Archaeology and Cultural Heritage of Kiribati

Ania Kotarba-Morley, Frank R. Thomas

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingEntry for encyclopedia/dictionarypeer-review


The Republic of Kiribati [pronounced: Ki-ri-bass] consists of a group of 32 low lying atollsand reef islands and one raised coral island, Banaba (Ocean Island), situated at the interface of Micronesian and Polynesian cultures in Remote Oceania and part of the Fiji-Tuvalu-Kiribati chain (Fischer 2013:28). With 3.5 million km2 of marine jurisdiction and only 800 km2 of land this generally dry equatorial country represents one of the most isolated and infertile parts of the world. The name Kiribati is an appropriation of the colonial name Gilbert Islands, with the local name for the archipelago being Tungaru and their inhabitants referred to as I-Tungaru (or I-Kiribati). Kiribati, also previously known as the Kingsmill Islands, straddles the equator and extends over 400miles north to south. The 112,000-strong island nation of I-Kiribati is divided administratively into three main groups of islands(Fig. 1): the Gilbert Islands, currently the most populated, with half of the nation’s population inhabiting the capital of South Tarawa alone; the Phoenix Islands (which became the first UNESCO World Heritage site in the country in 2010, and remains the second largest designated Marine Protected Area in the world,, which are largely uninhabited; and the Line Islands, situated on the dateline border, and—similar to the Phoenix group—were found to be uninhabited by the first Europeans (the ‘mystery islands’; Thomas 2003:4)(see Fig. 1). TheI-Kiribatiare relatively homogenous linguistically and their language, also known as Gilbertese, is a Micronesian tongue with some Polynesian borrowings. The language is distinct from neighbouring Tuvalu and Marshall Islands, all of which belong to the Austronesian language family.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEncyclopaedia of Global Archaeology
EditorsClaire Smith
Place of PublicationCham, Switzerland
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic) 978-3-030-30018-0
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-30016-6
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Kiribati
  • archaeology
  • Atoll island
  • UNESCO World Heritage


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