Terry Hunt

Terry Hunt, PhD

Professor Emeritus

Research Interests
On-Going Research
Selected Articles
Courses Taught


BA, University of Hawai'i (1976); MA University of Auckland (First Class Honors, 1980); Ph.D., University of Washington (1989).

I have conducted archaeological field work and related research in Hawai'i, Samoa, Fiji, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea.

I joined the faculty at University of Hawai'i in 1988. I have current affiliations with Bishop Museum, Center for Pacific Islands Studies, and the Evolution, Ecology, and Conservation Biology Program at University of Hawai'i.

Research Interests

My research is focused on the archaeological history of the Pacific Islands. I have framed questions concerning the origins of social and cultural diversity and the role history - constructed through archaeology - would necessarily play in disentangling the processes involved. This research demands multiple lines of complementary data in such domains as human biology, linguistics, material culture, ethnology, and archaeology. Explaining human diversification requires that we understand aspects of emerging social complexity, subsistence, relative investments in cultural elaboration, and other dynamic trajectories. Indeed, the focus must be on ecological and evolutionary dimensions of human history. Addressing such questions requires a theoretical framework, models to construct our expectations and hypotheses, as well as a lot of hard work to acquire the necessary data.

I have devoted some of my interests to developing methodological and theoretical aspects of the discipline as they articulate with empirical sufficiency, as outlined in our book Posing Questions for a Scientific Archaeology. While mindful of the deductive role of theory, I believe that our ability to explain the processes of history and cultural change must rest on a solid substantive foundation. Thus, I see our primary goal as building accurate, reliable, and valid case histories (e.g., islands) where particular research problems are best addressed. Such a goal has led me to rather diverse research throughout the Pacific.

I have directed archaeological field schools in Fiji (1999-2003) and on Rapa Nui (2001-present). In Fiji we have addressed multiple dimensions of population history, social interaction, and evolutionary divergence. On Rapa Nui we are critically examining many aspects of prehistory, but especially questions concerning the evolution of cultural elaboration.

On-Going Research

Over the past 12 years I have directed archaeological field research on Rapa Nui, where my students and I continue work on many aspects of the island’s prehistoric past. Continuing research on the island addresses questions concerning the trajectory of cultural and ecological changes, including the role of the colossal statues and monuments in the ancient society.

I have published numerous scholarly articles on Pacific archaeology, prehistory, and linguistics, including papers in Science, Nature, American Scientist, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Journal of Archaeological Science, Pacific Science, Journal of the Polynesian Society, Rapa Nui Journal, and Current Anthropology, among others. I have co-edited four books, including a collection on historical ecology and ancient landscape change.

In 2008 I was awarded the prestigious University of Hawaii Board of Regents Medal for Excellence in Research in recognition of his innovative work on Rapa Nui. In 2005, I was honored to win the University of Hawaii Regents’ Medal for Excellence in Teaching.

Our recent book, The Statues that Walked: Unraveling the mystery of Easter Island, Free Press, New York, 2011, co-authored with Carl Lipo, revisits the dramatic story of Rapa Nui’s prehistory. Our book won the Society for American Archaeology’s book of the year award, 2011, in the public audience category. Our Rapa Nui research was the focus of a National Geographic Magazine cover story (July, 2012) and a full-length Nova-National Geographic TV documentary, The Mystery of Easter Island, which aired on PBS in November 2012.

Selected Publications

2012 "The ‘walking’ megalithic statues (moai) of Easter Island" (C.P. Lipo, T.L. Hunt, S.R. Haoa), Journal of Archaeological Science In Press.

Click on this link to read about Hunt's research in Nature and see the video of the 'walking' moai experiment.

2011 "Easter Island's complex history" (T.L. Hunt and C.P. Lipo), Nature 479:41.

2011 "Historical reconstruction reveals recovery in Hawaiian coral reefs" (J. Kittinger et al.), PLOS One 6(10):1-14.

