A Pacific Odyssey: Archaeology and Anthropology in the Western Pacific. Papers in Honour of Jim Specht
Bedford, Stuart, Archaeology in Oceania
A Pacific Odyssey: Archaeology and Anthropology in the Western Pacific. Papers in Honour of Jim Specht. Edited by Val Attenbrow and Richard Fullager Records of the Australian Museum Supplement 29. ISBN 0-9750476-2-0. Pp. vi+186. $A60. Also available at www.amonline/pdf/publications/1396-1414 (each chapter has a separate number)_complete.pdf
Over the last ten years there has been a flurry of festschrifis honouring some of the most senior and respected Pacific archaeologists who have reached 'retirement'. This publication adds another to the list, honouring in this case Jim Specht, who without question falls into the above categories of senior and respected. As is the case with all such collections the authors are an eclectic mix, as are the subjects and the quality of the papers themselves. Some are lengthy and detailed with arguments backed up by substantial data sets, while others are somewhat lightweight with analogies being stretched to the limit and beyond. The variety of subject is clearly related to Specht's breath of interest and influence in anthropological and archaeological research across the Pacific, along with his considerable impact in the museum world during his 29 years in the Anthropology Department of the Australian Museum.
The festschrift stemmed from a one-day conference held in November 2000 coinciding with Specht's retirement. The nine presentations given then are the core of this publication with considerable additions. There are a total of 19 papers by 26 authors. The introductory tribute (Tacon, Golson, Huffman, Griffin) outlines in some detail Specht's career from his arrival at RSPAS in 1965 through to his retirement from the Australian Museum in 2000 and onto continuing research today. The tribute both ably demonstrates the influence and impact (the 'Specht effect') that Specht has had over his career, and the fact that Specht has almost compacted two careers into one. A bibliography of Specht's publications (Khan) is also included. Throughout the tribute and the volume, colleagues, former students and Pacific Island Museum curators all refer to his considerable generosity and influence. One notes particularly his very long-term research commitment to the New Britain region which has in turn benefited a whole host of subsequent researchers and the role he has played in supporting and promoting collaboration with Pacific Island Museums and Cultural Centres.
The papers in the volume are presented alphabetically by author. For ease of review some are discussed here under thematic groupings. Beginning with those that have an environmental orientation is a paper by Athens and Ward. It outlines recent palaeoenvironmental research on the island of Guam, focusing on data recorded from a single core dating from 9300 years ago to the present, and how that relates to issues of initial human colonisation and environmental change over the millennia. The introduction outlines the on-going contentious debate in relation to palaeoenvironmental data being used to identify initial human colonisation of Pacific Islands. It is a debate that is certain to continue to flourish particularly in cases when such data suggests dates so much earlier than any archaeological evidence. Here in the case of Guam initial human arrival is suggested as 4300 BR some 800 years earlier than conventional estimates. The complexities of such research is further highlighted by Denham in his paper on an assessment of early agriculture for Phase I, Kuk Swamp, in the New Guinea Highlands. While Denham does support the arguments for the development of independent agriculture in New Guinea, following detailed discussions of the evidence, he rejects a date of 9000 BP for its emergence anywhere in New Guinea. He emphasises that even after 40 years of research the origins of agriculture in New Guinea remain elusive.
Lentfer and Green report on microfossil results from the Lapita Reber-Rakival site on Watom Island which dips into an on-going debate about whether Lapita populations were horticulturalists or not. Phytolith analysis of sediments at the site have greatly expanded on both domestic and natural plants that were present. A significant new identification was that of banana for the first time in Lapita contexts, along with previously identified Canarium and coconut. Microfossil analysis has only relatively recently been employed on Lapita period sites and while contentious debate is far from resolved such methodology is proving to be a very productive approach. Galipaud reports on research carried on the rugged west coast of Santo Island, Vanuatu, in the mid-1990s, where he excavated two cave sites adjacent to areas that are currently in use as irrigated taro gardens. The archaeological remains from the caves were fairly sparse with a series of hearths only being recorded, the oldest of which was 1000 years BE He argues that the current correlation between gardening practices and rockshelter use (short term cooking events) might also be demonstrated in the archaeological record which would then date the irrigated gardening in the area to at least 1000 years ago. This is one of those very stretched analogies and as Galipaud admits a great deal more research in the region is required. Surprisingly for a study on irrigated gardening in Vanuatu he does not reference any of Spriggs' work.
Three papers by Bolton, Bonshek and Knowles and Gosden all deal with aspects of museum collections and issues of ownership, repatriation, history of collections and the philosophy of collecting. The papers are in relation to collections from Vanuatu, Tikopia and the southwest New Britain respectively. Bolton's (Vanuatu) is particularly uplifting in relation to issues of repatriation where in this case a wrongly provenanced textile was returned to Vanuatu after an absence of some 85 years, its correct origins were identified and it has subsequently inspired a revival in Vanuatu of that particular textile form.
