J. Stephen Athens

Stephen Athens, Ph.D.
General Manager, Senior Archaeologist
[email protected]
(808) 946-2548 ext. 104


J. Stephen Athens received his PhD in 1978 from the University of New Mexico.  He is a Senior Archaeologist at International Archaeological Research Institute, Inc. (IARII) and at International Archaeology, LLC (IA).  He has served as IARII’s General Manager since 1986 and Manager of IA since 2014.  He has held an Affiliate Faculty appointment at the Dept. of Anthropology, University of Hawaii, since 1987.


Dr. Athens’ research has focused on the development of complex societies; human impacts to the environment; climate, vegetation, and landscape changes; the origin of maize cultivation in the northern Andes of  South America; and the chronology of initial human settlement on Pacific islands.  Besides research, Dr. Athens has also been involved in cultural resources management studies throughout his career, seeking to bridge the gap between pure research and historic preservation compliance requirements.  He believes the often perceived differences between these approaches are actually different sides of the same coin and that one does not stand without the other.

In the early and middle 1970s, as a graduate archaeology student, Dr. Athens conducted large surveys and excavations at number of locations in New Mexico, including the Zuni Reservation and at several Anasazi Pueblo sites.  At the same time, he was undertaking field research in the northern highlands of Ecuador for his doctoral dissertation, which concerned the geospatial distribution and socio-political implications of clusters of large earthen mound sites throughout the region.  He was also able to undertake archaeological excavations near an Achuar Jívaro settlement in Ecuador’s remote southeastern Amazon region. In 1978, after completing his dissertation, he began his long research career in the Pacific, conducting extended field research on Pohnpei, Kosrae, Palau, the Mariana Islands (including the northern islands), Hawai‘i, and French Polynesia, all places where he has contributed to an understanding of initial island settlement and human impacts following settlement.  At the same time, his research was continuing intermittently in the northern highlands of Ecuador, first establishing a solid chronology of archaeological periods, then determining the onset and dietary importance of maize cultivation to the prehistoric population as well as the record of repeated Holocene volcanism.  During the last decade he has returned to Ecuador to pursue his initial interest in the society responsible for building the large earthen mounds, known as the Caranquí.  These investigations still continue.  Another significant project included one of the very few detailed paleoenvironmental investigations in a remote part of the western Amazon region, establishing a record of tropical rain forest vegetation changes from the present back to the Late Pleistocene, and documenting the onset of a probable human signature on the landscape beginning not long after the start of the Holocene, about 8,400 years ago.

Select Publications

Athens, J. Stephen

2014    Archaeology of the Eastern Caroline Islands, Micronesia.  In, The Oxford Handbook of Prehistoric Oceania, ed. by Ethan Cochrane and Terry Hunt, on-line pages 1-16.  doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199925070.013.013.  Oxford University Press USA, New York.

2011    Latte Period Occupation on Pagan and Sarigan, Northern Mariana Islands.  Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology 6:314-330.

2009    Rattus exulans and the catastrophic disappearance of Hawai‘i’s native lowland forest.  Biological Invasions 11(7):1489-1501.

2007    Prehistoric Population Growth on Kosrae, Eastern Caroline Islands.  In The Growth and Collapse of Pacific Island Societies: Archaeological and Demographic Perspectives, ed. by Patrick V. Kirch and Jean-Louis Rallu, pp. 257-277.  University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu.

2007    The Rise of the Saudeleur: Dating the Nan Madol Chiefdom, Pohnpei.  In Vastly Ingenious: The Archaeology of Pacific Material Culture, ed. by Atholl Anderson, Kaye Green, and Foss Leach, pp. 191-208.  Otago University Press, Dunedin, New Zealand.

1999    Volcanism and archaeology in the Northern Highlands of Ecuador.  In Actividad Volcanica y Pueblos Precolombinos en el Ecuador, ed. by Patricia A. Mothes, pp.157-189.  Abya-Yala Press, Quito.

1995    Landscape archaeology: prehistoric settlement, subsistence, and environment of Kosrae, Eastern Caroline Islands, Micronesia, with contributions by Melinda S. Allen, William R. Dickinson, Carla K. Favreau, Elizabeth A. Gordon, Terry Hunt, Gail M. Murakami, Patricia Spears, Jerome V. Ward, and Alan C. Ziegler.  International Archaeological Research Institute, Inc., Honolulu.  (474 pp.).

1992    Ethnicity and adaptation: the Late Period-Cara occupation in northern highland Ecuador.  In Resources, Power, and Interregional Interaction, ed. by Edward M. Schortman and Patricia A. Urban, pp. 193-219.  Plenum Press, New York.

