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Explaining fortifications in Indo-Pacific prehistory.


This paper puts forward the premise that fortifications are uniquely suited to addressing questions of climatic variation and human response, as they are large, permanent repositories of human history, and also reflect behaviors directly associated with conflict, territorialism, and the limits of local environments. A revision of theoretical perspectives and a model of conflict derived from human behavioral ecology can better direct future research. In application, this model outlines a program of research for fortifications, which can be used to more critically assess the impact of paleoclimatic change on human prehistory.

Keywords: fortifications, paleoclimates, conflict, human behavioral ecology


There have been a number of books produced in recent years that focus on the human responses to climate change in prehistory (Caviedes 2001; Fagan 2001). There have also been a number of studies that have sought to detect human responses to climate change via changes in diet, subsistence, and settlement patterns (Gamble 2005; Jousse 2006; Turney, et al. 2006). These studies have piqued the interest of archaeologists around the world, and ushered in a renewed emphasis on the study of ecology, geography, and the complex system of our oceans and atmosphere. These studies elicit a direct question: how can we detect the pulse of paleoclimatic variation when it is just one factor among many that shape human prehistory? Other issues such as population size, environment, and social conditions are also known to influence human strategies to varying degrees. As our knowledge of earth's climatic history grows, we have an ever increasing need for a mode of inquiry that can measure the effects of climate change on a prehistoric populations. Equally, we must be able to exclude alternative explanations.

Fortifications have the potential to fill this role. They have been found in association with early agricultural and foraging societies, and they are also ubiquitous, occurring on most continents and across the islands of the Indo-Pacific. Significantly, they are the product of group investment, and usually the locus of occupation for at least part of the population. Thus, they can have long histories, and record within their deposits periods of abandonment, reoccupation, and refurbishment. Most importantly, fortifications can be theoretically linked with models of human conflict and territoriality. Their use for defense, control of home territories, and also expansion into new territories is well known from both historical and anthropological accounts. Consequently, the construction of fortifications has often been linked to external influences that spur on human conflict, such as periods of environmental change or disasters (Arkush and Allen 2006; Bawden and Reycraft 2000; Kuckleman 2002; Lekson 2002).

Given the level of interest in prehistoric climate in the Indo-Pacific, and also the common conceptual linkage between environmental degradation and the emergence of conflict and territoriality, this is an appropriate time to reassess and revamp the theoretical perspectives that have directed archaeological research into fortifications. This paper outlines a theoretical perspective, and also advocates a specific program of study for fortifications within larger studies that include paleoclimatic research. It utilizes an evolutionary model of conflict and territorialism, and emphasizes the contextualization of settlement and subsistence strategies within high-resolution ecological data. It also advocates the use of paleoenvironmental data from the local area, and demands evidence for a direct linkage between environmental change and human reactions. The goal of this program of study is to connect human conflict to the wide range of ecological variables that influence the human condition, and to parse out instances in which climates or climate change played a major role in the emergence of competitive and territorial strategies. Archaeologically, this is equivalent to processes that result in the emergence and persistence of settlement patterns that include fortifications. This program of study can be used to exclude climate change as a causal mechanism, or illuminate areas that need further study.

Understanding Conflict

The conceptual linkage between fortifications and conflict comes from ethnography and history, and also the early writings of socio-cultural anthropologists. Although societies in conflict need not have produced or utilized fortifications, the presence of fortifications has been regularly equated with conflict at some level of the society. Whether warring groups, territorialism, or the expansion of an empire, conflict is thought to have simple goals: capturing resources, driving away rivals, and revenge (Chagnon 1968, 1979; Divale 1974; Ember and Ember 1992; Ferguson 1984; Ferrill 1997; Haas 1990; Heider 1979; LeBlanc 1999; Otterbein 1970, 1973, 1985). Environmental and population stress is regularly posited as a primary causal factor in the development of conflict, especially within circumscripted environments (Carneiro 1970; Cohen 1977). In addition, competition for power and control within state-level societies has been documented to result in conflict, and in some instances the establishment of social hierarchies (Boone 1983; Boone 1992; Carneiro 1978, 1981; Ehrenreich 1997; Otterbein 1977, 1999). Moreover, this perspective suggests that conflict rarely exists in the absence of cooperative agreements and alliances, and both can occur simultaneously at different scales, such as social grouping for defense involves networks of cooperation that have competitive oriented goals (Gumerman 1986).

