Earliest direct evidence of monument building at the archaeological site of Nan Madol (Pohnpei, Micronesia) identified using 230Th/U coral dating and geochemical sourcing of megalithic architectural stone
Archaeologists commonly use the onset of the construction of large burial monuments as a material indicator of a fundamental shift in authority in prehistoric human societies during the Holocene. High- quality direct evidence of this transition is rare. We report new interdisciplinary research at the archaeological site of Nan Madol that allows us to specify where and when people began to construct monumental architecture in the remote islands of the Pacific. Nan Madol is an ancient administrative and mortuary center and the former capital of the island of Pohnpei. It was constructed over 83 ha of lagoon with artificial islets and other architecture built using columnar basalt and coral. We employed geochemical sourcing of basalt used as architectural stone and high-precision uranium-thorium series dates (230Th/U) on coral from the tomb of the first chief of the entire island to identify the beginning of monument building at Nan Madol in AD 1180-1200. Over the next several centuries (AD 1300-1600) monument building began on other islands across Oceania. Future research should be aimed at resolving the causes of these social transformations through higher quality data on monument building.