Barry Rolett

Barry V. Rolett, PhD


Curriculum Vitae

Office: Saunders Hall 304
Office Hours: click here
Phone: 956-7546
Andover Foundation for Archaeological Research (AFAR) website

Museum Exhibits
Selected Publications
Courses Taught


Ph.D., Yale University (1989); M.Phil., Yale University (1985); B.A., Pomona College (1980); Certificat de Langue Française (Degré Supérieur Semestriel), Université de Paris 1, Panthéon Sorbonne (1979)

I joined the University of Hawai’i faculty in 1988 and my career began as an archaeologist with research interests in Polynesia. Later, I developed a complementary interest in Neolithic cultures of China and the origins of the Austronesians. I was introduced to Polynesia through a Thomas J. Watson Foundation Fellowship during the year after graduated I from college. This fellowship led to thirteen months of adventure as I explored the South Pacific (by plane, freighter, canoe, and on foot) while retracing Captain Cook’s route on his second voyage of discovery. I returned to Tahuata in the Marquesas Islands for my Ph.D. research and was adopted by a Marquesan family with seven sons. My adopted brothers and various cousins joined my excavation and the entire community followed our work with great interest. This was the first archaeological project on Tahuata and my close relationship with the community led to many more projects in later years. We also collaborated to establish the Tahuata Museum, a small museum for exhibiting and curating the artifacts discovered during our projects.

Two years as a visiting professor at Harvard University (1998/99 and 2000/01) allowed me to extend my research to China. In 2001 I initiated the first Sino-American collaboration for archaeological research in Fujian, a coastal province facing the Taiwan Strait. Since then I have continued to develop new projects and collaborations with archaeologists at the Fujian Provincial Museum and other museums and universities in China. Our work employs a variety of approaches to investigate the Neolithic cultures of Fujian and their role in the origins of the Austronesians.

Foreign languages: French (fluent with a high level of competency); Mandarin Chinese (fluent with an intermediate level of competency).


China Research Image

Neolithic cultures of southeast China and the search for Austronesian origins

Neolithic peoples from mainland southeast China settled Taiwan around 5000 years ago.  Crossing the Taiwan Strait marked the beginning of a long series of migrations across the Pacific.  This is the history of the Austronesians, the greatest Neolithic seafarers the world has known.  Descendants of the early Austronesians include the modern peoples of Island Southeast Asia, Polynesia, Micronesia, and much of Melanesia.  Our team investigating Austronesian origins includes Bishop Museum archaeologist Tianlong Jiao and other archaeologists from the Fujian Provincial Museum and Guangdong Institute of Archaeology.  This work involves excavations on the Fujian coast, museum-based collections research in Fujian and Guangdong, as well as the geological sourcing of stone adzes to reconstruct Neolithic interaction spheres.  To date, we have focused on the Keqiutou (5500 – 6000 BP) and Huanguashan (3500-4300 BP) sites.

Neolithic cultural response to environmental change on the Fujian coast of China

I collaborated with Sun Yat-Sen (Zhongshan) University geologist Zhuo Zheng to drill sediment cores in the Fuzhou Basin of Fujian, China.  We are analyzing these cores to establish a high-resolution Holocene chronology of environmental change on the Fujian coast and to study its relationship to the Neolithic cultures of this region. Our results show that early to mid-Holocene sea-level rise created a large estuary where Neolithic peoples with a marine-oriented way of life founded settlements on small islands. We suggest that the estuary setting, together with the lack of land suitable for rice paddy agriculture, inhibited intensive food production but favored the development of Neolithic seafaring (Rolett et al. 2011).

Pacific Islands Research Image

Polynesian chiefdoms of the Marquesas Islands (French Polynesia)

The Marquesas are a remote and spectacularly beautiful group of ten high volcanic islands in central east Polynesia.  Marquesan culture is known for highly competitive chiefdoms, as well as elaborate tattooing and decorative arts featuring the iconic tiki motif.  Marquesan archaeological sites, including deeply stratified coastal dunes and megalithic monumental architecture, reveal one of the longest and richest historical sequences in the Pacific. 

