New study of the mysterious Nan Madol site pushes back the site’s dating

Archaeologists conducted investigation and specialised analysis of the structures within the ancient city built atop a coral reef at Temwen Island in Federated States of Micronesia. A monumental tomb said to belong to the first chief of the island of Pohnpei was studied.

Tomb in Nan Madol (by International Business Times)
Tomb in Nan Madol (by International Business Times)

National Geographic led an expedition to study the monumental tomb said to belong to the first chief of the island of Pohnpei. The experts applied uranium series dating to determine that the tomb was the first monumental burial site on the island. The tomb of the first Saudeleur, largest and most elaborate architecture in the city, measures 80 meters by 60 meters, being 8 meters tall with exterior walls about 1.8 to 3 meters thick. A maze of walls and interior walkways, it includes an underground crypt capped with basalt.

pXRF measurements across the site (by PhysOrg)
pXRF measurements across the site (by PhysOrg)

The uranium-thorium series dating is more precise than previously used radiocarbon dating. It was was deployed to calculate the age of the stone buildings that make up the famous site. Previous dating showed that the site established in 1300 AD, but the current dating narrowed that to just a 20-year window more than 100 years earlier, from 1180 to 1200, pushing back the period of the dynasty of Saudeleur chiefs, ruling the island society for more than 10 centuries. By 1200, the island’s chief was buried.

The tomb of the first chief of Nan Madol (by Daily Mail Online)
The tomb of the first chief of Nan Madol (by Daily Mail Online)

Nan Madol is the largest archaeological site in Micronesia. Pohnpei was originally settled in 1 AD by islanders from the Solomon or Vanuatu island groups. Uranium dating indicates that by 1180 AD, massive stones were being transported from a volcanic plug on the opposite side of the island for construction of the tomb. And by 1200, the burial vault had its first internment, the island’s chief. Earliest direct evidence of monument building at the archaeological site was identified using 230Th/U coral dating and geochemical sourcing of megalithic architectural stone. The Saudeleur Dynasty is estimated to have begun its rule around 1160 by counting back generations from the modern day. How Nan Madol was built remains still an engineering mystery.

The tomb of the first Saudeleur (by Daily Mail Online)
The tomb of the first Saudeleur (by Daily Mail Online)

(after Daily Mail Online, International Business Times & PhysOrg)

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