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  • Integrating Archaeology and Ethnohistory: The Development of Exchange between Yap and Ulithi, Western Caroline Islands
  • Rosalind L. Hunter-Anderson
Integrating Archaeology and Ethnohistory: The Development of Exchange between Yap and Ulithi, Western Caroline Islands. Christophe Descantes. BAR International Series 1344. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2005. vi + 124 pp.; illustrations, maps, bibliography, appendices. £29.00. ISBN 1-84171-690-1.

Integrating Archaeology and Ethnohistory (hereinafter IAE) contains eight chapters well illustrated with maps, diagrams, profiles, and plans. In sequential order, they are: Introduction; Theoretical and Methodological Approaches in Exchange Studies; Environmental Setting of Yap and Ulithi; Historical Ethnography of Western [End Page 295] Carolinian Interaction; Archaeology of the Western Carolines and Micronesian Ceramic Provenance Studies; Archaeological Investigations: Spatial and Ceramic Analyses; Discussion; and Conclusion. Two appendices—AMS Radiocarbon Determinations and Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis Data—and the bibliography conclude the work. IAE is a revision of Descantes' 1998 University of Oregon doctoral dissertation. As with other monographs in the far-too-expensive BAR International Series, this one has not been edited professionally, and minor irritations remain: typos, subject-verb disagreements, dangling and misplaced modifiers, alphabetical errors in the bibliography, and numerous awkward phrases and usages (a particularly annoying one is "materialist" for "material"). These flaws aside, IAE is valuable for its new data—and provocative as well.

IAE explicates a phenomenon that has been documented ethnographically, in this case exchange practice between Yapese and Ulithians, and tries to add something new to the picture. New and valuable for regional archaeology are 28 radiocarbon dates that provide tighter temporal control on technological changes in Yapese ceramics, on the adoption of stonework architecture on Yap and Ulithi, and on the onset of land reclamation along the Gachpar Village (Yap) shoreline. The new dates complement the research contributions of Michiko Intoh, who has established a still-longer occupation sequence for Fais than is evident in Ulithi from Descantes' results (e.g., see Intoh 1996). IAE's technical analyses provide information on the chemical composition and provenance of clays used in Yapese pots and on vessel size differences (pots used in Ulithi were larger than contemporaneous pots in Gachpar).

IAE is provocative in combining science-based analytical techniques and statistics with an epistemology that denies the possibility of universality in cultural adaptive responses. Stating that his work "is part of a trend to historicize anthropological inquiry (citing Biersack, Kirch, Sahlins, and Thomas)," Descantes offers a "history of the development of exchange" between Yapese and Ulithians rather than an explanation invoking general principles. In Chapter 7, this exchange history takes the form of a narrative comprising several "factors" that may have had an effect upon the phenomenon under study. Among others they include intrinsic population growth in Yap and Ulithi, competitive political maneuvers on Yap that included Ulithians, European contact and its technological introductions, and the practice of exchange (more on this below). Meanwhile, the physical environments of Yap and Ulithi (climate and sea level, for instance) are assumed to have been static (although contrasting in basic geology) over the thousand years of presumed exchange history.

As in other works aimed at explication of a topic, IAE begins with a dictionary definition; exchange "refers to the establishment and maintenance of relationships between persons. In order for social relationships to exist we must exchange something—whether it is the communicative exchange of language, the economic and/or ceremonial exchange of goods or the exchange of spouses."

Once we know what the topic is, the Yap/Ulithi case is presented. This involves a review of the literature describing the sawei system, pertinent historic information from travelers' accounts and oral history, and justification for pursuing exchange archaeologically.

Practicality dictated a focus on one village in Yap (Gachpar) and one islet in Ulithi (Mogmog), both important locales in the sawei literature. Because the research topic was exchange, a culturally mediated behavior, yet archaeological fieldwork generates static observations, there was an immediate methodological problem: how to recognize the behavioral phenomenon of interest archaeologically. Descantes' solution was to simply declare that pottery sherds in prehistoric deposits at Mogmog are a proxy for exchange behavior (the sherds could not have been made in Ulithi, which lacks clay, and sawei ethnohistory indicates that pots...


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