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Wood Identification Laboratory

IARII’s Wood Identification Laboratory is the oldest laboratory dedicated to wood identification in the Pacific, and the only professional facility in Hawai‘i. Maintained at IARII’s Honolulu office, WIDL houses an extensive reference collection of slides, charcoal, photographs, and digital files, and it is continually being expanded.

We offer several different services, including:

Please contact for the current price list and submittal procedures.

Why select short-lived material for dating?

It has been widely recognized that radiocarbon ages produced from the wood of long-lived trees have the potential to be much older than the actual events archaeologists are trying to date (e.g., Allen and Huebert 2014; Allen and Wallace 2007; Rieth and Athens 2013). This problem of “inbuilt age” (McFadgen 1982) can be addressed by selecting short-lived materials such as twigs, seeds, and nutshells or wood from shrubs or small, fastgrowing trees.

Aleurites moluccana (kukui) wood

Aleurites moluccana (kukui) wood

Experts in the IARII Wood Identification Laboratory (WIDL) examine charcoal assemblages to select short-lived taxa or plant parts for dating, helping clients minimize the effects of inbuilt age on their radiocarbon determinations. Taxonomic wood identification also can provide assurance that exotic materials, such as driftwood from old-growth continental forests, are not dated. The identification of historically introduced taxa (e.g., ironwood, kiawe, mango, or Christmasberry) can provide further assistance in estimating the age of a cultural context before any material is dated.

WIDL Staff

Jennifer Huebert, Ph.D., is the laboratory director. She is an archaeobotanist trained in the identification and analysis of wood charcoal assemblages from Pacific Island sites including the Marquesas, Rapa Nui, Fiji, and Samoa. Her experience also includes the identification of other types of charred and waterlogged plant macrofossils.

Gail M. Murakami, B. A., is an academically trained wood anatomist with over 30 years of identification experience with Hawaiian woods, and over 20 years of experience with Mariana Islands woods. Ms. Murakami has also analyzed charcoal from Samoa, Rapa Nui, and Kosrae, among other locations.

Resources for more information about the need to select short-lived material for dating:

Allen, Melinda S., and Jennifer M. Huebert. 2014. “Short-Lived Plant Materials, Long-Lived Trees, and Polynesian 14C Dating: Considerations for 14C Sample Selection and Documentation.” Radiocarbon 56 (1).

Allen, Melinda S., and Rod Wallace. 2007. “New Evidence from the East Polynesian Gateway: Substantive and Methodological Results from Aitutaki, Southern Cook Islands.” Radiocarbon 49: 1163–79.

McFadgen, B.G. 1982. “Dating New Zealand Archaeology by Radiocarbon.” New Zealand Journal of Science 25: 379–92.

Rieth, T., and J. S. Athens. 2013. “Suggested Best Practices for the Application of Radiocarbon Dating to Hawaiian Archaeology.” Hawaiian Archaeology 13: 3–29.

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