Patrick Kirch
Chancellor's Professor Emeritus & Professor of the Graduate School
Department of Anthropology
510 643-8346

Research Expertise and Interest

historical anthropology, Oceania, ethnoarchaeology, Melanesia, Polynesia, environmental archaeology, prehistoric agricultural systems, human paleoecology, ethnobotany


I joined the Berkeley faculty in 1989 and I held the Class of 1954 Chair from 1994 to 2014, with joint appointments in the Departments of Anthropology and Integrative Biology. In July 2014 I became Chancellor's Professor Emeritus and Professor of the Graduate School. Geographically, my field of research encompasses the Pacific Islands, with particular concentrations in Melanesia and Polynesia. Substantively and theoretically, I am interested in the origins and diversification of the cultures and peoples of the Pacific, in the evolution of complex sociopolitical formations (especially "chiefdoms"), in prehistoric as well as ethnographic subsistence systems (especially those involving some form of intensification), and in the dynamically coupled interactions between people and ecosystems. I use islands as model systems for investigating and understanding the evolution of socio-ecosystems over time periods of hundreds to thousands of years.

During my years at Berkeley, I have actively pursued research in all of these areas. A continuing focus has been on the Lapita Cultural Complex of the western Pacific, which is widely regarded as the "foundation" culture underlying the later diversity of island Melanesian and Polynesian cultures. In 1989 and 1991, I led an interdisciplinary team on two expeditions to Mangaia Island in the southern Cooks, to investigate the Holocene record of paleoecological change and the role that colonizing humans have had in this record. From 1994 to 2009 I directed an archaeological field program on the island of Maui, focused on protohistoric transformations in environmentally marginal landscapes. This led to a larger, multi-disciplinary project, the Hawaii Biocomplexity Project, funded by NSF's Bicomplexity in the Environment program and by the Human Social Dynamics program. The Hawaii Bicomplexity Project brought together archaeologists, ecologists, soil scientists, paleobotanists, population biologists and others in an effort to understand the long-term development of Hawaiian agricultural systems, population dynamics, and socio-political evolution. Since 2000 I have also carried out archaeological and paleoenvironmental fieldwork in French Polynesia, on the islands of Mo'orea and Mangareva.

My research program at Berkeley has been supported by major grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Geographic Society, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and the Pacific Rim Grant program of the UC Office of the President. My research accomplishments have been recognized by election to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and American Philosophical Society. I have been elected an Honorary (life) member of the Prehistoric Society of Great Britain and Ireland, a Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, and a Foreign Associate of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. I have been a Miller Institute Professor at Berkeley, and a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Palo Alto. In 1997, my research accomplishments were honored with the awarding of the John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science by the National Academy of Sciences. In 2012 I received the Herbert E. Gregory Medal for Distinguished Service to Science in the Pacific.

The results of my research have been published in 33 books and monographs and in more than 300 articles and chapters. Among my major books are The Evolution of the Polynesian Chiefdoms (Cambridge, 1984), Feathered Gods and Fishhooks (Hawaii, 1985), Island Societies (Cambridge, 1986), The Wet and the Dry (Chicago, 1994), The Lapita Peoples (Blackwells, 1997), On the Road of the Winds (California, 2000), Hawaiki, Ancestral Polynesia (Cambridge, 2001), How Chiefs Became Kings (California, 2010), A Shark Going Inland Is My Chief (California, 2012), and Kua'aina Kahiko: Life and Land in Ancient Kahikinui, Maui (Hawaii, 2014).

In Research News

June 28, 2011

Patrick V. Kirch, a UC Berkeley professor of anthropology and integrative biology and an authority on the archaeology of the Pacific Islands, has been awarded the 2011 Herbert E. Gregory Medal for Distinguished Service to Science in the Pacific Region.

July 8, 2010

Ancient Polynesians went from building small-scale temples to constructing monumental, pyramid-shaped temples in just 140 years, not in four or five centuries as previously calculated, according to research led by a University of California, Berkeley, anthropologist and published this week in the print edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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