Research ArticleARCHAEOLOGY

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

Science Advances  13 Mar 2015:
Vol. 1, no. 2, e1400060
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1400060

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Abstract

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. 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 that the tombs were built about 700 years ago during the 14th century, about 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, as well as the social and economic systems that dominated the civilizations in this part of the world.

Keywords
  • Chronology
  • Coral
  • coral reefs
  • High-Precision Mass Spectrometry
  • Monumental Tombs
  • Mortuary structures
  • Pacific Ocean Occupation
  • Pyramids
  • U-Th Dating
  • X-ray Diffractometry

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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