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  • Roger Green, 1932–2009:Linguistic Archaeologist
  • Andrew Pawley

Roger Green, probably the most influential figure in the field of Oceanic prehistory over the past 50 years, died in Auckland on October 4, 2009, aged 77.1 Although best known for his archaeological work on human settlement of the Pacific, Green also made important contributions to Oceanic historical linguistics, especially to the synthesis of linguistic evidence with that of other historical disciplines.

Green's scholarly career grew into a kind of giant banyan tree, spreading in many directions while providing open spaces and shelter for others. In the Pacific his archaeological field projects spanned Polynesia, from Mangareva, Tahiti, and Samoa to New Zealand and Hawai'i, and Melanesia, from Fiji and the Southeast Solomons to Watom, in the Bismarck Archipelago. Along the way, he nurtured scores of up-and-coming scholars, as advisor, teacher, project leader, backer in matters of grant-getting, job application referee, coauthor, critical reader of drafts, and so on.

Green's linguistic contributions were of two main kinds. First, he wrote a number of substantial papers and coauthored a major book dealing with Oceanic (chiefly Polynesian) historical linguistics and what this tells us about Oceanic culture history. Of his 300 or so publications, about 15 focus on linguistic evidence, while many others treat linguistic issues to a lesser or greater degree. Second, he planned and directed multidisciplinary projects in which historical linguistic research was one major strand. In this entrepreneurial role, he played a large part in sparking off a golden age of Polynesian linguistics—the burst of descriptive and comparative research that took place in the 1960s and '70s.

Roger Curtis Green was born in Ridgewood, New Jersey, on March 15, 1932, but spent most of his childhood in Watertown, in upstate New York. His father, Robert, and his mother, Eleanor, had degrees in engineering and English, respectively, but in the Great Depression neither could find work in their chosen fields, and the family moved to Watertown when Robert found work there. By the age of 11, Roger had decided he wanted to become an archaeologist and work on Native American prehistory. The family took his wishes seriously. After the sudden death of Roger's father in 1947, Eleanor moved with her children to Albuquerque, New Mexico, so that Roger could finish high school there and qualify for in-state tuition at the University of New Mexico, which offered a program in archaeology. After gaining a BA in Anthropology and a BSc in Geology from UNM, Roger began graduate studies at Harvard in 1955. [End Page 288]

Both at UNM and Harvard, Roger was schooled in the Boasian tradition of anthropology in which this field was regarded as consisting of four subfields: cultural (or social) anthropology, archaeology, linguistics, and physical anthropology. From an early time, he aimed to do what he called "holistic archaeology" or "culture history," integrating the testimonies of all relevant historical disciplines. (Later, he preferred to call it "historical anthropology.") He took enough courses in descriptive linguistics to gain a basic knowledge of its methods, and taught himself the fundamentals of historical linguistics.

In his first couple of years at Harvard, Roger had no thought of working in the Pacific. He was learning from the famed Americanist, Gordon Willey, about the new "settlement pattern" archaeology, which focused on settlement and artifact scatters across a landscape, and he had in mind to continue working in the American Southwest, where since his undergraduate days at UNM he had accumulated a considerable amount of data and fieldwork experience.

Becoming a Polynesianist

It was a social anthropologist at Harvard, Douglas Oliver, who caused Roger to become a Polynesianist. Oliver was then beginning a long-term anthropological study of the Society Islands. Roger took some courses from him, including a seminar on Polynesia, and Oliver invited him to join his project and do settlement pattern archaeology on Mo'orea. At first Roger declined, but in the end was persuaded that in Polynesia he would have the freedom to help shape a field in a way not possible in the archaeology of the Americas.

As preparation for Roger's research in French Polynesia, Oliver arranged a Fulbright Scholarship to...