Soils, Agriculture, and Society in Precontact Hawai`i

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Science  11 Jun 2004:
Vol. 304, Issue 5677, pp. 1665-1669
DOI: 10.1126/science.1099619

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Before European contact, Hawai`i supported large human populations in complex societies that were based on multiple pathways of intensive agriculture. We show that soils within a long-abandoned 60-square-kilometer dryland agricultural complex are substantially richer in bases and phosphorus than are those just outside it, and that this enrichment predated the establishment of intensive agriculture. Climate and soil fertility combined to constrain large dryland agricultural systems and the societies they supported to well-defined portions of just the younger islands within the Hawaiian archipelago; societies on the older islands were based on irrigated wetland agriculture. Similar processes may have influenced the dynamics of agricultural intensification across the tropics.

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