Wood Identification Laboratory
PACIFIC & PACIFIC RIM
IARII’s Wood Identification Laboratory (WIDL) 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.
WIDL offers several different services, including:
- Identification of bulk charcoal samples.
- Charcoal screening to select material for radiocarbon dating.
- Taxon identification of a single piece of wood or charcoal.
Wood identification at IARII’s WIDL is frequently undertaken for samples from Hawai‘i and the Mariana
Islands, although samples from many other Pacific regions can be analyzed depending on the availability
of reference material. WIDL is pleased to work with clients on their special projects, interests, needs, and to collaborate
on research proposals and interpretative analysis of results for publication.
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org 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
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.
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.
Jennifer Huebert, Ph.D., is an archaeobotanist trained in the identification and analysis of wood charcoal assemblages from Pacific Island sites including the
Marquesas, Rapa Nui, Fiji, and American Samoa. Her experience also includes the identification of other types of charred and waterlogged plant macrofossils.
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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