Conflict in the natural world is readily explained via evolutionary models, and it falls under the umbrella of human behavioral ecology. In this manner conflict is treated as a strategy that has both costs and benefits, which has as its goal the maximization of fitness, or the reduction of risk (Boyd and Richerson 1985; Smith and Winterhalder 1992). Significantly, evolutionary ecologists have identified the ability of organisms to behave 'optimally' as an evolutionary stable strategy. In most cases, the conception of optimizing refers to foraging strategies that maximize food returns and minimize harvest time, but in more general terms it suggests that individuals select strategies that are the most effective. Human behavioral ecology models are also designed to be testable; they define a set of alternative strategies, as well as a currency such as time or energy that can be directly measured. In archaeological applications, human behavioral ecology models have been used to explain changes in foraging and diet as well as the adoption of domesticates (Broughton 1994, 1997; Gremillion 2006; Kennett, et al. 2006). These studies have utilized rich archaeological data sets, and compared changes over time to expectations outlined by evolutionary theory.

The recent emphasis on understanding the effects of climate change on human prehistory calls for the generation of models that focus on human-environmental interaction. As a body of theory, human behavioral ecology is well designed to meet this need; as a set of principles and hypotheses, it has the potential to explain how and why populations adapt to instances of environmental change. It also can also be formulated to address specific issues, such as when and where conflict would have been not only a viable strategy, but a choice that would have had long-term benefits for the population.

A model for the development and persistence of fortifications

In explaining the development of competition and cooperation in human societies, human behavioral ecology has drawn heavily from sociobiological and evolutionary biological models of the formation of groups, the development of social hierarchies, and the establishment of settlement strategies and territoriality. These models can be used to generate hypotheses for the investigation of the emergence and persistence of fortifications in prehistory. Fundamentally, they identify the individual as the unit of study, and also the level at which selection operates (Smith and Winterhalder 1992). Like biology, human behavioral ecology also suggests that individuals employ strategies that optimize their own reproductive success, and in most circumstances behave in ways that benefit themselves. Perhaps most importantly, it identifies social groups as aggregates of individuals, and as such the rules and practices of social institutions are the result of collective behavioral strategies. Although selection fundamentally acts at the level of the individual, field studies suggest that selection at the level of the group can occur, especially if strategies benefit groups of closely related individuals (e.g. kin selection) (Hamilton 1964).

The emergence of competition

Durham (1976), Smith (1983), and Boone (1992) posit that the size and structure of human social groups can be explained in terms of the aggregate consequences of individual behavioral strategies. In simple terms, individuals strive to maximize access to or control over limited resources through competitive and cooperative interaction with other individuals. Smith (1983, 1985) suggests that the process of group formation can be understood from a cost/benefit perspective, wherein individuals weigh the costs of group affiliation, versus the costs of foraging alone, migrating to a less competitive environment, or affiliating with another group under more favorable terms. Boone (1992) has further outlined this process by suggesting that in some circumstances, it may be in the best interest of group members to either include or exclude new members. He posits that a group will reach an optimal size in which the members all receive a greater per capita return than if they were each foraging singly.