I have come to know the Marquesas well through fifteen expeditions (as of 2010) and a cumulative span of more than three years in the islands.  Most of my research centers on Tahuata.  Long term excavations at the Hanamiai Dune (Rolett 1998) and in the neighboring valley of Vaitahu document early colonization of the Marquesas and the efflorescence of Marquesan culture.  This project is featured in a 2011 National Geographic Channel documentary, Lost Continent of the Pacific, filmed on Tahuata and throughout the Marquesas. I also lead an archaeological field school in the Marquesas sponsored by AFAR.  Student participants have developed successful careers in archaeology, historic preservation, and museum curation.  Participants include Mike Carson (University of Guam), Emily Donaldson (Ph.D. candidate, McGill University), Jennifer Kahn (Bishop Museum), Eric Kjellgren (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), and Eric West (NAVFAC Pacific).

Polynesians and their island environments

Polynesia encompasses an environmentally diverse group of islands. I have a longstanding and ongoing interest in the ways that Polynesians adapted to life on previously uninhabited islands, including both the intentional and unintentional aspects of anthropogenic influence. One example of this work is a collaborative project with Jared Diamond (Rolett and Diamond 2004) in which we helped to explain why some islands (like Easter Island) suffered human-induced environmental catastrophes while on others (including the Marquesas) Polynesians developed sustainable lifestyles that serve as models for the modern world.

Museum Exhibits

Tahuata Museum (Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia)

Community-based archaeology museum founded in collaboration with the former Mayor of Tahuata (Tehaumate 'Tetahi' Tetahiotupa). Curates and displays artifacts from excavations at the Hanamiai Dune and in neighboring Vaitahu Valley. Latest exhibits mounted with the AFAR Marquesas field school in 2010.

Yale University Peabody Museum of Natural History

Assistant Curator: "Polynesian Historic Collections." Features a Hawaiian chief's feather cape and other ethnological specimens collected by Thomas Holman, a physician who accompanied the first missionaries to Hawaii in 1820. Curator: Leopold Pospisil.



Selected Publications


Rolett, B.V., Zheng, Z., and Yue, Y. 2011.  Holocene sea-level change and the emergence of Neolithic seafaring in the Fuzhou Basin (Fujian, China) Quaternary Science Reviews 30:788-797.

Jiao, T., Fan, X., and B.V. Rolett.  2009.  The Keqiutou site and early Neolithic cultures of the Taiwan Strait (Keqiutou yi zhi yu Taiwan ha ixia zao qi xin shi qi shi dai wen hua) (published in Chinese).  Fujian Wenbo (Journal of the Fujian Provincial Museum, Fujian, China) 53:8-12.

Rolett, B.V.  2007.  Southeast China and the Emergence of Austronesian Seafaring.  In T. Jiao (ed). Lost Maritime Cultures:  China and the Pacific.  Honolulu:  Bishop Museum Press, 54-61.

Rolett, B.V., Guo, Z., and T. Jiao.  2007.  Geological sourcing of volcanic stone adzes from Neolithic sites in southeast China.  Asian Perspectives 46:275-297.

Larson, G., Cucchi, T., Fujita, M., Matisoo-Smith, L., Robins, J., Anderson, A., Rolett, B., Spriggs, M., Dolman, G., Kim, T., Thi, N., Thuy, D., Randi, E., Doherty, M., Due, R., Bollt, R., Djubiantono, T., Griffin, B., Intoh, M., Keane, M., Kirch, P., Li, K., Morwood, M., Pedriña, L., Piper, P., Rabett, R., Shooter, P., Van den Bergh, G., West, E., Wickler, S., Yuan, J., Cooper, A., and K. Dobney.  2007.  Phylogeny and ancient DNA of Sus provides insights into neolithic expansion in Island Southeast Asia and Oceania.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104: 4834-4839.

2005.  Jiao, T. and B.V. Rolett.  Typological analysis of stone adzes from Neolithic sites in Southeast China:  Implications for cultural change and regional interaction.  In X. Fu (ed).   The Archaeology of South China and Southeast Asia.  Beijing:  Wenwu Press.

Rolett, B.V., Jiao, T., and G. Lin.  2002a.  Seafaring, Neolithic Interaction across the Taiwan Strait and Austronesian Origins (published in Chinese).  Fujian Wenbo (Journal of the Fujian Provincial Museum, Fujian, China).

Rolett, B.V., Jiao, T., and G. Lin.  2002b.  Early Seafaring in the Taiwan Strait
and the Search for Austronesian Origins.  Journal of East Asian Archaeology

Rolett, B.V., Chen, W.C., and J.M. Sinton.  2000.  Taiwan, Neolithic seafaring and
Austronesian origins.  Antiquity 74:62-74.

