M Carson

Mike T. Carson, PhD, was an assistant professor at the archeology office of the Richard F. Taitano Micronesian Area Research Center (MARC), University of Guam.  He earned his BA with honors in 1993 in Anthropology at University of California at Los Angeles, an MA in 1996 and a PhD in 2002 in Anthropology, both at University of Hawai’i.

He has spent more than a decade working as a director and principal investigator of applied research in resource and heritage management in support of environmental assessment and environmental impact statement studies. Applied contract-funded and academic grant-funded research projects have included more than sixty cases in each of the major culture areas of Polynesia, Melanesia, and the previously under-studied Micronesia, as well as in the east and west “Pacific Basin” boundaries of coastal California and Okinawa. His most recent collaborative efforts include cross-regional comparisons in southeast Asian and western Pacific case studies.

Building on his technical background in mapping and surveying since 1996, as well as experience working closely with geographers and geologists, the more successful projects in his career have involved integrating physical landscape study with anthropological questions in archeology. At least three case studies already have been published: 1) correlation of 3000 years of cultural and natural chronology in New Caledonia (2008 Geoarchaeology); 2) clarifying earliest settlement sites in the Mariana Islands 3500 years ago, during a time of higher sea level and also now buried more than 2 m deep and often beneath a layer of indurate calcrete, previously not recognized in the region (2010 Radiocarbon; also 2008 Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology); and 3) synthesizing coastal geomorphology with both archeological evidence and mythic traditions for a case study in Hawaii (2007 Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology).

Over the last several years Carson has paired his skills with global positioning system (GPS) technology with geographic information systems (GIS) software and applications to improve research results and enhance practical training for university students and for technical staff from various Historic Preservation Offices (HPO) of Micronesia.

Carson is currently developing chronologically adaptable three-dimensional landscape models, integrating archeological and palaeoecological findings with high-resolution lidar (light detection and ranging) data. These models will be used, for example, to coordinate ancient site use with change in sea level, coastal morphology, coral reef growth, slope erosion, and vegetation communities. Carson also participated in a NASA-sponsored workshop for satellite and aerial remote sensing techniques for archaeologists, held at the Berkeley Geospatial Innovation Facility in 2010.

An important broadening of Carson’s landscape study background occurred during his extended time living in different locales in the Pacific region, especially during a one year project in American Samoa, when he developed an ethnoarcheological understanding of traditional cultivation and land use practices relevant to his region of study (2006 People and Culture in Oceania). This long-term and hands-on research and life experience proved successful in identifying material correlates of these practices potentially encountered in archeological contexts, understanding site locations in relation to potential land use and landscape formation, and generating more fully informed GIS models of cultural landscapes and palaeohabitats. Modern applications have included sustainable organic subsistence farming in Guam since 2007, as well as assisting in planning efforts of native re-planting and landscape stabilization in areas of greatest sensitivity regarding military build-up and population increase.

In addition to traditional landscape studies, Carson has developed an expertise with marine shellfish identification, in recognition that shellfish records reflect both major and minor fluctuations in sea level, sediment budget, ocean temperature, stress from high-sea events such as typhoons and tsunami, and stress from predation by human communities (2008 Geoarchaeology and 2008 Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology). Beyond the immediate applicability for human-environment relational studies, his familiarity with the raw materials has been instructive toward better understanding of the manufacturing processes, technological choices, and aesthetic properties related to shell tools and ornaments that often are well preserved in island and coastal sites world-wide.

Since 2006, Carson has led a research program at the Ritidian Unit of Guam National Wildlife Refuge (GNWR), aiming at an integrated natural-cultural history synthesis of the last 3500 years in this preserved ecosystem. His work so far has demonstrated the site among the earliest Neolithic settlements in the western Pacific, during a time of higher sea level and substantially different coastal morphology than can be seen today (2010 Radiocarbon). Excavation data show a correlation between the environmental transformations and cultural activities at the site. This research has been funded by Guam Preservation Trust (GPT) since 2007. The program has supported instruction and training of a new generation of archeologists at both BA and MA levels, including development of graduate thesis projects, as well as sponsoring a BA student as the first ever native Chamorro applicant to receive the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) “Native American Undergraduate Scholarship,” awarded in 2010. A further out-growth of the Ritidian research program has been active cooperation with the government agencies and with traditional Chamorro cultural practitioners to develop interpretive trails, brochures, docent training, and experiential field trip programs directly relevant for sustainable tourism, heritage management, and conservation policy and practice.

