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“Marginal” Landscapes and Cultural Niche Construction: A View from the Agroforests of Micronesia

Date and Time: 
Thursday, February 1, 2018. 05:00 PM - 06:30 PM
Meeting Location: 
Stanford Archaeology Center
Archaeology--Political Landscapes: Past and Present
Meeting Description: 

Small isolated islands, especially atolls, are generally considered marginal for human habitation due to low biodiversity and a high susceptibility to adverse weather events. However, the high islands of central-eastern Micronesia were originally settled about two millennia ago by descendants of Lapita peoples, and settlement of at least some atolls in the region followed quickly over the course of the next few centuries. Modern landscapes in the region are the result of intense ecological engineering by the initial human inhabitants and their descendants, who facilitated this process by introducing western Pacific cultigens to the region. This talk will explore the way that humans have manipulated terrestrial environments in central-eastern Micronesia for farming by examining case studies from two ecologically different islands with strong cultural ties to each other:  Pohnpei (a high island) and Pingelap (an atoll) in Pohnpei State, Federated States of Micronesia. Using a combination of archaeological, archaeobotanical, and ethnoarchaeological data and the lens of cultural niche construction, it explores and, to an extent, challenges the perception of atolls as marginal environments.

Maureece J. Levin is a postdoctoral scholar at the Stanford Archaeology Center. Her research interests center on food production systems, historical ecology, and cultural niche construction in the Pacific Islands and in East Asia. She is a paleoethnobotanist who employs phytoliths, starch and plant macroremain analysis in her work, as well as ethnoarchaeology. She holds a BA in Anthropology from Whitman College and an MA and PhD from the University of Oregon, where she studied managed agroforests in Pohnpei, Micronesia using landscape survey and ancient and modern botanical data. Her current work includes ongoing projects on Pohnpei and Pingelap islands in Micronesia, as well as collaborative work at Stanford on plant microremains from across the eastern hemisphere, especially northeast China.