As with individuals, groups vie for a limited number of resources, and employ different strategies to obtain what they need. Therefore, the emergence of competition is heavily dependent upon demographic, environmental, and social variables (Carneiro 1970). Dyson-Hudson and Smith (1978) note that the distribution of resources in time and space plays a pivotal role in the formation of groups, the foraging strategies employed, and the extent to which groups either compete or cooperate with each other. For example, in situations in which resources are predictable and also densely distributed, groups will settle in either home ranges or territories as a strategy of resource acquisition or maintenance. In addition, Dyson-Hudson and Smith (1978:25-26) and Cashdan (1983) suggest that competitive strategies are most favored in environments in which the resources are densely distributed, and temporally predictable. This is because dense and predictable resources achieve "economic defendability" in that the benefits accrued from maintaining exclusive access outweigh the cost of defense. In these environments, groups are expected to invest in an aggressive offensive strategy, or some form of defensive territory maintenance. Importantly, Boone adds that there is a correlation between high fitness value and defense-related energy expenditures: the more valuable the resource, the more cost a group can absorb from a fight. This is a product of resource quality, which must be high enough for a net gain in fitness value for each individual. Therefore, small groups may be willing to defend a territory at a great cost to them, provided the exclusive access to the resources in that territory will benefit surviving members (Boone 1992). These costs may include energy expenditures far beyond that needed strictly for reproduction, such as investment in public works (e.g. constructed defenses) for the home territory.

Competitive strategies, in particular conflict and warfare, are also strongly influenced by temporal environmental variability. In studies of warfare around the world (including skeletal populations, signs of physical trauma, trophies relating to combat, weapons, and fortifications), many researchers have noted that periods of environmental unpredictability are preludes to the emergence of conflict. This has been particularly visible in the North American Southwest, where droughts have been linked to increases in both violence and abandonment ca. 1300 AD (Bawden and Reycraft 2000; Dean 1996; Kuckleman 2002; Lekson 2002; Tainter and Tainter 1996). These interpretations fit within some of the tenets of evolutionary ecology and human behavioral ecology, especially if conflict is viewed as a strategy for maintaining territorial integrity, and also a strategy of buffering against resource variance by intimidation or defeat of competitors (e.g. Durham 1976). Thus, unpredictability in environments intensifies competitive strategies, and conflict is a common outcome.

However, studies of variable or unpredictable environments have also suggested that competition cannot exist entirely without some form of cooperation. Cashdan (1990), Dyson-Hudson and Smith (1978), and Halstead and O'Shea (1989) posit that in situations in which resources are unpredictable and widely scattered, groups will attempt to buffer against resource variance, and in many instances cooperate with each other by employing an information-sharing network or participating in exchange. Essentially, these behaviors are a form of mutualism that seeks to improve the fitness outcomes for both parties (Axelrod 1984). The formation of networks, which may be kin based, serve to distribute information and resources within and between groups. The structure of these networks is conditioned by the size and distribution of the participating population, and also by other strategies (such as mobility, storage, or diversification) which can be simultaneously employed to ward off shortfalls.

The persistence of competition and/or cooperation between groups

In the theoretical conception of competition and cooperation, the distribution of resources conditions the formation of groups and strategies of subsistence. In cases in which resources are dense and predictable, groups are expected to resort to competitive strategies, such as a form of boundary maintenance or defense, in order to maintain exclusive access. In situations in which resources are unpredictable and widely dispersed, groups will resort to cooperation, such as resource sharing or exchange, in order to supplement their own harvests. Temporal variability, in particular unpredictability, will encourage the intensification of either strategy. Importantly, Boone notes that the long-term stability of competitive and cooperative strategies is dependent upon the reactions of people living in adjacent areas, and their status as either kin or non-kin. Axelrod (1997) encounters similar results in his computer-generated agent models. He notes that individuals continuously hedge bets between cooperative and competitive strategies, and their choices are based upon their knowledge of whom they are interacting with, and the potential for that individual to either cheat or defect (Axelrod 1997:7). These theoretical perspectives on competition and cooperation suggest that the persistence of either behavior depends in part upon the spatial distribution of related and non-related social groups, and the quality and quantity of their pre-existing levels of interaction.

