William & Mary

Jenny Kahn

Assistant Professor

Office: Rm 120 Washington Hall
E-mail: [[ jgkahn01]]
Phone: 757-221-1054

Areas of Specialization

Archaeology; Oceania; Household Archaeology; House Societies; Social Complexity; Monumental Architecture and Ideology; Human-Landscape Interactions; Exchange and Geochemistry; Lithic Analysis; Chronometric Techniques


My research centers on the archaeology of chiefdom societies of Oceania. I investigate the ways in which Central Eastern Polynesian societies diverged through time to become chiefdoms of varying social and political complexity. My work is multi-scalar and focuses on the interplay of dynamics between households, communities, and regional polities. I currently have field projects in the Hawaiian Islands, the Society Islands, and Mangareva, and I have previously worked in the Marquesas Islands, New Caledonia, and the American Southwest.  My research projects in Polynesia are community based, and actively engage descendant communities in all stages of the research process. I also have an active laboratory research program. I currently have lab-based projects concerning the production, trade and exchange of stone tools in Central Polynesia and human-environment interactions in the Society Islands. For a popular press take on my research, see http://www.tahiti-infos.com/Connaitre-notre-histoire-grace-au-sol-et-au-pollen_a118024.html . I am eager to supervise students in Oceania-based research; undergraduate and graduate students interested in these field-based and lab-based projects are encouraged to contact me regarding the possibilities for collaborative research.


BS University of California, Berkeley  1992
MA University of Calgary 1996
PhD University of California, Berkeley 2005

Courses Taught

Anthro 150W-01    World Archaeology: From Cavemen to Kings
Anthro 350-05        People and Cultures of Polynesia
Anthro 470-05        Household Archaeology
Anthro 150              Archaeology and Popular Cinema
Anthro 201              Introduction to Archaeology
Anthro  301/617      Methods in Archaeological Science
Anthro 350/617       Wealth, Power, and Prehistory
Anthro 603              Archaeological Theory


Household Archaeology and Monumental Architecture in the Society Islands

Since 1999 I have directed excavations in the 'Opunohu Valley, island of Mo'orea, Society Islands. The research explores the development of social complexity among M'aohi chiefdoms, applying a "house society" model to define the socio-political and economic structures through which these societies were transformed into one of Polynesia's most stratified and economically specialized chiefdoms.  An overarching goal is to explain the development of rank and status hierarchies in the transformation of smaller-scale heterarchical chiefdoms into larger scale hierarchical ones.  Methodologically, this research focuses on the materialization of social relations of kinship at multiple scales: the micro-level of residences, the macro-level of monumental architecture and its spatial distribution, and an integration of the two data sets to model community-level social relations.  Macro-scale structures of socio-political districts (mata'eina'a), are investigated through analysis of monumental temple sites.  Areal excavations of selected habitation sites and associated ritual architecture provide micro-scale data, enabling analyses of inter- and intra-household variability.

Human-Environment Interactions in Central Eastern Polynesia

This NSF funded project (2010-2014) is a multidisciplinary collaboration focused on island ecosystems and cultural responses to ecosystem change which led to radically transformed landscapes and emergent sociopolitical formations in Polynesia.  Using a comparative approach, the project studies three contrastive islands in Eastern Polynesia, Mangareva, Mo'orea, and Maupiti, applying the concept of islands as model systems.  Our interpretive model utilizes resilience theory to understand long-term human ecodynamics and the evolution of island socioecosystems.  Our goal is to understand long-term, dynamic interactions between island populations and island environments which allowed some socioecosystems to develop substantial resilience, and led others into states of high instability and vulnerability.  We use archaeological and paleoecological data to understand interactions among anthropogenic landscape change, and shifts in settlement patterns, agricultural infrastructure, production, and ideological control, both how these variables influenced emerging social complexity, and how they effected long term adaptive cycles in island socioecosystems.  The research integrates field analysis of landscape biogeochemistry, paleoecology, palynology, and zooarchaeology-paleontology to identify long term anthropogenic change on each island and environmental state variables influencing vulnerability.  We then utilize archaeological data to define long-term histories of human adaptive responses, including development of specific settlement-subsistence regimes, patterns of agricultural intensification in wet versus dry agronomic landscape, social reorganization at the micro-scale level of the household, and the emergence of control hierarchies via construction of monumental architecture.

This project has just been expanded through a new NSF award (2013-2017). Two seasons of archaeological fieldwork are planned in summers of 2014 and 2015.

Settlement and Subsistence in Miloli'i Valley (Hawaiian Islands) During the Prehistoric-Historic Periods

In 2009 I initiated a program of archaeological research, outreach, and stewardship in collaboration with State Parks Hawai'i and the Na Pali Coast Ohana.  The project investigates the long-term history of prehistoric settlement and subsistence in Miloli'i Valley, found along the stunning, isolated, and rugged Na Pali coast, Kaua'i.  The archaeological research integrates inventory survey, mapping, and test excavation of house sites, agricultural terraces, and rockshelters spanning the prehistoric to historic periods.  The goal is to investigate how Hawaiian communities adapted and flourished in this rugged hinterland, and to what extent socio-political shifts in this hinterland were connected to elite centers in other parts of the island.  This project is carried out with extensive local Hawaiian community involvement, as well as educational outreach to local eco-tourism providers on the island.  An important research component involves providing stewardship for the archaeological sites and their surrounding environmental landscape, and in aiding the Park Service with the ongoing conservation of natural and cultural resources in Miloli'i Valley.

Adze Production, Trade, and Exchange in Central Eastern Polynesia (Lab-Based)

This project addresses the following questions related to chiefdoms and their social organization:
1. Did the emergence of socio-political and economic complexity in chiefdoms result in increased technological specialization in the production of material goods, such as stone tools (adzes)?,  and
2. Did persons of differential rank and status (e.g., commoners, elites) have varied access to adze production or the raw materials used in their fabrication, and do these relationships vary between highly complex chiefdom societies (e.g., Hawaii, Societies) and smaller scale "simple" chiefdom societies (e.g., Pitcairn)?

The first objective is to employ new quantitative and qualitative methods for describing adze technology and adze use to build a multi-scalar picture of variation in stone tool manufacture and tool use traditions within Polynesia.  The project targets comparative analyses of stone tool assemblages from Eastern Polynesian archipelagoes of varying size, isolation, and social complexity:  the Hawaiian Islands, the Society Islands, the Pitcairn group, and Mangareva.  With this data, I model spatial patterns in Polynesian stone tool assemblage composition, a key first step in explaining regional patterns of assemblage diversity.  Outlining inter-and intra-site variation in stone tool assemblages is a central question for understanding past human behavior at the local scale and will provide the empirical knowledge for the second objective: to test theories concerning control over production and consumption of material goods (adzes) as a key factor leading to increasing socio-political power of elites in chiefdom societies.  Geochemical analysis of select artifacts will be used to ascertain the provenance of the rock material used in artifact production, thus providing data on access to raw material resources.  With these results, I can test theoretical models concerning access to and control over the production of material goods and their relationship to evolving socio-political complexity and the emergence of social hierarchies.