Panel: Archaeology in the Marianas
Matter of Time
Outlining the Order of Time Periods in Marianas Archaeology and Ancient History
By Dr. Mike Carson
Micronesian Area Research Center, University of Guam
Abstract: Any study of archaeology and ancient history needs to begin with a basic chronological order of time periods, and a suitable outline for the Mariana Islands involves several such time periods over the last few millennia. In terms of the archaeological evidence, these periods cover the entire sequence of cultural history, from the first instance of people living in the islands and continuing all the way through the timing of written history. With the use of written historical documents, the later time periods have been much more refined, for example in windows of a few decades or even single years. The more ancient periods of archaeological evidence, however, can be defined only within the limits of radiocarbon dating and other surviving material evidence, often in blocks of some centuries. How are those time periods identified? How are the dates measured? What was different from one time period to the next? These questions are addressed in the current presentation.
In the Mariana Islands, the archaeological record extends back at least as early as 1500 BC, older than any other record of people living in the remote-distance islands of Pacific Oceania. Within this long record, several individual time periods can be distinguished.
I can start with sharing this image (Figure 1), depicting the layers in an archaeological excavation. When digging deeper beneath the ground, each deeper layer of course is older. Each layer reveals different forms and styles of artifacts, such as the shapes of ancient pottery as shown in this image.
At first glance, you can notice several time periods, represented in separate layers of time. The deepest layer naturally is the oldest, and it corresponds with the time when people first lived in the Mariana Islands, beginning around 1500 BC or perhaps earlier. The uppermost layer, at the surface, is the most recent, and it corresponds with the traditional latte period of approximately AD 1000 through 1700.
For all of these site layers, the exact calendar years of dating can be different in each particular site excavation. The overall outline, as shown here, represents the approximate