Pacific Islands

Rolett, B.V.  2010.  Marquesan monumental architecture: Blurred boundaries in the distinction between religious and residential sites.  Archaeology in Oceania 45:94-102.

Rolett, B.V.  2009.  Deforestation.  In R. G. Gillespie and D. A. Clague (eds).  The Encyclopedia of Islands. Berkeley:  University of California Press, 221-224.

Richards, M.P., West, E., Rolett, B. and K. Dobney. 2009.  Isotope analysis of human and animal diets from the Hanamiai archaeological  site (French Polynesia).  Archaeology in Oceania 44:29-37.

Rolett, B.V.  2008.  Avoiding collapse:  Pre-European sustainability on Pacific Islands. Quaternary International 184:4-10.

Rolett, B.V. and J. Diamond.  2004.  Environmental predictors of pre-European deforestation on Pacific Islands.  Nature 431:443-446.

Rolett, B.V.  2002.  Voyaging and interaction in ancient East Polynesia.  Asian Perspectives 41:182-194.

Rolett, B.V.  2001.  Marquesan.  The Encyclopedia of Prehistory, vol. III Chapter 25. New York:  Kluwer Academic / Plenum Publishers.

Rolett, B.V.  1998.   Hanamiai: Prehistoric Colonization and Cultural Change in the Marquesas Islands (East Polynesia)Yale University Publications in Anthropology Number 81.  New Haven:  Department of Anthropology and The Peabody Museum:  Yale University.  277 pages, 45 tables, 80 figures.

Dickinson, W.R., Rolett, B.V., Sinoto, Y.H., Rosenthal, M.E. and R. Shutler, Jr.  1998.  Temper sands in exotic Marquesan pottery and the significance of their Fijian origin.  Journal de la Société des Océanistes 107:119-133.

Rolett, B.V., E. Conte, E. Pearthree, and J. Sinton.  1997.  Marquesan voyaging: Archaeometric evidence for interisland contact.  In M. I. Weisler (ed).  Prehistoric Long-Distance Interaction in Oceania:  An Interdisciplinary Approach. New Zealand Archaeological Association Monograph 21.  Auckland:  New Zealand Archaeological Association, 134-148.

Rolett, B.V.  1996.  Colonization and cultural change in the Marquesas.  In J.  Davidson, G. Irwin, F. Leach, A. Pawley and D. Brown (eds).  Oceanic Culture History: Essays in Honour of Roger Green.  New Zealand Journal of Archaeology Special Publication.  Dunedin North:  New Zealand Journal of Archaeology, 531-540.

Steadman, D.W. and B.V. Rolett.  1996.  A chronostratigraphic record of landbird extinction on Tahuata, Marquesas Islands.  Journal of Archaeological Science 23:81-94.

Rolett, B.V. and E. Conte.  1995.  Renewed investigation of the Ha'atuatua Dune
(Nukuhiva, Marquesas Islands):  A Key Site in Polynesian Prehistory.  Journal of the Polynesian Society 104:195-228.

Rolett, B.V. and M. Chiu.  1994.  Age estimation of prehistoric Polynesian pigs (Sus scrofa) by dental eruption and attrition.  Journal of Archaeological Science 21:377-386.

Rolett, B.V.  1993.  Marquesan prehistory and the origins of East Polynesian culture.  Journal de la Société des Océanistes 96:29-47.   

Rolett, B.V.  1993.  Island landscapes by William Hodges:  Reconstructing painting practices through photographic field work.  Pacific Studies 16(3):55-85.

Rolett, B.V.  1992.  Faunal extinctions and depletions linked with prehistory and environmental change in the Marquesas Islands (French Polynesia).  Journal of the Polynesian Society 101:86-94.

Rolett, B.V.  1986.  Turtles, priests, and the afterworld: A study in the iconographic interpretation of Polynesian petroglyphs.  In P.V. Kirch (ed). Island Societies:  Archaeological Approaches to Evolution and Transformation.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 78-87. 

Courses Taught

  • ANTH 151 Emerging Humanity
  • ANTH 323 Pacific Islands Archaeology
  • ANTH 380 Archaeological Lab Techniques
  • ANTH 462 East Asian Archaeology
  • ANTH 475 Faunal Analysis in Archaeology
  • ANTH 640 (C) Environmental Archaeology