Record Details

Steadman, David W;Pregill, Gregory K;Burley, David V
Rapid prehistoric extinction of iguanas and birds in Polynesia
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Journal Article
Brachylophus sp.
The Tongoleleka archaeological site on Lifuka Island, Kingdom of Tonga, is a rich accumulation of pottery, marine mollusks, and nonhuman bones that represents first human contact on a small island in Remote Oceania =2,850 years ago. The lower strata contain decorated Lapita-style pottery and bones of an extinct iguana (Brachylophus undescribed sp.) and numerous species of extinct birds. The upper strata instead feature Polynesian Plainware pottery and bones of extant species of vertebrates. A stratigraphic series of 20 accelerator-mass spectrometer radiocarbon dates on individual bones of the iguana, an extinct megapode (Megapodius alimentum), and the non-native chicken (Gallus gallus) suggests that anthropogenic loss of the first two species and introduction of the latter occurred on Lifuka within a time interval too short (a century or less) to be resolved by radiometric dating. The geologically instantaneous prehistoric collapse of Lifuka's vertebrate community contrasts with the much longer periods of faunal depletion on some other islands, thus showing that the elapse time between human arrival and major extinction events was highly variable on oceanic islands as well as on continents.