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Reviewed by:
  • Sigatoka: The Shifting Sands of Fijian Prehistory
  • Jeffrey T. Clark
Sigatoka: The Shifting Sands of Fijian Prehistory. Yvonne Marshall, Andrew Crosby, Sepeti Matararaba, and Shannon Wood. Oxford, UK: Southampton University, Department of Archaeology Monographs: Oxbow Books, 2000. 124 pp, color plates; appendixes, tables, figures, maps, photographs. Softcover. ISBN 1842170112.

Marshall, Crosby, Matararaba, and Wood present a summary of the various archaeological investigations that have been carried out at the Sigatoka Dune site over the last [End Page 303] 40 years. The real meat of the volume, though, is their lengthy reanalysis and reinterpretation of the site complex. As the authors note repeatedly in the text, Sigatoka is a site of paramount importance for understanding the prehistory of the central Pacific, so any clarification of the site data is welcome. The authors are certainly qualified to write this treatise on Sigatoka, with many years of experience in Fijian and Oceanic archaeology behind them, and the volume is well done.

In the first chapter, the authors lay out in some detail the essential problem that they examine in the book. As they see it, Sigatoka has become an icon in Pacific prehistory. In the conventional view, Sigatoka is characterized by shifting phases of occupation and abandonment, with three cultural layers visible in the dune face, separated by thick layers of sterile sand. They argue, however, that this layer-cake imagery is, in fact, inaccurate and the significance of the site has therefore been misinterpreted. While the claim of iconographic status is overdrawn, the significance of the site for central Pacific prehistory is unquestionable.

The authors characterize the conventional view of Sigatoka stratigraphy as a reflection of "cultural stability or stasis punctuated by events of rapid change" (p. 3). They seek to reanalyze Sigatoka "within the contest of a surface map rather than just a stratigraphic sequence," which reveals Sigatoka as a "lived-upon surface" on which "human occupation took place in a nearly continuous mosaic of shifting settlement" (p. 3). They go on to identify three purposes for the book (p. 9): (1) to present new information derived from their work at the site over the last several years, particularly a topographic mapping of the site; (2) to provide a summary of past research and interpretations of Sigatoka; and (3) to present their new interpretations of the site and the implications of that reinterpretation for Pacific prehistory.

The next five chapters provide context and data summaries for the Sigatoka site complex. Chapter 2 gives background to the dunes, summarizing their significance and the environmental variables affecting them. Chapters 3 and 4 review the methods and results of the 1992 mapping project that the authors carried out on the dunes. This was a complex project and the topographic map that they produced lies at the heart of the reinterpretation of the site. The creation and significance of the map are discussed in detail, and the volume is aided considerably by the many derived maps that provide the visual context for site strata, features, excavations, and artifact distributions. Indeed, these maps represent a major contribution of the volume. Chapters 5 and 6 provide informative reviews of previous work at Sigatoka.

The next set of chapters, 7 through 10, deal with the reinterpretation of the history of the dunes and their occupation. Chapter 7 covers the reconstructions of the dune surfaces over time. Wind and sea erosion, on the one hand, and redeposition of sediments on the other, have been cyclical, although the net effect has been significant inland migration of the dunes, "at the rate of approximately 20 metres per decade over the last 30 years" (p. 67). Chapter 8 places the human occupation at Sigatoka in the context of the changing dunes. In the last two chapters, 9 and 10, the authors explore the occupation at Sigatoka in the context of the larger picture of Fijian pre-history and ethnography. These chapters also explore the implications of the Sigatoka site, as reinterpreted, for Fijian and Polynesian prehistory.

The authors argue that the conventional model of the Fijian ceramic sequence, with four diagnostic phases, is as simplistic as the conventional stratigraphic sequence of Sigatoka. And, the two sequences have been mutually reinforcing...


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