Testable hypotheses for the emergence and persistence of fortifications

The summaries above provide both a heuristic model for the development of competition and cooperation in human groups, and also define as series of hypotheses that concern the emergence and persistence of conflict and territorialism in prehistory. These hypotheses also have direct implications for the construction and use of fortifications. They are as follows:

1. The distribution of resources in time and space play a pivotal role in the formation of groups, the foraging strategies employed, and the extent to which groups either compete or cooperate with each other. As outlined in Table 1, competitive strategies are beneficial in environments in which the resources are densely distributed, and temporally predictable, and territories are expected to form. Fortifications, which are the physical means by which humans defensively occupy a location, are expected to occur in this scenario.

2. In situations in which resources are unpredictable and widely scattered, groups are expected to cooperate with each other by employing an information-sharing network, and practice some form of mobility. Cooperation is predominantly kin based, although under conditions of extreme scarcity, groups may persist under a regimen of intense cooperation. Neither territories or fortifications are expected under this scenario.

3. Temporally variable environments (e.g. unpredictability) intensify competitive and cooperative strategies. Evolutionary ecology suggests that human groups resort to conflict during long periods of resource unpredictability as it is an expedient means of gaining access to necessary resources. In this scenario, pre-existing settlement systems that included fortifications are likely to continue to use them during periods of climatic or environmental unpredictability, and it is likely that populations will invest in additional competitive strategies, such as increased conflict or the construction of additional fortifications. Archaeologically, we expect that fortifications would increase in number during these periods, and there should be evidence for human conflict in the form of skeletal trauma, trophy items, and investment in the manufacture of weaponry.

In contrast, environments that contained scarce resources to begin with will encourage intensive cooperation during periods of unpredictability, with the addition of high mobility and the removal of most of the population to other areas.

4. The long-term stability of competitive and cooperative strategies is conditioned by the reactions of people living in adjacent areas, and their status as either kin or non-kin. Archaeologically, we should expect that conflict will persist between populations that do not consider each other to be related. In smaller populations where the majority regard each other as extended family, conflict (and perhaps also fortifications) should be short lived and episodic.

A program of study

The hypotheses supplied above are a simple starting point. To test the effects of paleoclimatic variation on human prehistory requires the collection of a substantial amount of archaeological and environmental data, and at a scale that would include a significant portion of the ancient population. The following section outlines a plan of study for the Indo-Pacific, and highlights methods and analyses that are best suited to addressing this issue. This program also indicates areas of study that have been completed, but that may be enhanced in light of new paleoclimatic data.

A robust archaeological correlate for conflict in the Indo-Pacific

As mentioned in the introduction, fortifications are the most secure remnants of prehistoric conflict. They are permanent physical features, and can have a time depth of several centuries, which make them valuable repositories for human history. They are also the product of group-level investment, and can contain artifacts relating to modes of habitation, subsistence, and social structure. Moreover, their location on the landscape in relation to unfortified habitations and resources provides an index for the intensity of conflict, and the extent of settlement strategies that include competition and territoriality. They can provide an indication of population size at various points in time, and their establishment, refurbishment, episodic use, and abandonment offer a valuable key to human behavior as it changes over time--a variable that is essential to linking cultural processes to changes in climate.

Throughout the Indo-Pacific, fortifications are recognized as sites that utilize natural topographic features for defense, such as steep hillsides with wide ranging views, or which include constructed features such as ditches, palisades, or escarpments (Best 1993). Fortifications can vary widely in size, and include habitation areas and features for food storage (Sutton, et al. 2003). They may also be far simpler structures that consist of fighting stages and lines of defense (Golson 1959). Not included in the category of fortifications are field monuments such as megaliths, religious shrines or temples, pigeon catching mounds, or monolithic complexes associated with chiefly residences (Smith 2004). Although these features are often associated with the rise of fortifications in many cultural evolutionary models, the definition advocated here defines fortifications solely as habitations or occupations that incorporate defense into their location or construction. The reason for this is simple: conflict must be understood within the context of the settlement and subsistence system of the population, which are the means by which individuals and groups interact with their environment. Other archaeological correlates for conflict can also be used, such as trophy items, weaponry, or instances of trauma. However, these artifacts should be used in tandem with fortification data, as they are temporally limited, and rarely the product of group investment.

