New dating on the stone buildings of Nan Madol suggests the ancient coral reef capital in the Pacific Ocean was the earliest among the islands to be ruled by a single chief.
The discovery makes Nan Madol a key locale for studying how ancient human societies evolved from simple societies to more complex societies, said archaeologist Mark D. McCoy, Southern Methodist University, Dallas. McCoy led the discovery team.
McCoy deployed uranium series dating to determine that when the tomb was built it was one-of-a-kind, making it the first monumental scaled burial site on the remote islands of the Pacific.
The discovery enables archaeologists to study more precisely how societies transform to more and more complex and hierarchical systems, said McCoy, an expert in landscape archaeology and monumental architecture and ideology in the Pacific Islands.
“The kind of society that we live in today, it wasn't born last year, or even 100 years ago,” McCoy said. “It has its roots in a pre-modern era like Nan Madol where you have a king or chief. These islanders invented a new kind of society — that is a socially creative achievement. The idea of chiefs, someone in charge, is not a new thing, but it's an extremely important precursor. We know tribes and bands predate chiefdoms and states. But it's not a straight line. By looking at these intermediate stages we get insight into that social phenomenon.”
The analysis is the first-time uranium-thorium series dating, which is significantly more precise than previously used radiocarbon dating, was deployed to calculate the age of the stone buildings that make up the famous site of Nan Madol (pronounced Nehn Muh-DOLL) — the former capital of the island of Pohnpei.
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