A Proposal for Archaeological Investigation of the islands of Pitcairn and Henderson
For the consideration of the Commissioner of Pitcairn Island, Its Mayor and Council


Our proposal stems from discussions concerning the desirability to intensify the archaeological studies in Pitcairn and Mangareva to determinate its cultural history, and its relationship to the settlement of Easter Island. During these last years a team from the University of California, Berkeley and from Sorbonne 1, is carrying out archaeological research in Mangareva and Temoe atoll to this end.

This project that would last a minimum of 2 sessions of 2 to 3 months each over the next two years, will have at least three significant results: (1) it will ad to the inventory of archaeological sites and culture patrimony of Pitcairn Island Group; (2) it will contribute new knowledge with respect to several important questions in Eastern Polynesian archaeology, and; (3) it will provide the Pitcairn authorities with a detailed archaeological survey map of the areas investigated.

Selection and Significance of Field Location.

Pitcairn Island and Henderson, occupies a critical position- geographically and culturally – within Eastern Polynesia, yet we suffer from lack of data regarding some of the archaeological features of the sites that have been surveyed. Despite the pioneering archaeological survey carried out by Dr. H. Lavacheri 1935 and the sondages carried out by Dr Yoshio Sinoto in the late 1960s (B. P. Bishop Museum Expedition to Pitcairn Island), and some limited excavations carried out by Dr Marshall Weisler (Cambridge University Expedition to the Pitcairn Islands) in the late 1990s, extremely little work has been carried out in Pitcairn since then. The analysis of Weisler’s materials however have shown striking results, including the export of basalt adzes to Mangareva and Henderson Islands, as well as evidence of trading and for ancient Polynesian voyaging.

It is extremely likely that Pitcairn, Henderson, together with Mangareva played a key role in the colonization and settlement of Easter Island. In oral traditions such as those recorded by the famous anthropologist Sir Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hiroa) Mangareva and Pitcairn Islands formed part of a great voyaging region in the past. (Hiroa 1938) These oral traditions are now receiving important verification from archaeology. Oven stones of Mangareva rock, for example, have been excavated from archaeological deposits in the remote Henderson Island, and adzes from Pitcairn have also been excavated in Henderson and Mangareva, together with stone adzes from the Marquesas Islands.

Pitcairn Island is also likely to yield important new raw data on the ancient biodiversity of the Eastern Pacific, for as in other islands, we anticipate that modern excavations will yield rich faunal and floral materials, such as the bones of now-extinct bird species, the shells of endemic land snails, and the charcoal of indigenous trees and plants, formerly specific to the island. Such information will be of great interest not only to archaeologists but also to biologists and biogeographers of the Pacific.

It is for these reasons that we have selected Pitcairn Island, and for which we propose the following specific research objectives.

Specific Research Goals.

1. Continue with a detailed inventory of the archaeological sites of Pitcairn Island

There has been no complete systematic inventory of the archaeological sites of Pitcairn Island. Although Dr. Lavacherri in 1934 recorded a significant number of archaeological sites, recent years reconnaissance by Weisler (1996,1999) has demonstrated the existence of numerous previously overlooked surface and subsurface sites upon the island, we know of the existence of many more sites that have yet to be mapped and described.  Together these sites constitute a significant cultural patrimony, and it is vital for the people of Pitcairn Island and for those Authorities that have in mind the future development of the island, to have an accurate inventory of these sites, including precise locations and descriptions, so they can be preserved from destruction when development projects are implemented. For example, the only remaining known altar that had a pair of statues was bulldozed not long ago and its remains were thrown over the cliff side to make the land apt for planting sweet potatoes. Our goal in this project is to provide such an inventory.

 2. Chronology of Eastern Pacific Colonization.

One of the outstanding unanswered questions of Polynesia prehistory, concerns the timing of human discovery and settlement of the islands. In recent years, scholars have debated this issue, with advocates of both a “long” and a “short” chronology. Yet the problem cannot be resolved without new data from excavations of islands that have yet to be investigated such as Mangareva and further research on Pitcairn Is. Therefore at present a research program has been set up to obtain this information, but the importance that Pitcairn, (and probably in a lesser way Henderson due to its limited resource inventory) could of played as a stepping stone in the voyaging strategies for the settlement of remote Rapanui or Easter Island needs to be assessed. The stone statue from Pitcairn in the Oakland Museum reassembles closely the early Easter Island statues, and only on these islands did they manufacture stone fishhooks.  By testing and dating early occupational deposits on Pitcairn we expect to obtain critical information relative to this vexing problem, and learn more about the early tool assemblages of those Polynesians that settled Easter Island.

