Project title: Prehistoric marine resource use and traditional ecological knowledge on Pingelap Atoll
Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Detlef Gronenborn, Prof. Dr. Alexander Pruß
Small islands played an important role in early maritime migrations throughout human prehistory, serving as seasonal and long-term occupation sites, navigational waypoints or “stepping stones,” and natural resource reservoirs. The specific adaptations that small islands necessitated and the special affordances they provided are therefore significant to our understanding of the diversity of human interactions with islandscapes in the prehistoric past. However, small island settlement dynamics remain under-researched in island archaeology (Fitzpatrick et al. 2016).
Of the many categories of smaller islands, Pacific coral atolls presented some of the greatest environmental challenges to prehistoric human settlement. Nevertheless, they played a key role in late Holocene maritime expansions into remote Oceania (Weisler et al. 2012). My dissertation project investigates atoll settlement processes and human interactions with marine environments in centraleastern Micronesia, the so-called “sea of little islands.” I focus most closely on the case study of Pingelap Atoll in the Caroline Island archipelago. Pingelap lies between the larger volcanic islands of Pohnpei to the west and Kosrae to the east, known for their politically stratified chiefdoms and megalithic architecture. Less is known of the surrounding smaller island communities who relied heavily upon marine resources for sustenance and raw materials in otherwise resource-poor environments.
Drawing from the historical ecology tradition, this study first aims to reconstruct prehistoric marine resource use and subsistence practices on Pingelap and neighboring islands over the course of nearly two millennia, and to trace the impacts of human activities on local fisheries and marine ecosystems during that period. To understand the interplay of natural and cultural processes that shaped human relationships with nearshore and marine environments in the prehistoric past, the study integrates zooarchaeological analyses of faunal and artifact assemblages with paleoecological and modern ecological data, and also incorporates ethnoarchaeological interviews with local community members whose traditional knowledge systems encompass a range of natural phenomena.
In the interest of contributing to wider thematic discourses in island and maritime archaeology, my research is also focused on developing comparative perspectives between small island settlements from different regional contexts, focusing on case studies from the Pacific and Baltic Islands with respect to settlement processes, subsistence and food production strategies, the formation of small island societies, and their relationships with neighboring islands and continents. By drawing cross-cultural comparisons of phenomena that unify and/or differentiate small island societies across broad cultural, geographic, and temporal boundaries, this research also serves to re-examine some of the longentrenched conceptualizations of islands that have previously taken precedent in Western scholarship.