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Between Deterministic and Random Process in Prehistoric Pacific Island Abandonment

Thomas Peter Leppard


The cause or causes of prehistoric island depopulation in the Pacific remain a subject of debate. Explanations have tended either to focus on the inherent environmental limitations of the ‘Mystery Islands,’ or the unviability of small populations. It is argued in this paper that these factors are functionally related (low carrying capacity drives exaggerated demographic stochasticity), but that this recognition cannot account for why some small, otherwise fragile islands were not depopulated. It is suggested that we should recognize a causal role for both less, as well as more, deterministic processes. Late Holocene climate change and the spatial aspects of pathogen transfer through the Pacific are highlighted as types of process which may have rendered already liminal populations ultimately unfeasible.


Demography; historical ecology; colonization; pathogens; climate change

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ISSN (print) 1179 4704; ISSN (online) 1179 4712
Published with the assistance of the Department of Anthropology & Archaeology, University of Otago.
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