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  • Archaeology and Culture in Southeast Asia: Unraveling the Nusantao
  • John A. Peterson
Archaeology and Culture in Southeast Asia: Unraveling the Nusantao. Wilhelm G. Solheim II, with contributions from David Bulbeck and Ambika Flavel. Foreword by Victor Paz. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2006. 316 pp. + xvi, illustrations, maps. ISBN 9715425089.

Bill Solheim founded this journal, Asian Perspectives, which first appeared in 1957. For over 50 years he has been a leader and contributor to Southeast Asian archaeological studies. He has been prolific, and his work has been foundational for studies in the region. He has recently revised and republished his Archaeology of the Central Philippines: A Study Chiefly of the Iron Age and Its Relationships (Solheim 2002) as well as updated earlier reports in "Archaeological Survey in Papua, Halmahera, and Ternate, Indonesia" (chapter 6 in this volume under review). He also recently revisited ceramic collections in the Sarawak Museum from the Gua Sirah project, which he is currently preparing for publication. In other words, Solheim has been vigorous and productive since his "retirement" from teaching in 1991 from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Hawai'i. He is currently on the faculty of the Archaeological Studies Program at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. The festschrift Southeast Asian Archaeology was published in 2005 in his honor by his colleagues and former students, and it includes articles from throughout Mainland and Island Southeast Asia—the latter a neologism that he helped coin.

This book on the Nusantao is a consummate review by Solheim of his life's work in the region. It is written in a fresh and sometimes conversational style, with an eye not only toward reviewing his previous work, but also accommodating recent findings and literature. Solheim takes advantage of hindsight to revise a few earlier misconceptions or misstatements, and he also takes the opportunity to frame his vision of migration in the region in light of a current controversy of contending models. In this sense, this volume presents the history of an idea as well as the fieldwork and analyses that Solheim has done over the past half century. Unraveling the Nusantao is at the same time a recounting of the data, a historiography of the concept, a personal intellectual biography, and also a vision of a vibrant maritime culture that has inhabited the region since the Late Paleolithic. It is a compelling argument for his model of dispersive and expansive settlement in Southeast Asia.

The concept has evolved considerably from its earliest presentations as a Neolithic era "Nusantao" culture, and this volume reflects not only the emergence of data but also an emerging and quite sophisticated model of migration. The theme is central to theory and interpretations of migration throughout the region and is currently controversial in its opposition to models that focus on Taiwan as the fulcrum of Austronesian Neolithic period diffusion. Solheim examines this alternate model and compares it unfavorably to the data, as well as to his own theory.

Solheim himself eschews the term "theory," as he has long been skeptical of fads and fashions, old wine in new skins, or revisionistic explanations. In contrast, Solheim remains close to his experience of the archaeological landscapes of the region, to the data, and to his prodigious knowledge of artifacts, sites, and collections in his illumination of a powerful and resilient model for settlement and migration. He presents the ethnographic, ethnohistorical, and linguistic as well as archaeological bases for his theory.

The book is divided into seven chapters, with two contributions regarding the analyses of his Sa Huynh–Kalanay ceramic tradition [End Page 235] that he had first proposed in 1952 for the central Philippines as the Kalanay tradition. He later expanded the concept into a panregional tradition where ceramic styles from the Sa Huynh site in Vietnam were interpreted as genetically related to the Kalanay, with stylistic flow occurring over probably a very short period of time during the Neolithic and evolving throughout the early Iron Age in the region. David Bulbeck and Ambika Flavel have contributed appendices to this volume that statistically support Solheim's earlier stylistic lumpings. Another brief section, an account of survey results from...