Another ongoing research program is in collaboration with Hsiao-chun Hung, PhD, of the Australian National University (ANU), examining origins and context of the first human settlement in the remote islands of the Pacific 3500 years ago in the Mariana Islands, requiring the longest open sea voyage of its time, more than 2300 km. Similarities are noted in pottery style, marine faunal remains, and palaeohabitat setting of sites in the Mariana Islands, island southeast Asia, and Taiwan. Palaeohabitat and environmental archeology studies form one part of this research, along with excavations at key sites for direct comparison in this cross-regional and international effort. Other components will include palaeobotanical, archeofaunal, paleo-osteological, and geochemical analyses by an international collaborative team. Five-year funding from the Australian Research Council (ARC) is expected to begin in 2011.

Professional peer-reviewed publications

2010 – “Radiocarbon Chronology with Marine Reservoir Correction for the Ritidian Archaeological Site, Northern Guam.” Radiocarbon 52, no. 4: 1627-1638.

2008a – “Coordinating Environmental and Cultural Chronology in New Caledonia.” Geoarchaeology 23, no. 5: 695-714.

2008b – “Refining Earliest Settlement in Remote Oceania: Renewed Archaeological Investigations at Unai Bapot, Saipan.” Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology 3: 115-139.

2007a – (senior author with junior collaborator J. Stephen Athens) “Integration of Coastal Geomorphology, Mythology, and Archaeological Evidence at Kualoa Beach, Windward O‘ahu, Hawaiian Islands.” Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology 2: 24-43.

2007b – “Rights, Rites, and Riots: Values of Resources and Research in Hawaiian Archaeology.” Hawaiian Archaeology 11: 77-82.

2007c – “Samoan Cultivation Practices in Archaeological Perspective.” People and Culture in Oceania 22: 1-29.

2006a – “Chronology in Kaua‘i: Colonisation, Land Use, Demography.” Journal of the Polynesian Society 115, no. 2: 173-185.

2006b – (senior author with junior collaborator Melanie A. Mintmier) “Radiocarbon Chronology of Prehistoric Campsites in Alpine and Subalpine Zones at Haleakalā, Maui Island, USA.” Radiocarbon 48, no. 2: 227-236.

2005a – “Functional Assessment in Archaeological Research.” Hawaiian Archaeology 10: 29-46.

2005b – “Science, Sanctimony, and Salvation: Considering a Unified Organizational Structure for Hawaiian Archaeology.” Hawaiian Archaeology 10: 115-129.

2005c – (editor, with junior collaborator Michael W. Graves; also author of several internal chapters) Nā Mea Kahiko o Kaua‘i: Archaeological Studies in Kaua‘i. Special Publication No. 2. Honolulu: Society for Hawaiian Archaeology.

2005d – (lead editor) Hawaiian Archaeology 10. Society for Hawaiian Archaeology, Honolulu.

2004a – (lead editor) Hawaiian Archaeology 9. Society for Hawaiian Archaeology, Honolulu.

2004b – “Resolving the Enigma of Early Coastal Settlement in the Hawaiian Islands: The Stratigraphic Sequence of the Wainiha Beach Site.” Geoarchaeology 19, no. 2: 99-118.

2003 – “Integrating Fragments of a Settlement Pattern and Cultural Sequence in Wainiha Valley, Kaua‘i, Hawaiian Islands.” People and Culture in Oceania 19: 83-105.

2002a – “Tī Ovens in Polynesia: Ethnological and Archaeological Perspectives.” Journal of the Polynesian Society 111, no. 4: 339-370.

2002b – “Inter-cultural Contact and Exchange in Ouvea (Loyalty Islands, New Caledonia).” PhD diss., Department of Anthropology, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. UMI Dissertation Services, Ann Arbor.

1998 – “Cultural Affinities of Monumental Architecture in the Phoenix Islands.” Journal of the Polynesian Society 107: 61-77.

1996 – “Inter-cultural Contact and Exchange in Prehistory.” In Proceedings of the 5th Annual East-West Center Centerwide Conference, East-West Center, Honolulu. Edited by A. Shonle, M. Edaki, and L. Kelley, pp. 106-116.

1993 – “Stones of Clonmacnois.” BA thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles.

Guampedia entry by Mike T. Carson