From Southeast Asia to the Pacific: Archaeological Perspectives on the Austronesian Expansion and the Lapita Cultural Complex

Article excerpt

From Southeast Asia to the Pacific: Archaeological Perspectives on the Austronesian Expansion and the Lapita Cultural

Complex

Edited by S. Chiu and C. Sand

Center for Archaeological Studies, Academia Sinica, Taipei, 2007.

ISBN 978-986-00-7567-0. Pp. 296. NTD800.

This volume emerged out of a round-table meeting held at Academia Sinica (Taipei) in 2005. The editors. Scarlett Chiu and Christophe Sand, have clearly gone to great lengths to present an inclusive volume, with all papers presented in English and Chinese. Starting with a baseline acceptance of the Austronesian migration hypothesis, the various authors elaborate upon different geographic nodes. There are seven papers, with the first two focussed upon Taiwan (Liu and Tsang) with Tsang also discussing the northern Philippines. The other papers discuss the Philippines and Indonesia (Spriggs), the Bismarcks (Summerhayes), Vanuatu (Bedford), and Fiji-West Polynesia (Sand). The final paper is a bioarchaeological overview by Matisoo-Smith.

It seems not the intention of the editors to present new research offerings, but rather to draw together and succinctly summarize the current state of knowledge. In this respect, the thoughtful and comprehensive offerings by Liu and Tsang are hugely valuable for the volume's English-speaking readership. Liu's paper was particularly compelling, with careful statements about prehistoric cultural diversity in Taiwan setting clear interpretative caveats on any conceptions of a unified Austronesian culture.

Sand and Bedford offer useful reviews of their respective field areas, but the two stand-out papers of the Pacific section of the book are those by Summerhayes and Matisoo-Smith. The western Pacific can seem like a very pottery-focused place, and not without reason. While Snmmerhayes' review is largely focused on Lapita ceramics, his efforts to push beyond dentate-stamping to characterise Lapita ceramics at large is refreshing. The bioarchaeological overview offered by Lisa Matisoo-Smith is a wide-ranging summation of human and animal biological patterning across the region. Her knowledge of both the archaeological and biological issues and clear, incisive writing style make this an insightful, enjoyable and valuable contribution.

This volume deals little with the higher levels of theoretical debate that have surrounded the Austronesian migration hypothesis over the decades, although whether this reflects caution or acceptance on the part of the editors is unclear. However from a geographical standpoint, the two regions that perhaps have the most to contribute are handled cursorily or not at all. …