The archaeology of New Guinea and more particularly New Britain is well represented in the five papers by Pavlides, Swadling, Torrence, Summerhayes and Lilley. Pavlides in a detailed, data-rich paper, summarises research that has been undertaken in the interior of west New Britain since the original pioneering efforts of Specht. Data from a series of Pleistocene open sites provides the background for demonstrating that from the time of earliest human arrival at least 35,000 years ago, people were utilising the inland tropical rainforest zone as well as the better documented coastal regions. Swadling's paper is essentially an inventory of stone mortar and pestles that have been found across New Britain. She argues that the distribution of these artefact forms, which have been very tentatively dated to between 7000 and 3500 years ago, may well be related to taro cultivation. Using nineteenth century agricultural landuse information, Swadling notes that there is a high correlation of the location of these artefact forms with areas that cultivated taro. Considering the potential 3000 year gap in artefact use and agricultural patterns this has to be seen as an overstretched correlation. A very different artefact form, namely the obsidian stemmed tool, is the focus of Torrence's paper. It can be demonstrated that certain forms of these tools played different utilitarian and ceremonial functions (possible 'valuables'). Torrence argues on more theoretical grounds, that such 'valuables' may have been circulated in some form of ceremonial exchange system that was potentially related to differential social status. However, as emphasised by Torrence, and clearly highlighted in the Pavlides and Swadling papers the Pleistocene and early Holocene of the Western Pacific remains severely under-researched archaeologically and many of the results produced thus far represent 'tantalising hints rather than watertight proof'.
The contribution of Summerhayes is based on a more solid data set which has been accumulated over many decades. He reviews the regional distribution of obsidian over the last 3000 years in the Bismarcks region. Increasing research into Lapita sites of the region are providing a greatly refined pattern of distribution but it is also highlighting the complexity of the exchange systems as they change over time and space. Lilley reviews post-Lapita (with a focus on ceramics) research that has been carried out in the west New Britain-Vitiaz Strait-north New Guinea region. It is a region that has been periodically affected by dramatic volcanic events which have inevitably influenced the human inhabitants of the region. Lilley notes that in the archaeological record, periods of abandonment in settlement and ceramic production have been identified which contrasts directly with other regions of Melanesia where continuous occupation and ceramic production is in evidence.
Moving further east to the Solomons is the research of Sheppard, Walter and Aswani. Their research focus has been on the late prehistoric early historic period of the Roviana Lagoon in the western Solomons. They demonstrate the advantages of combining archaeological research with oral traditions/history which provides a more balanced and refined interpretation of particular sites and the wider landscape. The results of this project are very significant for wider interpretations of the later phase of Melanesian prehistory as it is one of the few that has focused on this period in the western Pacific.
In a more wide ranging paper Spriggs reviews the history of research into post-Lapita pottery sequences in the western Pacific and highlights the current debate regarding synchronous change versus regional diversification. In a further wide ranging paper (almost too wide ranging for such a publication) Smith discusses field monuments of eastern Melanesia and the Polynesian region arguing that contrary to what has been argued previously that similar site types are likely to have developed through social interaction rather than isolation. That such sites are related is apparently of importance for their inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage Inventory. Clearly much greater chronological refinement is required in establishing the development of these site types, but surely even without such investigation many of these sites on their own merit a place on the World Heritage Inventory. Sticking with the theme of wide ranging papers is that by Wilson, the last of the volume, which reviews regional analyses of western Pacific rock-art. Applying multivariate statistics to a greatly increased data set than ever previously available to researchers, Wilson is able to demonstrate that painted and engraved art is not separated geographically across the western Pacific and that it can in fact be divided into five main inter-related regional groups.
Somewhat out on its own both geographically and in the volume is Sand's paper on Walpole Island, the isolated most southern island of Melanesia. This is an island that has until very recently been subjected to a whole series of fossicking expeditions which substantially damaged the archaeological deposits. Sand outlines recent research undertaken by himself which both contributes to the unravelling of the prehistory of Walpole which dates back to at least 2500 years but also to the wider debate on 'mystery' islands.
The production of the publication is high quality, well presented and laid out with most photos, maps and section drawings clearly reproduced. The editors should be congratulated for their efforts, including the fact that there are very few typos, the only one really being worth a mention being the labelling of the Swadling figures needing to be reversed. This publication is worth the purchase price if only to find out more about the man behind the 'Specht effect' and doubly so for the number of thought-provoking papers.
New Zealand Historic Places Trust…
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Publication information: Article title: A Pacific Odyssey: Archaeology and Anthropology in the Western Pacific. Papers in Honour of Jim Specht. Contributors: Bedford, Stuart - Author. Journal title: Archaeology in Oceania. Volume: 40. Issue: 1 Publication date: April 2005. Page number: 30+. © 2009 Oceania Publication. COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group.
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