Residential Landscapes and House Societies of the Late Prehistoric Society Islands


  • Jennifer G. Kahn B.P. Bishop Museum, Honolulu
  • Patrick V. Kirch


Society Islands, House societies, household archaeology, monumental temples, ideology


We extend the ‘house society’ perspective to one of the most complex Eastern Polynesian chiefdoms, the Society Islands. Employing a landscape approach, we argue that competing elites used the flexibility of the ‘house society’ structure and its landed estates to promulgate and manipulate status differences. Our study documents how the social hierarchy and its ideological underpinnings were materialized in archaeologically visible ways, including investments in residential landscapes, site proxemics, and construction sequences. While communal investments in the landed material estate were staged over a few centuries, investments in the house’s ideology and corporate identity were established early on. Differences in house rank afforded some houses greater access to essential resources and facilitated their abilities to maintain and extend their corporate group, while affording them greater access to labor and continued wealth production over time. Our case study exemplifies the significant role that small-scale relations--quotidian interactions within neighborhoods--played as sources of social power.

Author Biography

Jennifer G. Kahn, B.P. Bishop Museum, Honolulu

Anthropology Department

Associate Anthropologist




How to Cite

Kahn, J. G. and Kirch, P. V. (2013) “Residential Landscapes and House Societies of the Late Prehistoric Society Islands”, Journal of Pacific Archaeology, 4(1), pp. 50–72. Available at: (Accessed: 10 December 2022).




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