SAA 2015 Dickinson Symposium.

Some of the participants from the 2015 Society for American Archaeolology Dickinson symposium honouring the work of geologist and petrographer William R. Dickinson. From left, back row: Pat Kirch, Matthew Spriggs, Marshall Weisler, ?, Bill Dickinson, David Burley, Barry Rollett, Alex Morrison, Robin Torrence; front row, Melinda Allen, Peter White, Scarlett Chiu, Christophe Sand, Ethan Cochrane, Scott Fitzpatrick, ?, ?, ?.

Speakers from the Lapita 8 conference.

Speakers from the Lapita 8 conference.

Some of the participants from the 8th Lapita conference in Port Villa, Vanuatu who spoke about the Lapita decorative system. From left: Matthew Spriggs, Arnaud Noury, Pat Kirch, David Burley, Wal Ambrose, Ethan Cochrane