A Millennium of Culture Contact

By Lydon, Jane | Archaeology in Oceania, October 2012 | Go to article overview

A Millennium of Culture Contact


Lydon, Jane, Archaeology in Oceania


A Millennium of Culture Contact By Alistair Paterson Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, California, 2011 ISBN 978-1-59874-492-7 (hb), 978-1-59874-493-4 (pb). Pp.327. $A49.95, at sales@footprint.com.au

In this book Paterson addresses the evidence for culture contact between 'aboriginal Europeans and indigenous groups living outside Europe' during the second millennium AD, because 'it was at this time that a truly global network of societies in contact emerged' (9). Historical archaeologists have conducted much of the work Paterson refers to. He begins with some of the challenges for such a synthesis, namely the difficulty of characterizing collectivities such as 'cultures', culture survival and transformation, and geographic regions. He acknowledges that the conceptualization of 'Europe' as a coherent entity has its problems, but is justified because after AD1000 and increasingly from the fifteenth century, Europeans moved outwards to engage with other continents and cultures on an unprecedented and momentous scale. Paterson writes for both the general public and for students, and provides a reading list for each topic. He terms the book a 'guidebook for the intellectual tourist', that includes places he 'found good to visit' (14).

Paterson adopts a friendly, graphic style that makes complex processes and debates easily accessible, and synthesizes a vast array of material to present a clear introduction to substantive issues and histories. For example, Chapter 1 explores the world after 1000 AD, through an interesting and effective conceit: as the sun rises on the first of January in the year 1000 AD, what does it see? This device allows Paterson to review regions and places as he follows the sun westwards, providing a baseline survey of world societies at this time. He maps a range of cultures and their complexity, with an emphasis on cross-cultural exchange, including Mesoamerica, South America, the Pacific and Australia.

Chapter 2 reviews 'our attempts to understand culture contact', defining 'contact' as between cultures that had 'been basically unaware of each other' (27), emphasising colonialism and European contact. Paterson provides plentiful examples, and often unexpected and salutary connections between diverse themes, events, and places, which are thought-provoking and stimulating. His review of the literature is useful in historicizing and contextualizing concepts such as acculturation (37-9). Paterson also draws from Philip Curtin's 1984 definition of four types of cultural encounter, an approach that I find somewhat mechanistic; while in practice, Paterson's account is nuanced and complex, personally I blench at the sight of categorical schemas of this kind, extended and instantiated by tables (42-5)--however this is perhaps a merely stylistic quibble and does not undermine the value of his account.

Chapter 3 addresses encounters in the Northwest Atlantic, tracing Norse domination of the region, who 'found occupied' Britain, Ireland, Scotland, the Orkneys, Shetland, Greenland and North America. It examines cultural contact after 1000 AD, considering especially Norse, Dorset people (palaeo-Eskimo) and Thule (ancestral Inuit)--in a clear and specific discussion of the archaeological evidence for successive encounters and their nature. Chapter 4 moves to consider European contacts during the Middle Ages up to the Italian Renaissance of the fourteenth century. …

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