3. The impact of human colonization upon the Pitcairn ecosystem and reconstruction of the islands ancient environment.

 Recent research by archaeologist’s thin collaboration with paleontologists has revealed that prior to human colonization, the islands of central and eastern Polynesia were the home to numerous endemic and indigenous species of birds, land snails, and plants. Inevitably, clearing land for gardens and the growth of large populations led to the demise of this original biodiversity. The discovery of the extinct bones and other remains of these animals and plants have been among the most important scientific results from Polynesia in the 20th century. Almost certainly, similar materials exist in the archaeological deposits of Pitcairn Island, and it is one of our primary objectives to use such evidence to reconstruct the ancient environment of the island.

The Research Team

The principal members of the research team we have assembled so far are as follows, with their institutional affiliations:

Instituto de Estudios Isla de Pascua, Universidad de Chile.

  • Prof. Claudio Cristino Ferrando, Archaeologist and Director of the Institute
  • Prof. Patricia Vargas Casanova, Archaeologist.

Pacific Islands Research Instutute.

  • Edmundo Edwards Eastman. Archaeologist.
  • Mara Riroroko, field assistant.
  • Lynn Danaher, field assistant, President PIRI
  • Alexandra Edwards, Videographer
  • 2 assistants

This group of researchers has extensive prior experience in the archaeology of the Eastern Pacific Islands, including significant research ranging from the Austral, Marquesas and Society Islands to Easter Island.

Field and Laboratory Methods.

 Fieldwork in Pitcairn Island will include reconnaissance survey of the island to determinate the distribution and location of the archaeological sites, detailed mapping of sites, standardized recording of site characteristics with written, photographic and video descriptions, test excavation of subsurface sites, and more extensive excavation of key sites selected after the reconnaissance phase has been completed. Our field methods will follow internationally accepted standards, but will also comprise several specialized and innovative analytical techniques, the recovery and determination of ancient plant remains (charcoal; opal phytoliths; starch grains; pollen); AMS dating of charcoal samples; expert identification of extinct bird and other faunal materials; ect. All data will be entered into a standardized set of database files available to all project members through an intra-net web site.

Disposition of Artifacts and Samples

All culturally- significant finished artifacts (e.g. adzes; food ponders; fishhooks; ornaments, will be cataloged and deposited in the collection of the Pitcairn Island Museum, as soon as possible after the completion of fieldwork, a preliminary report, including a catalog of objects will be left there. This will allow for the possibility of repatriation of cultural–important materials to the island. Specific permission will be required in advance for the analysis of samples (e.g. faunal materials, sediment samples) that require specialized equipment not available on the island.


  1. November 2011: Submission of proposal to the Commissioner of Pitcairn Island and to the Mayor of the Island and its Council.
  2. January 2012 August 2012: Review of previous data; compilation of detailed bibliographical references, aerial photos, topographic base maps, etc; Logistical preparations.
  3. April–May 2012: fieldwork on Pitcairn Island by project members.
  4. June, July, August, 2012: Preparation and submission of preliminary report.
  5. Sept, Oct, Nov, 2012: Analysis of materials, writing of final reports for publication.
  6. December 2012: Submission of final project report in manuscript form, and proposal for the second phase of the project.

Pacific Island Research Institute

 The Pacific Island Research Institute is an IRS 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization based in Friday Harbor, WA providing funds for Research, education and exploration of Easter Island as well as of other areas of Polynesia. Our Tax ID number is 26-3103099

Contact Information

Capt. Lynn Danaher
President, Pacific Islands Research Institute
PO Box 2627, Friday Harbor, WA 98250, USA

Edmundo Edwards, Primary Researcher
Hangaroa, Easter Island, Chile
Phones: 56-32-100532 and 56-32-551611

Estimated Budget for Phase 1

Airfare 8 persons w/excess baggage 24,000
Yacht rental 46,000
Food, lodging & supplies (2 months at US 70 p.d. p.p.) max 8 persons 34,000
Equipment 18.000
C 14 dates 25.000
Salaries for on island assistance 17,000
Misc. permits fees and expenses 12,000
Total estimated US $ 176,000