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Reviewed by:
  • Walpole: Ha Colo, une Île de l'Extrême, Archéologies et Histoires
  • Mike T. Carson
Walpole: Ha Colo, une Île de l'Extrême, Archéologies et Histoires. Christophe Sand, ed. Les Cahiers de l'Archéologie en Nouvelle-Calédonie 14. Nouméa: Département Archéologie, Services des Musées et du Patrimoine, 2002. 122 pp. 101 figures; 9 tables; 4 appendices.

Volume 14 of Les Cahiers de l'Archéologie en Nouvelle-Calédonie is a comprehensive monograph concerning the archaeology and history of Walpole Island. Like its predecessors, this volume is an excellent example of how to present primary field and laboratory data within a meaningful interpretive context. The various contextual overviews, site-specific studies, specialized analyses, and general observations are incorporated with a focus on their contribution to understand the prehistory of the island and its place in the archaeology of the wider region. The major conclusions are clearly linked to the primary field and laboratory data, and readers can easily review and evaluate the raw data for any variety of purposes. Moreover, the authors present a sophisticated analysis of how their findings relate to larger research issues of enduring value.

At first, one may wonder what of archaeological significance could be found on a block of coral limestone less than 3.5 km long, isolated more than 150 km southeast of the New Caledonian mainland. In fact, Walpole (or Ha Colo) has yielded evidence of human occupation since the beginning of human settlement in the larger region at approximately 800 to 520 B.C., including stratified rockshelter deposits, a rich assortment of portable artifacts, mortuary features, and an array of architectural remains.

By the time of European contact in 1794, the island was uninhabited, yet visitors reported mysterious vestiges of ancient human inhabitants. In this sense, Walpole could be categorized as one of the "Mystery Islands" of the Pacific. As the authors point out, however, their work removes much of the "mystery" of the island's past.

The book's introductory section establishes Walpole Island in regional archaeology, specifically in reference to the role of such a unique environment in human prehistory. Aside from the introductory overview, the volume includes six main chapters, a chronological synthesis, a summary conclusion, and four data-rich appendices that each offer a different perspective or set of data important to understanding the prehistory of the island.

Chapter 1 presents the geology of Walpole Island, of interest to geologists and archaeologists alike. This information has previously been reported only in some rather obscure notes and reports, and the present overview will be valuable for a number of researchers working in the region.

Chapter 2 considers the vegetation communities and faunal populations, enabling a sense of ecological zones of the island that may relate to zones of potential land use for the prehistoric inhabitants. The concise and informative overview supports significant interpretative work later in the book. Within this chapter, though, the text emphasizes two points. First, the island has a unique set of natural resources that could have supported at least a small population. Second, the historic-era guano mining operation provides an opportunity to examine the impact of a small population on the island's resources within a known time frame.

Chapter 3 synthesizes information from local oral traditions, historical accounts of guano miners, notes from unlicensed pillagers, and the records of limited earlier archaeological forays. In addition, the authors present the major findings of recent field surveys, in terms of major zones of the island. The information is not simply listed for the sake of routine. Rather, the authors [End Page 122] identify some important research issues, generate testable hypotheses, and offer a larger interpretive context for the results of their present work.

Chapter 4 documents the stratigraphy of test excavations in four key rockshelters, along with radiocarbon dates from associated contexts. Radiocarbon dates from prior investigations are also included and scrutinized. Altogether, 11 dates are available. The rockshelter excavations encountered well-preserved cultural deposits with a fair amount of internal stratigraphy. The excavation profiles are nicely documented in reference to plan and section views of the rockshelters. The provenience of each radiocarbon sample...