2.0 Background

One-hundred and twenty-eight land snail collections from eighteen sites are analysed here. The land snails were collected during archaeological and palaeontological investigations carried out during cultural resources management projects associated with construction at Barber's Point harbour and Ko Olina resort adjacent to the harbour (Fig. 1). The investigated sites include ten sinkholes without cultural modification, four sinkholes that appear to have been modified for use as garden pits by Hawai'ians, two habitation sites, and two natural marshes. The minimum number of individuals (MNI) identified in the collections is 120,210, with individual collections ranging in size from 69 to 21,816 MNI. The number of collections that we analyse at each site ranges from 2 to 16. The sites with relatively few collections include two marsh sites, both habitation sites, and modified sinkhole sites. Several unmodified sinkholes, including especially sites 1710-1 (each site is identified here with the last four digits of its State of Hawai'i site number optionally followed by a dash and a feature designation; each four digit site number is preceded by the prefix 50-80-12-, e.g. 50-80-12-1710-1), 9574, 9647-2, 9659-1, and 9661-2, yielded nine or more stratigraphically ordered collections. Site 9574 is often referred to in the literature by its Bishop Museum site number, 50-Oa-B6-78. There is some confusion in records of the State Historic Preservation Division, which assigns site numbers, and Bishop Museum over the correct State of Hawai'i site number for site B6-78. The State site number 50-80-12-9574 is taken from the master list in the Anthropology Department, B.P. Bishop Museum and refers precisely to the original definition of site 50-Oa-B6-78 (Sinoto 1978).

Click here to view map of site locations
Figure 1a: General area of the sites; click to view detailed map showing location of sites mentioned in the text. Topographic information from 1928 USGS quadrangle

The potential of Kalaeloa land snail collections to contribute to environmental reconstruction was first recognised by Kirch (1978), who identified eleven species of land molluscs in three small collections from site 9574. The small sample of identified molluscs and circumstances of their collection precluded detailed interpretation. However, Kirch (1978) was able to set out field methods that subsequent investigators should follow: samples should be collected from each stratigraphic layer in a site, preferably at 5-10cm intervals; fine-meshed screens should be used to maximise recovery of small individuals; and a survey of the contemporary land snail fauna at Kalaeloa should be made 'to serve as a control for interpretation of the subfossil assemblages' (Kirch 1978, 4).

The first major application of quantitative snail analysis in Hawai`i was carried out by Christensen and Kirch (1986), who identified a minimum number of 21,376 individual snails in 26 collections from five sites, including two unmodified sinkhole sites (9574, 9670-P1), two human habitation sites (2700-1, 2701-1), and one sinkhole site possibly modified for use as a pit garden (2701-3). Their analysis and interpretation of these materials strongly influenced subsequent studies.

Central to the analysis is division of taxa into ecological groups (Table 1). Among native land snail taxa, 'native, extinct' taxa are presumed extinct, either globally or locally, and 'native, extant' taxa are found today at Kalaeloa - Christensen and Kirch (1986) do not note whether 'native extinct' taxa were identified on the basis of a field survey, as recommended by Kirch (1978), or by some other means, and there are some differences of opinion among malacologists over which taxa are in fact extinct at Kalaeloa (Cowie 19921997). In addition to native land snail taxa, other snails identified in Kalaeloa deposits include introduced taxa, most importantly the Polynesian introduction Lamellaxis gracilis and the ubiquitous post-Contact introduction Gastrocopta servilis, and various aquatic taxa, the most abundant of which, Assiminea nitida, is found in deposits that are dry today and is an important marker of wetter conditions.