1990    Nan Madol pottery, Pohnpei.  Micronesica, Supplement 2:17-32.

1990    Kosrae pottery, clay, and early settlement.  Micronesica, Supplement 2:171-186.

1990    Prehistoric Agricultural Expansion and Population Growth in Northern Highland Ecuador: Interim Report for 1989 Fieldwork.  Report prepared for the Instituto Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural, Quito. International Archaeological Research Institute, Inc., Honolulu. ( Download PDF)

1986    The site of Pumpuentsa and the Pastaza Phase in southeastern lowland Ecuador.  Ñawpa Pacha 24:111-124.

1983    The megalithic ruins of Nan Madol.  Natural History 92(12):50-61.

1978    Formative period occupations in the highlands of northern Ecuador: a comment on Myers.  American Antiquity 43:493-496.

1977    Theory building and the study of evolutionary process in complex societies.  In For theory building in archaeology: essays on faunal remains, aquatic resources, spatial analysis, and systemic modeling, ed. by Lewis R. Binford, pp. 353-384.  New York: Academic Press.


Stevenson, Janelle, Alexis Benson, J. Stephen Athens, Jennifer Kahn, and Patrick V. Kirch

2017    Polynesian Colonization and Landscape Changes on Mo‘orea, French Polynesia: The Lake Temae Pollen Record.  The Holocene, pp. 1-13.  doi:10.1177/0959683617715690

Rieth, Timothy M., and J. Stephen Athens

2017      Late Holocene expansion into Near and Remote Oceania: a Bayesian model of the chronologies of the Mariana Islands and Bismarck Archipelago.  Journal of Island & Coastal Archaeology. doi:10.1080/15564894.2017.1331939.

Athens, J. Stephen, Jerome V. Ward, Deborah M. Pearsall, Karol Chandler-Ezell, Dean W. Blinn, and Alex E. Morrison

2016    Early prehistoric maize in northern highland Ecuador.  Latin American Antiquity 27(1):3-21. ( Download PDF)

Athens, J. Stephen, Timothy M. Rieth, and Thomas S. Dye

2014    A paleoenvironmental and archaeological model-based age estimate for the colonization of Hawai‘i.  American Antiquity 79(1):144-155.

Kahn, Jennifer G, Cordelia Nickelsen, Janelle Stephenson, Nick Porch, Emilie Dotte, Carl C. Christensen, Lauren May, J. Stephen Athens, and Patrick V. Kirch

2014    Mid- to Late Holocene landscape change and anthropogenic transformations on Mo‘orea, Society Islands: a multi-proxy approach.  The Holocene 25(2):333-347.

Athens, J. Stephen, and Janelle Stevenson

2012    Pohnpei coring records: the natural distribution of Cyrtosperma chamissonisJournal of Pacific Archaeology 3(1):35-48.

Dickinson, William R. and J. Stephen Athens

2007    Holocene paleoshoreline and paleoenvironmental history of Palau: implications for human settlement.  Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology 2:175-196.

Athens, J. Stephen, Jerome V. Ward, and Dean W. Blinn

2007    Laysan Island vegetation history, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.  Pacific Science 61(1):17-37.

Athens, J. Stephen, and Jerome V. Ward

2004    Holocene vegetation, savanna origins, and human settlement of Guam.  In, A Pacific Odyssey: Archaeology and Anthropology in the Western Pacific.  Papers in Honour of Jim Specht, ed. Val Attenbrow and Richard Fullagar. Records of the Australian Museum, Supplement 29:15-30.

Athens, J. Stephen, H. David Tuggle, Jerome V. Ward, and David Welch

2002    Vegetation change, avifaunal extinctions, and Polynesian impacts in prehistoric Hawai‘i.  Archaeology in Oceania 37:57-78.

Stahl, Peter W. and J. Stephen Athens

2001    A high elevation zooarchaeological assemblage from the northern Andes of Ecuador.  Journal of Field Archaeology 28(1&2):161-176.

Weng, Chengyu, Mark B. Bush, and J. Stephen Athens

2001    Holocene climate change and hydrarch succession in Amazonian Ecuador.  Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 120:73-90.

Athens, J. Stephen, and Jerome V. Ward

1999    The Late Quaternary of the western Amazon: climate, vegetation, and humans.  Antiquity 73:287-302.

Athens, J. Stephen, Jerome V. Ward, and Gail M. Murakami

1996    Development of an Agroforest on a Micronesian High Island: Prehistoric Kosraean Agriculture.  Antiquity 70:834-846.

Athens, J. Stephen, Michael W. Kaschko and Helen James

1991    Prehistoric bird hunters: high altitude resource exploitation on Hawai‘i Island.  Bishop Museum Occasional Papers 31:63-84.