ABSTRACT

Even more than colonisation, ‘abandonment’ defies a simple definition: ab-sence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. In some cases, dis-continuity in the archaeological record may reflect actual abandonment; in others, it may result from preservation biases or lack of research. A common-sense characterisation of abandonment refers to the absence of people where previously they had existed. However, this is not as straightforward as it might seem at first sight. Abandonment entails not just leaving but also surrendering one’s claims, giving up entirely, not anticipating a return. Synonyms for abandonment include ‘deserting’ and ‘forsaking’. Some scholars propose to use alternative terms, such as ‘episodic occupation’ and ‘depopulation’, to avoid ambiguity (Cordell and McBrinn 2012). Identifying abandonment in the context of permanently settled communities should be less complicated than in the case of mobile populations. But even when site abandonment can be demonstrated, it does not necessarily equate to regional (in our case, island-wide) abandonment. For the earliest periods, we are often missing useful evidence, such as mortuary data and direct evidence for boats. The study of human remains could tell us if the initial colonists suffered from disease or from other forms of deprivation; similarly, boat remains could shed light on the dynamics of abandonment. Was it ‘passive’ (did people die out on the islands) or ‘active’ abandonment (did people leave in boats)? Clearly we cannot take the absence of mortuary data to indicate that everyone left the islands (whether willingly or not).