Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

Explaining the Prehistory of Ceramic Technology on Waya Island, Fiji

Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

Explaining the Prehistory of Ceramic Technology on Waya Island, Fiji

Article excerpt


This preliminary analysis of ceramic technological change on Waya Island, Fiji documents the variation present over three thousand years of innovation, interaction, and change. Hypotheses relating the observed variation in sherd thickness, tempering practices, and vessel type diversity are proposed. These hypotheses may be tested through experimental and other analyses that are briefly described here. Finally, these hypotheses and their tests are structured by the universal evolutionary mechanisms of cultural transmission, adaptation and natural selection, and innovation and thus have implications for not only Wayan prehistory, but all of the Pacific.


Apart from provenance studies, ceramic technological data are not particularly important to explanations of cultural change in the southwest Pacific. With few exceptions (e.g., Best 1984; Rye 1976), explanations of cultural change have not made much use of experimental analyses of ceramic technology and detailed investigations of technological variables. This sharply contrasts with a considerable body of research in other parts of the world, particularly the Americas, where experimental ceramic analyses are often developed in the context of materials science and ceramic performance (see Bronitsky 1986). In this body of research ceramic technological variation, as measured through performance experiments and other detailed investigations of ceramic technology, is convincingly explained as a result of adaptation and cultural transmission (e.g., Arnold 1985; Braun 1983; Dunnell and Feathers 1990; Hoard et al. 1995; O'Brien et al. 1994; Pierce 1998; Schiffer et al. 1994; Young and Stone 1990). Cultural transmission, adaptation by selection, and innovation are three mechanisms of cultural change within human populations (Cochrane 2001; Lyman and O'Brien 1998).

These three mechanisms of cultural change are universal (Lyman and O'Brien 1998) and thus we can use them to explain significant portions of ceramic technology and cultural change in the Pacific. Cultural transmission is the transference of cultural information between individuals and is more commonly referred to as interaction, but cultural transmission does not denote a particular structure to the transference of information, such as between commoners and elite. Adaptational process occurs when cultural variants in a population differ in fitness and variants that are better-adapted to a particular natural and cultural selective environment increase in proportion to other variants. Also, the mechanism of adaptation by selection implies cultural transmission. Finally, innovation is the introduction of new cultural variants into a population and may occur through problem-solving, mistakes in transmission, or other transmission related events in particular cultural histories (e.g., European contact with Pacific populations).

Analyses of cultural change formulated in reference to universal explanatory mechanisms can produce empirically tested knowledge that is vital to robust explanations of Pacific Islands prehistory. The mechanisms of cultural transmission, adaptation by selection, and innovation are the pillars of a general evolutionary framework that has been developed in detail elsewhere and the reader is referred to this work (see Barton and Clark 1997; Blackmore 1999; Boone and Smith 1998; Dawkins 1982; Dunnell 1992; Kirch 1980; Lipo et al. 1997; Lyman and O'Brien 1998; O'Brien and Lyman 2000; Payne 1996; Pocklington and Best 1997; Sober 1992; Teltser 1995a; Williams 1992).

This paper presents a preliminary analysis of ceramics from Waya Island in western Fiji (Figure 1) to first determine how these mechanisms may have shaped ceramic technological change on the island, and second outline future experiments and analyses to test these hypotheses. The next section describes Waya Island, the site of Qaranicagi, and general characteristics of the ceramic assemblage. …

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