2011 "The 13th Century Polynesian colonization of Hawaii`i Island" (T. M. Rieth, T.L. Hunt, C. Lipo, and J. M. Wilmshurst), Journal of Archaeological Science 38:2740-2749.

2011 The Statues that Walked: Unraveling the mystery of Easter Island. Free Press, New York.

2011 "High-precision radiocarbon dating shows recent and rapid initial human colonization of East Polynesia" (J. Wilmshurst, T. Hunt, C. Lipo, and A. Anderson). Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 108:1815-1820.

2010 "An analysis of stylistic variability in stemmed obsidian tools (mata`a) from Rapa Nui (Easter Island) using frequency seriation" (C. Lipo, T. Hunt, and B. Hundtoft), Journal of Archaeological Science 37: 2551-2561.

2009 "AD 1680 and Rapa Nui Prehistory" (C.P. Lipo and T.L. Hunt), Asian Perspectives 48:309-317.

2009 "Revisiting Rapa Nui (Easter Island) "Ecocide"" (T.L. Hunt and C.P. Lipo), Pacific Science 63:601-616.

2009 "Ecological catastrophe, collapse, and the myth of ‘ecocide’ on Rapa Nui (Easter Island)" (T. Hunt, and C. Lipo) In P.A. McAnany and N. Yoffee, Editors, Questioning Collapse: Human resilience, ecological vulnerability, and the aftermath of empire, Cambridge University Press, pp. 21-44.

2009 "Invasive rodents on islands: Integrating historical and contemporary ecology" (D.R. Drake and T.L. Hunt), Biological Invasions 11:1483–1487.

2008 "Pre-Columbian chickens, dates, isotopes, and mtDNA" (Alice A. Storey, Daniel Quiroz, Jose Miguel Ramírez, Nancy Beavan-Athfield, David J. Addison, Richard Walter, Terry Hunt, J. Stephen Athens, Leon Huynen, and Elizabeth A. Matisoo-Smith), PNAS 105:99.

2008 "Top-down archaeology: High resolution satellite images of Rapa Nui on Google Earth" (T.L. Hunt and C.P. Lipo), Rapa Nui Journal 22 (1):5-13.

2008 "Evidence for a shorter chronology on Rapa Nui (Easter Island)" (T.L. Hunt and C. P. Lipo), Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology 3:140-148.

2008 "A radiocarbon chronology for Samoan prehistory" (T.M. Rieth and T.L. Hunt), Journal of Archaeological Science 35:1901-1927.

2007 "Chronology, deforestation, and "collapse:" Evidence vs. faith in Rapa Nui prehistory" (T.L. Hunt and C.P. Lipo), Rapa Nui Journal 21 (2): 85-97.

2007 "Radiocarbon and DNA evidence for a pre-Columbian introduction of Polynesian chickens to Chile" (A. Storey, J. Ramirez, D. Quiroz, D. Burley, D. Addison, R. Walter, A. Anderson, T. Hunt, J. Athens, L. Huynen, E. Matisoo-Smith). Proceedings of the National Academy (USA) 104:10335-10339.

2007 "Human foraging and impacts to near shore environments: A case study from the Hawaiian Islands" (A. Morrison and T.L. Hunt). Pacific Science 61:325-345.

2007 "Rethinking Easter Island’s ecological catastrophe" Journal of Archaeological Science 34: 485-502.

2006 "Ancient DNA of the Pacific rat (Rattus exulans) from Rapa Nui (Easter Island)" (S.S. Barnes, E. Matisoo-Smith, T.L. Hunt) Journal of Archaeological Science 33:1536-1540.

2006 "Rethinking the Fall of Easter Island: New evidence points to an alternative explanation for a civilization's collapse." American Scientist 94:412-419.

2006 "Late Colonization of Easter Island" (T.L. Hunt and C.P. Lipo) Science 311:1603 - 1606. Link to: Abstract, Reprint

2005 "Mapping prehistoric statue roads on Easter Island" (C.P. Lipo and T.L. Hunt) Antiquity 79:158-168.