Ecological Context

The ecological context of human populations is a critical component to the model. With the emergence of geographic information system (GIS) softwares and related datasets, it is possible to integrate high resolution ecological datasets at both local and regional scales. Data such as topography, vegetation, soils, rainfall averages, hydrological systems, and fauna can be modeled as components of a map or system, and the relationships between different ecological variables can be assessed using the analytical capabilities of a GIS. This software is also widely available, and data from pre-existing maps, digital resources, or field-collected global positioning system (GPS) data collectors and be integrated and analyzed. Paleoecological data that pertains to pre-existing (e.g. non-modern) conditions can also be captured and built into the model. These could include local pollen cores, drought indices derived from tree-rings, isotope data from fossil corals, or a number of other paleoclimatic sources (Boyd, et al. 2005; Fyfe 2006; Gagan, et al. 2000; Habede 2005; Hodell, et al. 2001). The analysis of these data is a complex process, and the best results will come from datasets that are local in origin (as opposed to regional data, such as a global sequence for El Nino related droughts), and which can be directly tied to local ecological variation. Integration with ecological models can be used to determine areas that would have been more or less productive in terms of available resources. GIS-based analyses can also be generated to determine which areas would have been more predictable over time, or more prone to shortfalls caused by climatic variation (Field 2004; Van West 1994). These analyses can also be incorporated into a model of the subsistence base, including areas that would have been better suited to agricultural production, or required the use of particular technologies (Ladefoged and Graves 2000; Ladefoged, et al. 1996). Intra-annual variation in harvests or other limitations can be determined and 'mapped' in reference to other ecological variables. This is important to determining the range of variables that may have been impacted by climate change.

Settlement Pattern

Like subsistence, the examination of the settlement pattern is fundamental to the study of human-environmental interaction. Although a 100% survey is often impossible in densely forested environments (such as the windward parts of Indo-Pacific islands), a sampling strategy designed to sample the diversity of occupations in the study area can be used. This must include a survey of surface architecture (either via pedestrian survey and aerial photograph survey), and an assessment of subsurface deposits. Research of this kind is common throughout the Indo-Pacific, and large datasets already exist for New Zealand (Irwin 1985; Sutton 1990), Fiji (Best 1984; Field 2003; Ladefoged 1995; Parry 1977, 1981, 1987, 1997; Rechtman 1992), and Samoa (Green 2002; Green and Davidson 1969, 1974). Although an onerous task, additional documentation of these sites would generate a large dataset concerning the distribution of habitations and fortifications, their size, variety, and chronology. In particular, the documentation of fortification construction, the use of land-forms for defense, and the chronological and cultural linkages between fortification and non-fortified sites would provide a clearer image of the function and general use of the landscape in prehistory. Combining these data with ecological analyses would add the essential element of context, as they would reveal how landforms were utilized, and what areas were the most attractive.

The chronology of habitations over time is also critical, as these data reveal trends in population growth and movement, and can be used to document the emergence of new strategies that may be related to paleoclimatic change. For the study of conflict, the timing of fortifications, their location on the landscape, and also the age of particular defensive features on sites must be known absolutely, so as to relate them to particular time periods that may have experienced dramatic climatic change.

Social Relationships

In accordance with Boone's models of competition and cooperation, the distinction between kin and non kin can have a marked effect on the emergence of territories and fortifications. Archaeologically such divisions are difficult to detect, and often rely on aspects of material culture (such as ceramics) to identify populations and assess rates of interaction (Cochrane 2004). Other data, such as modern land tenure, may also provide an indication of social boundaries (Field 2005) but cannot be equated with ancient divisions. However, these data coupled with oral histories may provide some indications for social relations between groups, especially in areas that do not have long prehistoric sequences (Ladefoged 1995).

The issue of population size

The final (and perhaps most critical) aspect included in this program of study is the issue of population change and regulation. Malthusian and Boserupian concepts of demography and resource extraction are at the heart of demographic models, and syntheses that focus on ecology, carrying capacity, and conflict have been outlined by Carneiro (1970), and more recently by Read and LeBlanc (2003). These models place emphasis on determining the dynamic relationships between rates of population growth and the available food and resource supply, and note how conflict arises as product of individual choice and resource access. Historical studies of population size, mortality, fertility, and nutrition have provided a broader view of demographic trends in human populations, and these are also of interest to the study of conflict and territoriality (Bengtsson, et al. 2004; Lee 1990; Scott and Duncan 2002; Tuljapurkar 1990). These calculations provide consistent estimates of the elasticity of human mortality and fertility to available food supply.

Determining prehistoric population size is a complex process; nevertheless it must be included as a component of settlement pattern and ecological analysis, and also archaeological investigations that focus on the chronology of occupations within fortifications. The most rudimentary study should involve the dating of households and occupations, coupled with productivity estimates for the surrounding landscape (including both terrestrial and marine resources). These data should then be factored into a demographic analysis, which will provide a baseline for population size and growth trends. This will provide an additional level of context with which to assess the rise of conflict and territoriality, which in turn can be tailored to trace strategies related to discrete periods of climatic variation.

The timing and nature of paleoclimatic variation

Climatic data for the Indo-Pacific is steadily increasing, and archaeologists must seek both new levels of understanding and collaboration with paleoclimatologists in order to utilize this resource adequately. Building upon chronologies suggested by Nunn (Nunn 1990, 1994, 2000a, 2000b) and Wilson (1979) for the late Holocene, new regional syntheses are emerging that are more precise and of longer duration. A general focus remains on two distinct climatic periods that are well defined in higher latitudes; a warm, wet interval that spans the 11th to the 13th centuries, known as the Medieval Warm Period, and a cool, dry interval that occurred between the 16th and 18th centuries, known as the Little Ice Age. Around the world these trends have been linked to periods of population growth, the rise of complex civilizations, and mass declines (Fagan 2001; Jones, et al. 1999). However, these conditions are known to have varied in the Indo-Pacific (Allen 2006), and new data is required to parse out how individual archipelagoes and islands reacted to these broad changes in climate.

The most recent reconstructions of past climates in the Pacific derive from the study of fossil corals and planktonic and benthic foraminifera, which preserve a record of past sea surface temperatures and salinity in their calcareous skeletons via the ratio of stable oxygen isotopes ([[delta].sup.18]O). More precise indications of temperature change are encoded in the trace elements of strontium, calcium, and magnesium (Gagan, et al. 2000; Gagan, et al. 2004; Schrag and Linsley 2002). However, resolution is always a critical issue, especially when dealing with the short chronology of human occupation in the Remote Pacific, or the effects of short-lived climatic disruptions such as El Nino/La Nina (ENSO) events. To date, reconstructions of past climates from the study of fossil corals of Palmyra Island (Cobb, Charles, Cheng and Edwards 2003; Cobb, Charles, Cheng, Kastner, et al. 2003), Kirimati Island (Woodroffe and Gagan 2000), the Great Barrier Reef (Hendy, et al. 2002), Rarotonga (Linsley, et al. 2000), Papua New Guinea (McGregor and Gagan 2004; Tudhope, et al. 2001), Maiana atoll (Urban 2000), and Hainan Island (Sun, et al. 2005) have provided a number of high resolution climatic sequences for the Pacific. Additional sequences are needed, and these chronologies need to be tied to the known sequences for population growth, the settlement patterns, and the emergence of fortifications.

