Pacific Archeology: Assessments and Prospects

By White, J. Peter | Archaeology in Oceania, April 2005 | Go to article overview

Pacific Archeology: Assessments and Prospects


White, J. Peter, Archaeology in Oceania


Pacific Archeology: assessments and prospects. Edited by Christophe Sand Le Cahiers de l'Archeologie en Nouvelle-Caledonie 15, 2004. Service des Musees et du Patrimoine, Nouvelle-Caledonie. ISBN 2-9519208-1-4. Pp. viii + 396. Price 1500 Francs CFP (+ postage).

This massive and beautifully produced volume of 33 papers comes from the "International conference for the 50th anniversary of the first Lapita excavation", held at Kone, New Caledonia in 2002.

Unlike many conference volumes, editor and conference organizer Christophe Sand has made this one a politically as well as a scientifically important statement. The conference brought together not just most archaeologists working in the Lapita culture-area, but cultural representatives from many of the countries in which Lapita pottery has been found. Hosted by Kanak leaders, the conference was an opportunity for considering the place of archaeology in today's Pacific nations. Some of those important questions are well brought out in Sand's Introduction, as well as in the four final papers on current interactions with local communities. Sand's most important point is that local communities are not much interested in the 'deep past'. "It is mainly when research tries to bridge archaeology with what islanders know of their traditional past, that a real interest arises in our work" (8). Not a new observation, but one which finds echoes in countries both colonial and imperial--and is notable by its almost complete absence from the scientific papers in this volume. Lelaivai's paper on history and archaeology in 'Uvea is the only solid exception. Previous Lapita and Lapitoid (e.g. Bedford et al. 2002) volumes are similar. Elsewhere change has come often as a result of political pressure: when will this happen in the Pacific?

Turning now to the scientific papers, it is notable how many are solid and data-rich, and equally how few of them spring surprises on us. One which does is Anderson's review of initial human dispersal in Remote Oceania. Basically, he revives Groube's 'strandlooper' model in an altered form, arguing that initial colonization was discontinuous, based on a simple canoe technology and non-agricultural economically. Another important, if underdeveloped, re-interpretation is Spriggs' review of post-Lapita research in island Melanesia. Picking up on themes in Julian Thomas' British Neolithic studies, he discusses interpretations of pits, middens, rubbish, burials, ornaments and monuments. He notes the "the overwhelming lack of Lapita burials makes it likely that burial was generally at sea and therefore collective and undifferentiated [socially]" (209). …

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