Land Snail and Soil Analysis in Atoll Archaeology; with Special Reference to Atafu Atoll, Tokelau Islands

Archaeology Ecosystems Tokelau Polynesia

In 2008 and 2009, the author spent a month on the island of Atafu as part of the Tokelau Science, Education, and Research program co-directed by David Addison and John Kalolo. During this time he assisted in archaeological excavation, collected land snails and soil samples, made a film, and became a part of an atoll village that welcomed him kindly into all facets of their community.Atolls are commonly seen as marginal environments on the edge of sustainability. In many ways this is true: their soils are poor, their small land areas are susceptible to inundation by large storms, and most are still only reached by long boat trips removing them from contact with the modern world. But these same characteristics have been positives. Their small land areas mean that everyone lives in one tight-knit community. Their remoteness has preserved their culture. Their poor soils mean that only those determined may settle. And once settled these soils gain from the successive gardening activities that build the island up and add organic material and vitality to its base. From a low sandy, salty lump of coral in the middle of the ocean, these islands have become fertile oases through the many generations that have tended them. They are gardens; nothing exists on them that has not been modified by those that have lived on them.This study looks deeply at the atoll, beginning with its young geology, its specific biogeography, its early archaeology, and its ecology. From these different sciences assumptions can be made about its land snail fauna. Natural colonizers had to be highly salt-resistent and able to arrive quickly, but most would be introduced by gardening activities. By careful sampling from the surface of the village islet, from the outer islets, and from column samples throughout its stratigraphy one can distinguish which species are natural, which inhabit the gardens in the poor soil, and which inhabit the gardens in the good soil. One can use these inferences to make statements about the environment of the past. And, in small ways, one can see how the land transformed from a low marginal island into a vital oasis full of splendid people.

Publication Details
Publication Year: