Characterization of Archaeological Volcanic Glass from Oceania

The Utility of Three Techniques
  • Marshall I. Weisler
  • David A. Clague
Part of the Advances in Archaeological and Museum Science book series (AAMS, volume 3)


Distributional studies of archaeological volcanic glass play key roles in determining the scale, complexity, and duration of prehistoric social interaction between island societies in Oceania. Volcanic glass distributions have shed light on the spatial limits and antiquity of Melanesian exchange systems and on strategies necessary to colonize and sustain communities on isolated landfalls. The efficacy of three characterization techniques of Oceanic glasses are examined: macroscopic source assignment of a unique volcanic glass (ignimbrite) from the Pitcairn Group, southeast Polynesia; non-destructive energy dispersive x-ray fluorescence (EDXRF) of Melanesian obsidian; and electron microprobe analysis of Hawaiian volcanic glass. Suggestions for facilitating volcanic glass studies in Oceania are offered.


Volcanic Glass Tholeiitic Basalt Basaltic Glass Bishop Museum Alkalic Basalt 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Allen, J. 1977 Sea traffic, trade and expanding horizons. In: Allen, J., Golson, J. and Jones, R. eds., Sunda and Sahul: Prehistoric Studies in Southeast Asia, Melanesia and Australia. London, Academic Press: 387–417.Google Scholar
  2. Allen, J. 1984 In search of the Lapita homeland. Journal of Pacific History 19: 186–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ambrose, W. n.d. A note on obsidian density measurement for separating Melanesian obsidian sources. Manuscript, Division of Archaeology and Natural History, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Canberra, The Australian National University.Google Scholar
  4. Baker, P.E., Buckley, E, and Holland, J.G. 1974 Petrology and geochemistry of Easter Island. Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology 44: 85–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bandy, M.C. 1937 Geology and petrology of Easter Island. Bulletin of the Geological Society of America 48: 1589–1610.Google Scholar
  6. Barrera, W. and Kirch, P.V. 1973 Basaltic-glass artifacts from Hawaii: their dating and prehistoric uses. Journal of the Polynesian Society 82: 176–187.Google Scholar
  7. Beardsley, F.S., Ayres, W.S., and Goles, G.G. 1991 Characterization of Easter Island obsidian sources. Indo Pacific Prehistory Association Bulletin 11: 179–187.Google Scholar
  8. Best, S. 1987 Long distance obsidian travel and possible implications for the settlement of Fiji. Archaeology in Oceania 22: 31–32.Google Scholar
  9. Bettinger, R., Delacorte, M., and Jackson, R. 1984 Visual sourcing of central eastern California obsidians. In: Hughes, R. ed., Obsidian Studies in the Great Basin, Contributions of the University of California Archaeological Research Facility 45. Berkeley: 63–78.Google Scholar
  10. Blake, S.G. 1995 Late Quaternary history of Henderson Island, Pitcairn Group. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 56: 43–62.Google Scholar
  11. Bonk, W.J. 1954 Archaeological Excavations on West Molokai. Unpublished M. A. thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of Hawaii.Google Scholar
  12. Cann, J.R. and Renfrew, C. 1964 The characterization of obsidian and its application to the Mediterranean region. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 30: 111–133.Google Scholar
  13. Carter, R.M. 1967 The Geology of Pitcairn Island, South Pacific Ocean. B. P. Bishop Museum Bulletin 231. Honolulu.Google Scholar
  14. Clague, D.A. and Hazlett, R.W. 1989 Geological Field Guide to the Hawaiian Islands. Field Trip Guidebook T188/304 for the 28th International Geological Congress. Washington, DC, American Geophysical Union.Google Scholar
  15. Davenport, W.H. 1962 Red feather money. Scientific American 206: 94–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Davenport, W.H. 1964 Notes on Santa Cruz voyaging. Journal of the Polynesian Society 73: 134–142.Google Scholar
  17. Davidson, J.M. 1972 Archaeological investigations on Motutapu Island, New Zealand. Introduction to recent fieldwork and some recent results. Records of the Auckland Institute and Museum 9: 1–14.Google Scholar
  18. Duncan, R.A. and McDougall, I. 1976 Linear volcanism in French Polynesia. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 1: 197–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Earle, T.K. 1978 Economic and Social Organization of a Complex Chiefdom: The Halelea District, Kauai, Hawaii. Museum of Anthropology, Anthropological Papers 63. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan.Google Scholar
  20. Green, R.C. 1962 Obsidian: its application to archaeology. New Zealand Archaeological Association Newsletter 5: 8–16.Google Scholar
  21. Green, R.C. 1987 Obsidian results from the Reef/Santa Cruz Islands. In: Ambrose, W. and Mummery J. M. J. eds., Archaeometry: Further Australasian Studies. Department of Prehistory, ResearchGoogle Scholar
  22. Green, R.C. 1987 School of Pacific Studies, Canberra, The Australian National University: 239–249.Google Scholar
  23. Green, R.C. 1991 Near and Remote Oceania–disestablishing “Melanesia” in culture history. In: Pawley, A., ed., Man and a Half: Essays in Pacific Anthropology and Ethnobiology in Honour of Ralph Bulmer. Auckland: The Polynesian Society: 491–502.Google Scholar
  24. Handy, E.S.C. and Pukui, M.K. 1958 The Polynesian Family System in Ka’u, Hawaii. Wellington: The Polynesian Society.Google Scholar
  25. Harding, T.G. 1967 Voyagers of the Vitiaz Strait: A Study of a New Guinea Trade System. Seattle: University of Washington Press.Google Scholar
  26. Irwin, G. 1983 Chieftainship, kula and trade in Massim prehistory. In: Leach, J. W. and Leach, E. eds, The Kula: New Perspectives on Massim Exchange. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 29–72.Google Scholar
  27. Irwin, G. 1985 The Emergence of Mailu as a Central Place in Coastal Papuan Prehistory. Terra Australis 10. Canberra: Department of Prehistory, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University.Google Scholar
  28. Kamakau, S.M. 1961 Ruling Chiefs of Hawaii. Honolulu, The Kamehameha Schools Press.Google Scholar
  29. Kirch, P.V. 1987 Lapita and Oceanic cultural origins: excavations in the Mussau Islands, Bismarck Archipelago. Journal of Field Archaeology 14: 163–180.Google Scholar
  30. Kirch, P.V., Hunt, T.L., Weisler, M., Butler, V, and Allen, M.S. 1991 Mussau Islands prehistory: results of the 1985–86 excavations. In: Allen, J. and Gosden, C., eds., Report of the Lapita Homeland Project. Canberra, Department of Prehistory, Research School of Pacific Studies, The Australian National University: 144–163.Google Scholar
  31. Kirch, P.V. and Kelly, M. eds 1975 Prehistory and Ecology in a Windward Hawaiian Valley: Halawa Valley, Molokai. Pacific Anthropological Records 24. Honolulu: B. P. Bishop Museum.Google Scholar
  32. Lilley, I. 1988 Prehistoric exchange across the Vitiaz Strait, Papua New Guinea. Current Anthropology 29: 513–516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Malinowski, B. 1922 Argonauts of the Western Pacific. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  34. Morgenstein, M. and Riley, T. 1974 Hydration-rind dating of basaltic glass: a new method for archaeological chronologies. Asian Perspectives 17: 145–159.Google Scholar
  35. Morgenstein, M. and Rosendahl, P. 1976 Basaltic glass hydration dating in Hawaiian archaeology In: Taylor, R. E. ed., Advances in Obsidian Glass Studies. Park Ridge, New Jersey: Noyes Press: 141–164.Google Scholar
  36. Olson, L. 1983 Hawaiian volcanic glass applied “dating” and “sourcing”: archaeological context. In: Clark, J.T. and Kirch, P.V. eds., Archaeological Investigations of the Mudland-WaimeaKawaihae Road Corridor, Island of Hawaii: An Interdisciplinary Study of an Environmental Transect. Departmental Report Series 83–1. Honolulu: B. P. Bishop Museum: 325–340.Google Scholar
  37. Renfrew, C., Cann, J.R., and Dixon, J.E. 1965 Obsidian in the Aegean. Annual of the British School of Archaeology at Athens 60: 225–247.Google Scholar
  38. Renfrew, C., Dixon, J.E., and Cann, J.R. 1968 Further analysis of Near Eastern obsidians. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 34: 319–331.Google Scholar
  39. Rhoads, J.W. 1982 Prehistoric Papuan exchange systems: the Hiri and its antecedents. In: Dutton, T. ed., The Hiri in History: Further Aspects of Long-distance Motu Trade in Central Papua. Pacific Research Monograph 8. Canberra, The Australian National University: 131–151.Google Scholar
