- Pacific Archaeology: Assessments and Prospects
The fiftieth anniversary of the excavation of Site 13 on the Foué Peninsula, New Caledonia, the original Lapita site, was a momentous occasion. Site 13, excavated by Edwin Gifford and Richard Shutler Jr., produced a style of decorated pottery that has inspired a half-century of productive research on ancient Oceania. The papers brought together in this volume are momentous as well and indicate that after fifty years, research on Lapita and other aspects of Oceanic prehistory shows no signs of slowing.
Pacific Archaeology is a monumental volume [End Page 407] containing thirty-three chapters presenting new data and interpretations, thoughtful syntheses of existing data, and important new insights from the luminaries of Oceanic archaeology as well as the next generation of scholars. With its well-referenced and well-introduced chapters, I expect Pacific Archaeology to hold a place on many readers' shelves as a sourcebook for Oceanic archaeology, much like Jennings' (1979) Prehistory in Polynesia and Davidson et al.'s (1996) festschrift for Roger Green, Oceanic Culture History.
The chapters in Pacific Archaeology are divided into four sections (with introductory chapters by Sand and Shutler): "Old Oceania," "The Austronesian Spread," "Oceanic Diversity," and "The Pacific and Archaeology." The abundance of chapters precludes a detailed review of each author's contribution, so I will summarize the work in each section, pointing out new, interesting, and perhaps controversial findings.
Three chapters are included in the section on Old Oceania. A chapter by Chazine reports on the relatively unknown archaeology of Borneo, while chapters by O'Connor and Chappell and by Allen present some different (and divergent) ideas about the timing of original human presence in Greater Australia and Island Melanesia.
The second section, "The Austronesian Spread," contains overview chapters on Oceanic colonization from the perspective of human genetics by Oppenheimer and sailing technology by Anderson, as well as a chapter on the colonization of Palau written by G. Clark and Wright. Most of the other chapters in this section are substantive presentations of new data on Lapita-associated archaeology from various areas and include chapters on Wantom Island by Specht, Bedford's chapter on Vanuatu, a discussion of New Caledonia pottery by Chiu, two chapters on Fiji by Nunn et al. and Parke, and a presentation on western Borneo archaeology by Ono.
In one of the two broadly synthetic writings on "The Lapita Sphere," Roger Green (in an extensively endnoted and referenced chapter) usefully groups much of the various writings on Lapita phenomena into four sets sharing similar explanatory themes. Green's own conclusion is that Lapita references a cultural horizon and regional traditions that are the product of a "series of node and network type migrations" (p. 112) in Near and Remote Oceania. Many archaeologists will agree with Green, but with phrases such as "this Lapita culture indeed represents related groups of peoples who possessed a sense of ethnicity" (p. 113), I am left thinking of the sociocultural interpretations of phases, horizons, and traditions offered by Americanist culture historians in the middle of the twentieth century (realizing that Green was trained thus). Such culture-historical interpretations were difficult to evaluate and led in part to the downfall of that paradigm (Lyman et al. 1997). Glenn Summerhayes examines obsidian and pottery distributions in the Bismarck archipelago, noting that early diversification of obsidian distribution networks is not mirrored by pottery distributions. Summerhayes anticipates Spriggs' argument in a later chapter and reminds us of "the problem of focusing on only one class of material culture in modeling the socio-economic nature of Lapita communities" (p. 143).
The third section of the volume, "Oceanic Diversity," is aptly titled, for the chapters herein range from household archaeology to rock art to herpetofauna. Again, there are both chapters that present new data and several syntheses that...