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  • The Prehistoric Archaeology of Norfolk Island, Southwest Pacific
  • Marshall I. Weisler
The Prehistoric Archaeology of Norfolk Island, Southwest Pacific. Atholl Anderson and Peter White, eds. Sydney: Records of the Australian Museum Supplement 27, 2001. 142 pp., illustrations, maps, photographs, tables, bibliography. Softcover. AU$55.00. ISBN 0-7347-2305-9.

From our first days as students of Pacific prehistory we are told that the Neolithic colonization and settlement of Oceania ranks as one of the great achievements of Hawai'i Press. [End Page 410] humankind. Set within the grand southern ocean are a number of isolated landfalls whose successful settlement pushed the capabilities of Oceanic colonists to their extreme limits. If the condition of isolation wasn't enough to strain the colonization process, many of these remote islands typically had limited marine and terrestrial resources, low rainfall, and periodic drought. In the higher latitudes, cooler temperatures constrained horticulture and fostered a new and limited array of marine life. In this regard, the high volcanic Norfolk Island (~35 km2) is a standout example. Situated in the subtropical zone, four hundred nautical miles south from New Caledonia and an equal distance north of New Zealand, it has evidence of prehistoric settlement, yet was found abandoned when observed by Europeans in 1774. During four field seasons between 1995 and 1999, a multidisciplinary team organized by Atholl Anderson and Peter White sought to (1) investigate the source of the inhabitants and whether multiple origins had been involved; (2) investigate the extent of isolation during its prehistoric occupation; and (3) document any significant impact of prehistoric colonists on the geomorphology, vegetation, and faunas (p. 2).

The volume is devoted primarily to excavations conducted at the Emily Bay site. Situated along the south rocky shore inland from the sandy beach at Emily Bay, the largest known habitation site on the island extends for about 3000 m2 with a 30 cm-thick cultural layer containing sparse cultural material. Features included scoop hearths, trash pits, post holes, and a pavement. Bioturbation from muttonbird burrows and nest sites is very common (p. 136). The most abundant artifacts are basalt flakes, East Polynesian adzes, and two dozen obsidian flakes. Nonstone artifacts were few but consisted, most notably, of a harpoon point, a one-piece rotating hook of marine ivory, and a drilled tab. Pacific rat (Rattus exulans) bones were common and mtDNA analysis indicated source populations in central East Polynesia and New Zealand. Surprisingly, turtle bone was uncommon. Sea birds were a major source of food as well as fish caught on baited hooks; shellfish was a minor dietary contribution. Fourteen chapters describe and analyze the stratigraphy, radiocarbon dating, artifacts, fauna (including mtDNA of rats), other midden, land snails, and pollen cores and a summary chapter. To get a good sense of the Emily Bay settlement I strongly suggest reading the summary narrative on pages 138–139 before tackling the rest of the volume. Below I discuss the analytical chapters.

I found the chapter on domestic and religious structures to be one of the most engaging because it is a good example of holistic anthropological archaeology and an effort was made to place the religious structure within the broader context of Polynesian culture-history. The religious feature was not a marae but, more accurately, a shrine (Sinoto 2001), as a marae is an open space or clearing. The Emily Bay shrine consists of a 15 m2 exposed section of pavement, three upright stones, what looks like a slab-lined fireplace, an oven, and much domestic food and tool refuse. The physical evidence for the shrine by itself was not totally convincing until the linguistic and ethnographic evidence was set within the comparative regional context. One important point omitted was that the shrine is just east of the probable house site, which reveals a pattern seen repeatedly in late prehistoric Hawai'i; that is, shrines are situated east of the main habitation feature within a residential complex or kauhale (Weisler and Kirch 1985: Figs. 9–11). This is an important and recurring pattern found within Polynesian residential sites, and the Emily Bay data extends the practice some four centuries than previously documented.

Turner et al. analyzed technology...


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