2005 "Archaeological Stratigraphy and Chronology at Nu'alolo Kai, Na Pali District, Kaua'i" Hawaiian Archaeology (Special Publication Number II), pp. 236-258.

2005 "Samoa's pre-contact relations with western Polynesia and beyond" (S. Barnes and T.L. Hunt), Journal of the Polynesian Society 114:227-266.

2005 "Recent geophysical and archaeological studies at Anakena." (C. Lipo, T. Hunt, and S. Rapu) In C.M. Stevenson, J.M. Ramierez, F.J. Morin, and N. Barbacci, Eds. The Renaca Papers: VI International Conference on Rapa Nui and the Pacific, Easter Island Foundation, Los Osos, pp. 97-105.

2005 "The use of satellite imagery to study prehistoric agricultural features (manavai) on Rapa Nui." (I. Ayala, C. Lipo, and T. Hunt) In C.M. Stevenson, J.M. Ramierez, F.J. Morin, and N. Barbacci, Eds. The Renaca Papers: VI International Conference on Rapa Nui and the Pacific, Easter Island Foundation, Los Osos, pp. 113-123.

2003 "El Niño/Southern Oscillation and Rapa Nui Prehistory" (J. Genz and T.L. Hunt), Rapa Nui Journal 17:7-14.

2002 "On the location of the Proto-Oceanic homeland" (J.E. Terrell, T.L. Hunt, and J. Bradshaw). Pacific Studies 25:57-93.

2001 "Cultural Elaboration and Environmental Uncertainty in Polynesia" (T.L. Hunt and C.P. Lipo), In C.M. Stevenson, G. Lee, and F. Morin, Editors, Pacific 2000: Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Easter Island and the Pacific, Easter Island Foundation, Los Osos, pp. 103-115.

2000 "A preliminary report on archaeological research in the Yasawa Islands, Fiji" (T.L. Hunt, K.F. Aronson, E.E.Cochrane, J.S. Field, L. Humphrey, and T. Rieth). Domodomo: Fiji Museum Quarterly 12:5-43.

1998 "Language steamrollers?" (J. Terrell, J. Hines, T. Hunt, C. Kusimba, C. Lipo). Nature 391:547.

1997 "The Historical Ecology of Ofu Island, American Samoa, 3000 B.P. to the Present." In P.V. Kirch and T.L. Hunt, Editors, Historical Ecology in the Pacific Islands: Prehistoric Environmental and Landscape Change. Yale University Press, New Haven. pp. 105-123.

1997 "A new Lapita-Associated Skeleton from Fiji" (M. Pietrusewsky, T.L. Hunt, and R.M. Ikehara-Quebral). Journal of the Polynesian Society 106: 284-295.

1997 "The Dimensions of Social Life in the Pacific: Human diversity and the myth of the primitive isolate" (J.E. Terrell, T.L. Hunt, and C. Gosden). Current Anthropology 38:155-195.

1993 "Ceramic provenance studies in Oceania: Methodological issues." In B. Fankhauser and J. Bird, Editors, Archaeometry: Current Australasian Research. Occasional Papers in Prehistory, No. 22. Australian National University, Canberra.

1993 "A reappraisal of evidence for subsistence change at the Hane Dune Site, Marquesas, French Polynesia" (M. Sweeney, M.W. Graves, and T.L. Hunt). Asian Perspectives 32(2): 225-238.

1991 "The early radiocarbon chronology of the Hawaiian Islands" (T.L. Hunt and R. Holsen). Asian Perspectives 29(3):147-161.

1990 "Elemental composition as a basis for inferring ceramic vessel function" (R.C. Dunnell and T.L. Hunt). Current Anthropology 31:330-336.

1990 "Some methodological issues of exchange in Oceanic prehistory" (T.L. Hunt and M.W. Graves). Asian Perspectives 29(2):107-115.

