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New precise dates for the ancient and sacred coral pyramidal tombs of Leluh (Kosrae, Micronesia)

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Monumental tombs within ancient civilizations worldwide hold precious clues for deciphering the architectural skill, acumen and industry of prehistoric cultures. Most tombs were constructed from abiotic materials —stone, soil and/or clay predominately—and were built to permanently inter royalty or high status individuals. On the island of Kosrae in the central Pacific, monumental tombs were constructed with scleractinian coral and were confined to the prehistoric island capital of Leluh, where they served as temporary mortuary processing points. Like other prehistoric tombs, the Leluh tombs were dated by association - from the remnants of the temporarily interred. Here we present new dates for three sacred tombs using high-precision U-Th dates from 24 corals collected directly from the structural materials. The results suggest the tombs were built about 700 years ago during the 14th century, approximately three centuries earlier than previously reported. The new dates redefine the peak occupation of Leluh and place its ruling paramountcy at the leading edge of the developing trans-oceanic political hierarchies, and the social and economic systems that dominated the civilizations in this part of the world.
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... Fourth, the distribution of U/Th ages on coral used to construct mortuary buildings at Leluh is skewed toward younger ages (45). This distribution may support RSL rise because the most accessible construction material is likely young coral in shallow water, while older material is less accessible since it is in deeper water. ...
... However, the columnar basalts used to construct the outward-facing structures at Nan Madol are evidence of the willingness and ability to move large volumes of heavy material considerable distances (59). The presence of coral fragments from a range of species representative of a complete coral colony, their unweathered condition, and oral histories indicate that coral living in shallow water (rather than dead coral that was, for example, left exposed by RSL fall) was harvested for construction material at Leluh (45). We propose that the age, type, and condition of construction materials used at Leluh are compatible with RSL rise on Kosrae. ...
... Leluh is a monument on Kosrae that shares many architectural characteristics with Nan Madol. U-Th ages on coral from three mortuary buildings show construction began at ~640 to 560 y B.P. (45). ...
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... 230 Th coral ages with precisions of circa 1% or better are readily attainable for suitable samples, yielding absolute uncertainties of 5-10 years for ~ 1000-year-old corals (all errors 2σ). 230 Th dating of archaeological corals has resolved the age and tempo of temple construction in both Hawai'i and the Society Islands (Kirch and Sharp, 2005;McCoy et al., 2009;Sharp et al., 2010;Weisler et al., 2006), as well as construction of monumental architecture in Eastern Micronesia (Richards et al., 2015;McCoy et al., 2016). In Western Polynesia, 230 Th dating of coral tools has been used to establish the time frame for initial Lapita settlement on Tongatapu Island (Burley et al., 2012(Burley et al., , 2015. ...
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... Monumental architecture has been a major focus of much archaeological research in the region, as it is important to understanding the socio-politics of the past. These monumental sites include Nan Madol (e.g., Athens 1980Athens , 1990Ayres 1993;Ayres and Scheller 2003;Ayres et al. 2009Ayres et al. , 2015Seikel 2011Seikel , 2016McCoy and Athens 2012;Ayres and Seikel 2014;McCoy et al. 2015McCoy et al. , 2016 and Lelu on Kosrae (e.g., Cordy 1982Cordy , 1985Cordy , 1993Ueki 1984;Richards et al. 2015). However, smaller archaeological sites, representing the lives of non-elites, have also attracted some interest (e.g., Ayres and Mauricio 1999;Haun 1984;Mauricio 1993;Levin 2015Levin , 2016Levin , 2018Poteate et al. 2016;. ...
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... For example, 230 Th coral ages with precisions of circa 1% or better are readily attainable for suitable samples, yielding absolute uncertainties of 5-10 years for ∼1000-yearold corals (all errors 2σ). 230 Th dating of archaeological corals has resolved the age and tempo of temple construction in East Polynesia (Kirch and Sharp, 2005;Sharp et al., 2010) and construction of monumental architecture in Eastern Micronesia (McCoy et al., 2016;Richards et al., 2015). Where suitable samples can be identified, 230 Th dating of coral abraders from stratified contexts, which are abundant in many Polynesian stratified sequences (Kirch, 2017a), may provide precise constraints not only on the timing of initial settlement but also on the tempo of subsequent cultural and environmental changes. ...