Christensen and Kirch's analysis centred on sinkhole site 9574, whose 85cm deep, three-layer, stratigraphic sequence suggested that it was 'of critical importance in assessing long-term ecological change' (Christensen and Kirch 1986, 72). The site showed striking evidence of change over time in the relative proportion of native, extinct taxa. The seven collections from the bottom 70cm of the stratigraphic column yielded between 71% and 85% native, extinct taxa. Native, extinct taxa decline to 67% of the collection from 5-15cm below surface and fall to 20% in the surface collection. None were found in the leaf litter. In the absence of radiometric dates for the stratigraphic sequence, an absence keenly felt (Christensen and Kirch 1986, 76), Christensen and Kirch attempted to date the decline of native, extinct taxa through the stratigraphic distribution of temporal index sub-fossils. Taxa introduced to Hawai'i by Polynesians in the first millennium AD and found in sinkhole deposits include the snail L. gracilis, scincid and gekkonid lizards, and Polynesian rat (Rattus exulans). Post-contact (AD 1778) introductions include the snail G. servilis, house mouse (Mus musculus), and rats other than Polynesian rat. They found L. gracilis, lizards, and R. exulans in the top 25cm of the stratigraphic column, a distribution that correlates with the decline in relative proportion of native, extinct taxa. The unexpected presence of G. servilis throughout the stratigraphic column, often as live or freshly deposited shells, was believed to have resulted from contamination in the period between the site's excavation (Sinoto 1978, 21-24) and sampling for snail collections. Thus, it appeared that decline of extinct taxa began during the Polynesian period and that Polynesians were responsible for 'extinction of much of the native land snail fauna' (Christensen and Kirch 1986, 76).

A decline over time in relative proportion of native, extinct taxa was found at all other sites (except site 2701-3, which was dominated by the aquatic snail A. nitida), but stratigraphic sequences differed from the sequence at site 9574. Variations from the pattern of change documented at site 9574 were not interpreted, however. These include very gentle relative decline of native, extinct taxa at sinkhole site 9670-P1, their strong presence (>40%) at the end of that sequence, and evidence for mixing of the index sub-fossil G. servilis at sites 2700 and 2701.

TaxonEcological group
Orobophana uberta (Gould, 1847)Native, extinct
Assiminea nitida (Pease, 1865)Aquatic
Melampus sp.Aquatic
Lamellidea spp.Native, extant
Pacificella sp.Native, extinct
Tornatellides spp.Native, extant
Achatinella mustelina (Mighels, 1845)Native, extinct
Leptachatina (Angulidens) cookei (Pilsbry, 1914)Native, extinct
Leptachatina (Angulidens) subcylindracea (Cooke, 1911)Native, extinct
Leptachatina spp.Native, extinct
Amastra (Metamastra) cf. subrostrata (Pfeiffer, 1859)Native, extinct
Amastra (Cyclamastra) umbilicata umbilicata (Pfeiffer, 1855)Native, extinct
Amastra spp.Native, extinct
Lyropupa sp. (sinistral)Native, extinct
Lyropupa (Mirapupa) ovatula (Cooke and Pilsbry, 1920)Native, extinct
Lyropupa (Mirapupa) perlonga (Pease, 1871)Native, extant
Lyropupa (Mirapupa) spp.Native, extant
Nesopupa (Nesopupilla) litoralis (Cooke and Pilsbry, 1920)Native, extinct
Nesopupa (Limbatipupa) newcombi (Pfeiffer, 1852)Native, extinct
Nesopupa (Nesodagys) wesleyana Ancey, 1904Native, extinct
Nesopupa spp.Native, extinct
Pupoidopsis hawaiiensis (Pilsbry and Cooke, 1921)Native, extinct
Gastrocopta servilis (Gould, 1843)Introduced, historic
Cookeconcha n. sp.?Native, extinct
Endodonta kalaeloana (Christensen, 1982)Native, extinct
Succinea caduca (Mighels, 1845)Native, extant
Lamellaxis gracilis (Hutton, 1834)Introduced, pre-Contact
Bradybaena similaris (Ferussac, 1821)Introduced, historic
Table 1: Land snail taxa at Kalaeloa and their ecological groups. Source: Christensen (1995, table 2.1)

Subsequent investigations at Kalaeloa greatly augmented the number of land snail collections available for analysis, identified six taxa not found previously, and provided the basis for radiometric dating of certain sinkhole sequences. Davis' (1990) excavations at twelve sites, including eight sinkholes (1710-1, 2700-18, 2701-8, 2706-6E, 2711-28, 9647-2, 9659-1, and 9661-2), two modified sinkholes (2705-7 and 2706-8B), and two marshes (1715-1 and 1716), yielded 97 collections (seven collections were made at site 1716, but only two of these, from Layers II and III, are used for analysis here) and a total of 96,388 identified individuals (Christensen 1995). Six snail taxa not previously identified at Kalaeloa were found in small numbers. These include an amphibious taxon (Christensen (1995) mentions finding the aquatic snail Neritina but there is no entry for this taxon in the data tables), one historically introduced taxon, and three native, extinct taxa, including Pacificella spp., Achatinella mustelina, and Amastra (Metamastra) cf. subrostrata, the latter two of which are generally restricted to moister, forested regions. Their presence, along with the presence of a sinistral Lyropupa, well outside their known environmental ranges led Christensen to sound a note of caution about the possible precision of ecological inferences drawn from sub-fossil land snail collections. He also recognised that snails used as index sub-fossils by Christensen and Kirch (1986) were regularly found at depths far too great for their known ages. Although he provided some general guidelines for distinguishing in situ occurrences of these taxa from secondarily deposited specimens, it is not possible to apply these guidelines to the data as they are reported. In any case, the availability of 14C dates at some sites diminished the importance of index sub-fossils as a basis for chronological inferences.

