Common Hour studies island life
As the forerunner of a month-long lecture series, archaeologist Patrick V. Kirch, professor of Anthropology at University of California Berkeley, hosted Friday's Common Hour with his lecture entitled, "The Role of Humans in Shaping Island Ecosystems". The lecture series, in observance of Maine's Archaeology Month, are meant as a means to "contextualize Bowdoin's proximity to the coast" explained Anne Henshaw, director of the Coastal Studies Center.
Specializing in the archaeology of the Pacific Islands of Melanesia and Polynesia, Dr. Kirch chose to focus on the people of Mangaia, the most southerly of the Cook Islands and also its second largest. With the distinction of being the oldest island in the Pacific, Mangaia's ancient ethnography indicated a great deal of political warfare between the island's 6 tribal groups. Through carbon dating and a number of core analyses, Dr. Kirch and his team uncovered a history of 42 wars attributed mostly to struggles fought over the island's limited resources. These included Irrigated alluvial basins used to harvest taro and yams which degradated many of the ridges around Makatea (the island's inner wall) and caused strong depositions to form unnatural sedimentary sequences along the coast.
Dr. Kirch drew further parallels between environmental change and human history by tracing a number of now extinct tree species, through core pollen samples, 2400 years back to the time of human arrival when ecosystems experienced the heaviest amount of change. Dr. Kirch also mentioned the common practice of slash and burn farming which has caused most of the island's crucial forest habitat to disappear, "initiating the extinction of many bird populations".
In an interesting example of human sustainability, Dr. Kirch discovered in a 10,000 year old sequence of stratified rock layer, radiocarbon evidence of native consumption of a Polynesian rat. "As the Polynesian saying goes 'it's as sweet as a rat' held true through historical record" Dr. Kirch stated. Because of intensive resource restriction, bone evidence verified that the very same species of rodent introduced some hundred years earlier had later been used as a chief food resource.
Today with growing consumption of our natural resources and issues concerning overpopulation, Dr Kirch stated that people now consume more than 1.6 times the earth's actual holding capacity. Through the efforts of many Polynesian conservation groups many locals now act as active stewards and managers of the island's pristine natural resources. In a closing statement to the bigger issues of sustainability at hand, Dr. Kirch poses the question, "One can have an ethos of conservation but can that actually stop inevitable degradation?"