... Monumental architecture has been a major focus of much archaeological research in the region, as it is important to understanding the socio-politics of the past. These monumental sites include Nan Madol (e.g., Athens 1980Athens , 1990Ayres 1993;Ayres and Scheller 2003;Ayres and Seikel 2014;Ayres et al. 2009Ayres et al. , 2015McCoy et al. 2015McCoy et al. , 2016Seikel 2011Seikel , 2016 and Lelu on Kosrae (e.g., Cordy 1982Cordy , 1985Cordy , 1993Richards et al. 2015;Ueki 1984). ...
Technical Report
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Report submitted to the Pohnpei State Historic Preservation Office.
... Species Age estimate (years) Region Age-estimation method References Pocillopora verrucosa 3.6-3.9 Micronesia Isotopic analysis Richards et al. (2015) Acropora hemprichii 13-24 Red Sea (northern) Growth rate × size Guzner, Novoplansky & Chadwick (2007) Coelastrea aspera 15-20 Thailand Fluorescent density band dating Scoffin et al. (1997) andBrown et al. (2014) Coelastrea aspera 20-45 Great Barrier Reef X-ray density band dating Babcock (1991) Goniastrea favulus 20-40 Great Barrier Reef X-ray density band dating Babcock (1991) Porites solida 32 Great Barrier Reef X-ray density band dating Potts et al. (1985) Platygyra sinsensis 50-60 Great Barrier Reef X-ray density band dating Babcock (1991) Porites annae 140 Great Barrier Reef Growth rate × size Connell (1973) Pavona decussata 150 Japan Growth rate × size Mezaki et al. (2014) Porites lutea 200 Hong Kong X-ray density band dating Goodkin et al. (2011) Siderastrea siderea 235 Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico CAT scan and X-ray density band dating Vasquez Bedoya et al. (2012) Diploastrea heliopora 380 Maldives Growth rate × size Schuhmacher, Loch & Loch (2002) Siderastrea siderea 450 Belize and Bahamas CAT scan and X-ray density band dating Saenger et al. (2009) Porites lobata 677 Great Barrier Reef X-ray density band dating Potts et al. (1985) Acropora palmata 838-2600 Caribbean-selected sites Somatic mutation rate Devlin Durante et al. (2016) Porites lobata >1000 Taiwan Growth rate × size Soong et al. (1999) may comprise many ramets that become widely dispersed, for example during storms, leading to a high degree of clonality within the population ( Baums, Miller & Hellberg, 2006;Pinzon et al., 2012;Japaud et al., 2015). Genetic mosaicism has been recorded across the colony due to somatic mutations (van Oppen et al., 2011;Barfield, Aglyamova & Matz, 2016) and chimeric colonies may form by fusion of adjacent, non-clonal colonies, particularly by fusion of juveniles before the immune system is fully developed (Schweinsberg, Tollrian & Lampert, 2016). ...
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... Une autre catégorie d'organismes invertébrés est utilisée dans le domaine de l'archéologie : les coraux, ou plus exactement les polypiers coralliens (structures calcaires produites par des polypes semblables aux anémones de mer). Outre leur emploi comme matériaux de construction (en blocs ou réduits en sable) [4,5], ils sont également connus en tant qu'éléments décoratifs. De ce point de vue le terme « coraux » comporte une certaine ambiguïté dans la mesure où deux ensembles taxonomiquement distincts sont désignés sous ce terme. ...
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... Other examples are from the Solomon Islands where an ancient and large coral wall was built to delimitate territory at the Sikaiana Atoll. At the ancient capital of Leluh on the remote island of Kosrae (Central Pacific), truncated pyramidal royal tombs (Fig. 6a,b) and even roads (Fig. 6c) were made using corals (Richards et al. 2015); corals were collected alive when the structures were built between 1250 and 1850. Coral platforms in Timor-laut, also in the shape of small pyramids consisting of coral blocks or large colonies, were still used during the late 1800s as resting place for palm stem-wrapped bodies, as reported by academics busily discussing the orientation of the dead on the coral platforms (Forbes 1906). ...
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