Davis' dating programme focused on sinkhole sites, whose long stratigraphic sequences provide information on change that is not yielded by habitation sites, marshes, or modified sinkholes. Davis recognised that sinkholes showed stratigraphic regularities and that these might be used to posit a regional depositional sequence that would apply generally to sinkholes. These stratigraphic regularities were described by Allen (1995), who defined depositional units based on formative conditions of sediments and proposed a three-phase stratigraphic sequence. At the base of the stratigraphic column is a 'basal diagenetic deposit characterised by carbonate silts weathering directly off the reefal substrate' (Davis 1990, 182). (Davis (1990) and Allen (1995) appear to use roman numeral labels for depositional units, e.g. 'Depositional Units III, II, and I', in different ways. Davis (1990) appears to equate them with the regional deposition regime, while Allen (1995) uses them in a site-specific fashion. In order to minimise potential for confusion, depositional units are labelled here with descriptive phrases, e.g. 'basal diagenetic deposit', 'structural collapse deposit', and 'transported sediment deposit'. The basal diagenetic deposit was buried by sediments derived from 'mass wasting and major episodes of structural collapse of the sinkhole walls' (Davis 1990, 182). These structural collapse deposits were buried in turn by a dark-coloured, loamy deposit 'formed in transported sediments' (Davis 1990, 182). Davis hypothesised that '(c)hange in the dominant mode of deposition through the column provides a tentative model of ecological change' for the region (Davis 1990, 182).

Davis concentrated his dating efforts at sites 9659-1 and 1710-1, submitting seven avian bones (procellariid) for age determinations. Bones came from each of the depositional units, with the structural collapse deposit providing five dates, and the transported sediment and basal diagenetic deposits one each. 14C ages returned by the laboratory (discussed below) are consistent both within and between the two sites, and offer general support for Davis' hypothesis of a regional sinkhole depositional sequence. However, calibration of the 14C ages on procellariid bone is not a straightforward matter. Procellariid birds feed exclusively on sea creatures and thus take in their carbon from the ocean reservoir, which has an apparent 14C age of approximately 400 years. Calibrating with an atmospheric curve would yield calibrated ages that are too old by several hundred years. Christensen (1995) reported 'uncorrected' calendar dates derived by subtracting the conventional 14C age from 1950, a practice roughly equivalent to calibrating with an atmospheric curve (when Christensen wrote his report in the early 1980s he did not have access to the chronology worked out by Davis (1990)). Davis recognised the problem with dating materials from the ocean reservoir, but instead of following calibration procedures established by the 14C dating community (Stuiver et al1986), chose instead to devise his own calibration curve based on 14C dates on paired samples of different materials from his Kalaeloa excavations. Despite the differences in calendar dates, with those reported by Christensen (1995) averaging about 500 years older than those reported by Davis (1990), both authors interpreted the 14C dates as supporting the hypothesis that decline of native, extinct taxa was due to Polynesian influence. Christensen (1995, 254) concluded that the first evidence for decline in land snails dated to AD 690, a time believed by many prehistorians to be early in the Polynesian era (Kirch 1985; Hunt and Holsen 1991). Davis (1990, 333) dated the period of greatest change in the land snails to AD 1200-1500, a period generally regarded as characterised by rapid population growth and expansion of settlements (Kirch 1985).

Recently, Cowie (1992) identified 1,968 MNI in six collections from modified sinkhole site 2717-23. These collections showed a decline in relative proportion of native, extinct taxa over time, which Cowie, following Christensen and Kirch (1986), interpreted as due to 'the decline of native plant communities and the increasing dominance of introduced plants combined with increased human activity' (Cowie 1992, J-4).


© Internet Archaeology URL:
Last updated: Tue May 29 2001