Compared with “high” islands, atolls and table reefs have received little attention from archaeologists focusing on historical ecology in Oceania. Limited archaeological investigations in the three archipelagoes composing the Republic of Kiribati (Gilbert, Phoenix, and Line Groups) reflect primarily culture historical reconstructions. Given the unique environmental challenges posed by coral islands, their potential for prehistoric ecological research should be recognized. By contrast, the last 50 years have witnessed a host of environmental studies, from agricultural improvements to sea-level rise and contemporary human impact on terrestrial and marine resources. In an attempt to better understand the influence of natural and human-induced processes in the more distant past, this paper explores several themes of relevance to coral islands in general. These include (1) natural and anthropogenic change on geomorphology and ecosystems, (2) anthropogenic impacts on faunal resources, (3) environmental evidence for human colonization, (4) interisland exchange networks and population mobility, and (5) social evolution.
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Vol. 63 • No. 4