1990 "Ceramic production as a measure of late prehistoric interaction in the Mariana Islands" (M.W. Graves, T.L. Hunt, and D. Moore). Asian Perspectives 29(2):211-233.

1990 "An ancestral Polynesian Occupation at To?'aga, Ofu Island, American Samoa" (P.V. Kirch, T.L. Hunt, L. Nagaoka, and J. Tyler). Archaeology in Oceania 25(1):1-15.

1988 "An archaeological survey of the Manu?a Islands, American Samoa" (T.L. Hunt and P.V. Kirch). Journal of the Polynesian Society 97(2): 153-183.

1987 "Patterns of human interaction and evolutionary divergence in the Fiji Islands." Journal of the Polynesian Society 96(3): 299-334.

Edited Books (Selected)

2001 Posing Questions for a Scientific Archaeology (T.L. Hunt, C.P. Lipo, and S. Sterling, Editors). Scientific Archeology for the Third Millennium Series, Greenwood Press, Westport.

1997 Historical Ecology in the Pacific Islands: Prehistoric Environmental and Landscape Change (P.V. Kirch and T.L. Hunt, Editors), Yale University Press, New Haven.

1993 The To'aga Site: Archaeological Investigations at an Early Polynesian Site in the Manu'a Islands, American Samoa (P.V. Kirch and T.L. Hunt, Editors). Contributions of the University of California Archaeological Research Facility, U.C., Berkeley.

1988 Archaeology of the Lapita Cultural Complex: A Critical Review (P.V. Kirch and T.L. Hunt, Editors). Burke Museum Special Research Report No. 5.


List, 2005-2008


2008 Regents' Medal for Excellence in Research, University of Hawai'i (University system-wide award for excellence in research)

2005 Regents' Medal for Excellence in Teaching, University of Hawai'i (University system-wide award for excellence in teaching)

1991 Presidential Citation for Meritorious Teaching, University of Hawai'i (University-wide award for excellence in teaching)

Description of Courses Regularly Taught

Note on Teaching: In 2005 I was honored with the Board of Regents’ Medal for Excellence in Teaching, the highest ranked University of Hawai`i system-wide award. In 1991 I was awarded the university-wide Presidential Citation for Meritorious Teaching.

Anth 210 Archaeology

This is a critical and synthetic introduction to archaeological history, theory, method, and technique. Case studies from American and Pacific archaeology illustrate some of the topics covered.

Anth 321 & 322 World Archeology I & II

These two courses cover the archaeology of the origins of human culture, population dispersals (Out of Africa), evolution of agriculture, social complexity/urbanism (worldwide survey), and processes of European colonial expansion. I have taught these courses as Resident Director for the University of Hawai`i Study Abroad Programs in London (1995) using resources at the British Museum, and in Florence, Italy (2006), using resources at local museums and archaeological sites in Tuscany.

Anth 323 Pacific Island Archaeology

This course covers the origins and expansion of Pacific Island populations, including Greater Australia, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. Problems of chronology, human diversity, and patterns of interaction are the focus of some analysis. The course considers environmental and landscape change, the evolution of social complexity, and other current research questions in critical light.

Anth 381/Anth 668 Archaeological Field Techniques (Easter Island [Rapa Nui] & Kaua`i)

These courses provide an introduction to archaeological research design and field techniques including satellite image analysis, low elevation kite and blimp photography (aerial mapping), pedestrian survey, mapping (tape & compass, GPS, total station), site recording, photography, excavation, feature and stratigraphic recording, and cataloging/processing of recovered faunal, floral, and artifactual remains. Students will learn one or more geophysical survey methods. Students may also participate in museum work (cataloging, curation, analysis, etc.) or other research activities (e.g., kite photography, satellite image analysis, GIS, etc.). Students at the graduate level (Anth 668) will also complete a special research projects or field research design in conjunction with the field school.