Also of note is the 'AD 1300 Event' which has been discussed in several publications by Nunn (Nunn and Britton 2001; Nunn 2000a, 2000b). Using analyses of paleo-climates from around the Pacific Rim (Lara, et al. 2005; O'Hara 1993) and a study of sea level changes in the Pacific Basin (Nunn 2000b), Nunn concluded that there is substantial evidence for a dramatic fall in both temperatures and sea levels around 1300 AD. He suggests that the onset of these conditions may be related to a general increase in ENSO frequency at that time, and also the transition from a warm and wet Medieval Warm Period to a cool and dry Little Ice Age. Dramatic change in temperatures and humidity can trigger extreme reactions in flora and fauna, and have pronounced impact on human societies. These changes should have a direct connection to the emergence of conflict in some parts of the Pacific. The temporal correlation of these events needs to be evaluated more fully by a wider community of scholars.

Further refinement may come from a variety of sources, such as the construction of palynological sequences, which record climate change via the changing vegetation regimes of island interiors. Studies from Palau (Athens and Ward 2001; Welch 2002), Hawaii (Athens 1997), New Caledonia (Stevenson and Hope 2005), Fiji (Southern 1986) and elsewhere have established local chronologies that are sensitive to broad climatic patterns, and also are of high resolution. Other sources of paleoclimatic data that have yet to be tapped in the Pacific include fish otoliths (Black, et al. 2005; Surge and Walker 2005), which record micro-changes in temperature and salinity, and long-lived clams, which preserve indices of climate change in their shell layers (Schone, et al. 2005; Strom, et al. 2005). Studies from other parts of the word have demonstrated that these faunal remains, which readily accumulate and preserve in archaeological sites and middens, contain growth rings that can be assembled into regional chronologies of microclimate. The great number of fish remains that have been recovered from archaeological sites, as well as long lived clams species such as the tropical Tridacnidae, may yield a wealth of information in the future that can refine local chronologies.

Related Human Reactions

However, determining a causal link between climate change and human behavior requires more than a survey of fortification chronologies. If we assume a connection between climate variation and conflict, other data in addition to the occurrence of fortifications should be included that supports this premise. Perhaps the most obvious is evidence for a human biological response to environmental shortfalls-such as the broadening of diets to include low-ranked or starvation foods (Broughton 1997), evidence for caloric stress in adults and children, or even evidence for physical trauma resulting from increased conflict (Lambert 1994, 1997). Work by a number of authors in the Indo-Pacific has focused on diet (Ambrose, et al. 1997; Leach, et al. 2000; Leach, et al. 2003; Valentin, et al. 2006) and these studies may potentially be integrated with regional paleoclimatic reconstructions. It would also be prudent to link our regional climatic data with local analyses of anthropogenic change. Ancient farmers are likely to have attempted to compensate for strings of poor years with changes in technology. As some types of agricultural production are more resistant to the effects of storms and drought, we would expect an increase in the popularity of these techniques during unpredictable climatic periods (Allen 2004). In addition, palynological studies may reveal the expansion of agricultural fields into previously unused areas (Athens and Ward 2001; Hope, et al. 2004; Pickett, et al. 2004). Many models in Pacific prehistory have suggested that agricultural intensification developed as populations grew, and as the carrying capacities of islands reached their maximums. Future research into climate change in the Pacific will need to be able to distinguish between these two potential explanations, and to do so will require a detailed understanding environmental conditions, agricultural technologies, and population size at various points in prehistory.