  40. Schousboe, R., Afford, M., and Kirch, P.V. 1983 Volcanic-glass flaked stone artifacts. In: Clark, J.T. and Kirch, P.V., eds., Archaeological Investigations of the Mudiane-Waimea-Kawaihae Road Corridor; Island of Hawaii: An Interdisciplinary Study of an Environmental Transect. Departmental Report Series 83–1. Honolulu, Department of Anthropology, B. P. Bishop Museum: 348–370.Google Scholar
  41. Sheppard, P.R. 1993 Lapita lithics: trade/exchange and technology. A review from the Reef/Santa Cruz. Archaeology in Oceania 28: 121–137.Google Scholar
  42. Spencer, T. 1989 Tectonic and Environmental Histories in the Pitcairn Group, Palaeogene to Present: Reconstructions and Speculations. Atoll Research Bulletin 322. Washington, DC, Smithsonian Institution.Google Scholar
  43. Spencer, T. and Paulay, G. 1989 Geology and Geomorphology of Henderson Island. Atoll Research Bulletin 323. Washington, DC, Smithsonian Institution.Google Scholar
  44. Stokes, J.F.G. 1909 Heiaus of Molokai. Manuscript. Honolulu, Archives, B. P. Bishop Museum.Google Scholar
  45. Summerhayes, G.R. and Allen, J. 1993 The transport of Mopir obsidian to late Pleistocene New Ireland. Archaeology in Oceania 28: 144–148.Google Scholar
  46. Summerhayes, G.R., Gosden, C., Fullagar, R., Specht, J., Torrence, R., Bird, R., Shahgholi, N., and Katsaros, A. 1993 West New Britain obsidian: production and consumption patterns. In: Frankhauser, B. and Bird, J.R., eds„ Archaeometry: Current Australasian Research. Department of Prehistory, Research School of Pacific Studies, Canberra, The Australian National University: 57–68.Google Scholar
  47. Summers, C.C. 1964 Hawaiian Fishponds. Special Publication 52. Honolulu, B. P Bishop Museum Press.Google Scholar
  48. Weisler, M.I. 1989 Chronometric dating and late Holocene prehistory in the Hawaiian Islands: a critical review of radiocarbon dates from Molokai island. Radiocarbon 31: 121–145.Google Scholar
  49. Weisler, M.I. 1990 Sources and sourcing of volcanic glass in Hawai’i: implications for exchange studies. Archaeology in Oceania 25: 16–23.Google Scholar
  50. Weisler, M.I. 1991 The Archaeology of a Hawaiian Dune System: the Nature Conservancy’s Mo’omomi Preserve. Honolulu: The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii: 166 p.Google Scholar
  51. Weisler, M.I. 1993a Provenance studies of Polynesian basalt adze material: a review and suggestions for improving regional data bases. Asian Perspectives 32: 61–83.Google Scholar
  52. Weisler, M.I. 1993b Long-distance Interaction in Prehistoric Polynesia: Three Case Studies. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley.Google Scholar
  53. Weisler, M.I. 1994 The settlement of marginal Polynesia: new evidence from Henderson Island. Journal of Field Archaeology 21: 83–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Weisler, M.I. 1995 Henderson Island prehistory: colonization and extinction on a remote Polynesian island. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 56: 377–404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Weisler, M.I. 1996 An archaeological survey of Mangareva: implications for regional settlement models and interaction studies. Man and Culture in Oceania 12. in press Taking the mystery out of the Polynesian “mystery islands”: a case study from Mangareva and the Pitcairn Group. In: Davidson, J., Irwin, G., Brown, D. and Pawley, A, eds., Pacific Culture History: Essays in Honour of Roger Green.Google Scholar
  56. Weisler, M.I. and Kirch, P.V. 1985 The structure of settlement space in a Polynesian chiefdom: Kawela, Molokai, Hawaiian Islands. New Zealand Journal of Archaeology 7: 129–158.Google Scholar
  57. Woodhead, J.D. and McCulloch, M.T. 1989. Ancient seafloor signals in Pitcairn Island lavas and evidence for large amplitude, small length-scale mantle heterogeneities. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 94: 257–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marshall I. Weisler
    • 1
  • David A. Clague
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of ArchaeologyUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand
  2. 2.Monterey Bay Aquarium Research InstituteMoss LandingUSA

Personalised recommendations