Anth 412 Evolutionary Anthropology

Anthropology 412 is an upper-division providing an overview of evolutionary theory applied to questions of human culture and behavior. Our focus is on areas of evolutionary thinking in anthropology that go beyond human biology. Specifically, we will consider three areas of theoretical development that have proven productive and seen rapid growth in anthropology: the application of Darwinian evolutionary theory to culture, human behavioral ecology, and research on the evolution of complex societies (in their many dimensions). We will examine these domains for ethnology, archaeology, and to a lesser extent biological anthropology and historical linguistics, exploring unifying concepts and themes in evolutionary theory as an explanatory framework. The course is organized as a lecture and discussion format.

Anth 464 Hawaiian Archaeology

This is a critical and synthetic overview of archaeological history in the Hawaiian Islands. The course examines the Oceanic context of Hawai`i, Hawaiian origins and migrations, environmental change, systems of agricultural and aqua-cultural production, landscape use, the evolutionary ecology of social complexity, historic preservation and Native Hawaiian activism, community-based archaeology, and consequences of European contact. This course includes local and neighbor island field trips to visit archaeological sites in their landscape/environmental context.

Anth 472 Ceramic Analysis in Archaeology

This course is an intensive introduction to the theory, methods, and techniques used in the analyses of archaeological ceramics. The course examines ceramics in terms of variability in 1) raw materials, 2) production technology, 3) style, 4) function, and 5) post-depositional diagenesis. Students consider these dimensions of ceramic variability with a survey of compositional analyses, ceramic technology (relations of material and production), classification and stylistic analyses, residue detection, and other physical properties of archaeological ceramic specimens. Thematic foci of the course include problems of specialist and domestic production, pottery trade, technological change and abandonment, use and functional roles of pottery, and style in historical and spatial contexts.

Anth 474 Geoarchaeology

This is a field and laboratory course on the analyses of sediment and soils in archaeological context. The course examines principles of sedimentology, environments and mechanisms of deposition, and post-depositional alterations (including soil formation). We survey a variety of laboratory and field techniques. Special attention is given to geoarchaeological problems in Hawai`i and other Pacific Island environments. Some emphasis is placed on prehistoric landscape change and its reconstruction.

Anth 603 Archaeology (Graduate Theory Core)

This is the graduate core (seminar) in archaeological theory. The course covers developments from culture history, the New Archaeology, “post-processual” critique, and evolutionary archaeology. We critically analyze the literature on theory and disciplinary goals with special reference to archaeologists’ desire to develop science. Exploring problems of agricultural origins, the evolution of social complexity, subsistence, and the emergence of cultural elaboration illustrate differing theoretical approaches employed by archaeologists.

Anth 640 (B) Analytical Archaeology

This course is an intensive and practical overview of archaeological analysis in evaluation of research problems. The course is organized as a seminar. Archaeological analyses are often seen as merely procedural. They are not. In this course we will examine the methodological basis for analysis, i.e., linking theory/problems with method in empirically sufficient ways. To do this we will address unit construction (classification and grouping) as well as the issue of scale in addressing archaeological research problems through analytical methods. Students will work in a sequence from review and critical analyses of analytical archaeology (case studies), to research design, construction of appropriate analytical units, to analyses and evaluation. We will use archaeological (and other, e.g., palaeo-environmental) data sets and students will develop individual projects from their research.

Anth 640(C) Environmental Archaeology

Environmental archaeology is a seminar on the theory, methods, and techniques that inform upon palaeo-environmental remains in archaeological research. The course explores the theoretical basis for palaeo-environmental research in archaeology (e.g., historical ecology, biogeography, evolutionary ecology). The course then examines 1) geoarchaeology (brief coverage only, as it the topic of a separate course); 2) faunal studies (e.g., vertebrate remains, marine shell, land snails); 3) archaeometric applications (e.g., residue analysis); 4) palaeobotany (e.g., pollen, phytolith, and macrofossil analyses); 5) problems of field sampling; and 6) several issues of quantification and hypothesis testing (e.g., patterns of environmental change, diversity, and subsistence).