- Edward W Gifford and Richard Shutler Jr's Archaeological Expedition to New Caledonia in 1952
In August 1952 two archaeologists excavated a site on the Foue Peninsula on New Caledonia's west coast. One of them, E W Gifford, was reaching the end of his career; the other, Richard Shutler Jr, was just starting his. The site they dug was called Lapita, and the pottery they found was the archaeological signature of the colonizers of Remote Oceania about 3,000 years ago. Over the following two thousand years, the descendants of these colonizers had gone on to populate the rest of the Pacific. In August 2002, a group of over one hundred Pacific Islanders and archaeologists returned to the original Lapita site and also attended a conference held in both Koné and later Noumea to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of its excavation. The fact that so many attended the conference is testimony to the importance of this excavation, as well as the respect for Richard Shutler Jr, who also attended. Indeed two books, of which this is one, were presented to Shutler during an emotional ceremony during the conference in Noumea. (The other book was Fifty Years in the Field: Essays in Honour and Celebration of Richard Shutler Jr's Archaeological Career, edited by S Bedford, G Sand, and D Barley; New Zealand Archaeological Association Monograph 25, Auckland 2002.)
Sand and Kirch's volume is a wonderful account of the 1952 expedition, in which seven months were spent in the field, with fifty-three sites surveyed and eleven excavated. Not only was the original Lapita site (called site 13 ) excavated, with similarities noted between the pottery and finds from New Guinea and Fiji, but Gifford sent charcoal samples to Professor HRCrane at the University of Michigan to try out the then new radiocarbon-dating technique. The charcoal dates of the ninth and fifth centuries BC were a milestone in the annals of Pacific archaeology. At last, the early colonization of Remote Oceania could be dated.
The aim of the book is to set out details of the expedition and show some of the color and black-and-white photographs taken in 1952. It also describes New Caledonia at the time of excavation—a kind of social history. The photographs are truly outstanding and set this volume apart from others.
The book is structured in two parts. The first, written by Patrick V Kirch, outlines Gifford's remarkable career and lays out the background to the 1952 excavations. Kirch is, like Gifford before him, a notable archaeologist and director of the Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology (University of California, Berkeley). Born in 1887, Gifford had an illustrious career, especially considering he never earned a university degree. He was appointed to the museum as assistant curator by Alfred Kroeber and at the time of his retirement was [End Page 461] its director. Gifford's professional and systematic approach to archaeological research was an inspiration to later archaeologists working in the Pacific, and his work laid an important framework for later studies. Not only were the materials meticulously described and bagged, but soil samples were also taken for micromorphological analysis. Gifford had experts in their fields examine the shells and bone. A monograph written by Gifford and Shutler was published describing these excavations and analyses in 1956. The standards they set in publishing their results in such a short time span should be heeded by archaeologists today!
The second part of this volume is written by Christophe Sand, also an archaeologist, and head of the New Caledonian Museum. This section is an account of the expedition through the eyes of the participants. Sand provides details about the expedition little seen in published literature. Sand meticulously brings together various accounts of the expedition through correspondence, field notes, and paraphernalia such...