Research into fortifications in the Indo-Pacific region over the past fifty years has enlisted a variety of theoretical perspectives, and current research remains diverse. This is not a weakness, but a strength, as much of the archaeological record in the Indo-Pacific remains unexplored, and the application of various viewpoints illuminates new avenues of research. The model provided above outlines a theoretical perspective that is grounded in evolutionary theory, and which is further shaped by the principles and hypotheses of human behavioral ecology. If offers a mode of inquiry into conflict that is robust, and also directly tied to the study of local environments, ecological conditions, and the means by which human groups extract resources. It is well suited to research in areas that have been previously surveyed, and which have archaeological indicators for ancient subsistence or production systems. Human behavioral ecology also offers the benefit of model building and testing, which in the case of fortifications allows for testing at a variety of scales, from settlement patterns to midden contents. Its hypotheses can also be linked to paleoecological studies of other organisms, such as population declines in birds or mammals, which may have resulted from a paleoclimatic disturbance. Being able to detect such parallels in both the human and natural environment is a powerful combination, and allows for a more direct assessment of the impact of climatic variation.

The model also advocates the collection of data pertaining to human settlement and subsistence, local ecology, population size and growth, and shared ancestry. This is indeed a tall order, but not unknown from other studies in the Indo-Pacific (Best 1984; Field 2003; Green and Davidson 1969, 1974; Kirch 1988). The use of GIS-based analyses, databases, and digital datasets make this task easier, but at the ground level excavations are required to assess the chronology of fortifications throughout the region. These studies should be coupled with ecological research, such as the study of agricultural production, marine exploitation, and the chronology of vegetation change beginning with the colonization of the region by humans.

Lastly, research that attempts to link fortifications to variations in ancient climates must be tied to local sequences. Although broad global trends certainly effected local populations (as they do now with rising global temperatures and sea level rise), archaeologists must be able to correlate local changes with strategies that resulted in conflict and territoriality. Chronological correlation is a good start, but additional data pertaining to changes in diet, stress, or mortality would provide a stronger indicator of a causal relationship. Focusing these kinds of studies on large populations, or perhaps across large regions, would also strengthen the case.

In conclusion, fortifications offer a unique opportunity for the study of human responses to paleoclimatic variation. As permanent archaeological features with significant time-depth, they can provide glimpses of population size and structure, and also indicate the changing relationships between human groups and the environment. However, discerning cause and effect remains a challenge for all of archaeology, and the coupling of a direct proxy for conflict with high resolution records of environmental and climatic change requires advanced study. The model outlined in this discussion provides a roadmap towards this goal. Its use will allow for the testing the linkages between human conflict and environmental variation, and permit archaeologists to build more robust explanations for why fortifications emerged in some places at certain times, but not in others. Future research into this topic will undoubtedly allow for additional refinement of the model.


My sincere thanks go to Peter Lape and the organizers of the 2006 Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association Congress in Manila, who helped bring the issue of paleoclimates and human history in the Pacific to public attention. The comments of Peter White and an anonymous reviewer were also helpful and aided in the revision of the original manuscript.


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Department of Anthropology, University of Hawai'i, Honolulu, HI, 96822, USA.
Table 1. The relationship between resource distribution and foraging
strategies. Table adapted from Dyson-Hudson and Smith (1978:26).

Resource        Economic        Resource         Degree of
Distribution    Defendability   Utilization      Mobility

Unpredictable   Low             Info-sharing     High
  and Dense
Unpredictable   Low             Dispersion       Very high
  and Scarce
Predictable     High            Territoriality   Low
  and Dense
Predictable     Fairly low      Home Ranges      Low-medium
  and Scarce

Resource        'Temporally    'Temporally
Distribution    Predictable'   Unpredictable'

Unpredictable   Cooperative    Cooperative
  and Dense
Unpredictable   Cooperative    Cooperative
  and Scarce
Predictable     Competitive    Competitive and
  and Dense                      Cooperative
Predictable     Cooperative    Competitive and
  and Scarce                     Cooperative
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Author:Field, Julie S.
Publication:Archaeology in Oceania
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2008
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