Mollusc Harvesting in the Pre-European Contact Pacific Islands: Investigating Resilience and Sustainability

  • Frank R. ThomasEmail author
Part of the Studies in Human Ecology and Adaptation book series (STHE, volume 11)


Mollusc shells, which are often quite numerous in archaeological sites throughout the Pacific Islands, offer good proxies for assessing environmental change as well as human impact. Documented changes in species size, richness, and abundance have often been interpreted as evidence of resource abuse by shellfish gatherers. While this may be valid in some cases, archaeologists need to consider other variables to explain change (or stability) in shell distribution. A better understanding of ecological and biological (life history) characteristics associated with shell midden deposits, as well as greater awareness of ethnographic and ethnoarchaeological data on the interaction between people and varieties of marine resources, may result in a reinterpretation of past human behavior. A growing interest in indigenous resource management among contemporary Pacific Island communities has led some archaeologists to seek tangible evidence of community resilience and sustainable use of resources in the past. This chapter draws primarily from direct observations and semi-structured interviews among mollusc gatherers in Kiribati, eastern Micronesia, and examines selected case studies of archaeological shell deposits from the Pacific Islands that could shed new light on marine resource management to complement the more widespread research conclusions that depict human impact in largely negative terms.


Archaeology Ethnographic and ethnoarchaeological data Mollusc ecological and biological characteristics Resilience Sustainability Pacific Islands Kiribati 



Many thanks to Ludomir Lozny for the invitation to contribute to this volume. Amrit Raj of the Faculty of Science, Technology and Environment, University of the South Pacific (USP), provided the map. Deepak Bhartu of USP’s Centre for Flexible Learning assisted in modifying Fig. 1.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Pacific Studies, Oceania Centre for Arts, Culture and Pacific StudiesUniversity of the South PacificSuvaFiji

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