A Pacific Odyssey: Archaeology and Anthropology in the Western Pacific. Papers in Honour of Jim Specht

By Bedford, Stuart | Archaeology in Oceania, April 2005 | Go to article overview

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. …

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