- Australian Archaeologist: Collected Papers in Honour of Jim Allen
This is a nicely produced large format soft-cover book in which 32 papers are presented in honor of Jim Allen, Australian archaeologist. The Introduction section and first paper of the following Perspectives section consist of four papers with informal reminiscences and biographical accounts of the honoree mixed with a good measure of the history of Australian archaeology. They provide the context for the papers that follow. Not knowing Allen, I found these papers especially interesting for their recounting of how the career of a noted professional unfolded. While it is to be expected that the writings in this section would be complimentary and effusive, I did not anticipate that such homage would be so explicit in many of the more formal papers of the rest of the volume. In reading these papers one soon begins to appreciate just what an enormous influence Jim Allen has had (and obviously continues to have) on not just Australian archaeology, but Pacific archaeology and beyond. His work, always setting a high standard for excellence and innovative thinking, has encompassed the topics of V. Gordon Childe's career, historical archaeology in Australia, extensive work on the archaeology of Papua New Guinea, Melanesian trade, organizer of the famous Lapita Homeland Project, and organizer of Southern Forests Archaeological Project in Tasmania. His contributions were wide ranging (temporally from late Pleistocene to historic times, and spatially from Tasmania to Melanesia), and the breath of subject matter in his many publications is astonishing (a bibliography of Allen's is provided in the first paper of the Introduction by the volume editors).
Besides the Introduction, the volume has three other sections, including one titled Perspectives, another Issues and Evidence: Australia and Papua New Guinea, and a final one, Issues and Evidence: Into Remote Oceania. As would be expected, the authors are a veritable who's who of Pacific archaeology, though with a significant number of surprises in the roster and topics of the Perspectives section. A few examples here will have to suffice. W. L. Rathje presents his concept of Lapita as the first Holiday Inn, a metaphor he uses to make the point that the famous pottery provided a symbol system shared over a very broad geographical region. This facilitated traveling, trading, and exchanging resources in distant regions or islands by providing a sense of reassurance and trust among strangers much as the familiar logo and surroundings of Holiday Inns reassure weary travelers the world over.
There is also a rather abstract treatise by S. E. van der Leeuw, who initially poses [End Page 181] the question as to why prehistoric pottery was ubiquitous in New Guinea and elsewhere in Oceania, but absent in Australia and Tasmania. His cognitive-systems approach provides a rather different perspective from the various functionalist and adaptationist arguments concerning this subject with which I am familiar. While there are surely merits to his careful and extremely logical discussion that breaks apart the many cognitive elements that must come together to realize the creation of pottery, I am uncomfortable with the implication that, ultimately, people inhabiting Australia and Tasmania were without pottery simply because they failed to formulate the intricate chain of concepts necessary for its production.
Norman Yoffee's paper on understanding the Chaco phenomenon of the prehistoric American Southwest, neatly conceptualized as reconciling the seemingly problematical opposition of singularities and pluralities, might at first seem out of place in a volume devoted to the Pacific. However, it provides an instructive lesson about the nature of archaeological cultures and their often nonisomorphism with ethnic groups, languages, and communities as well as the evident significance and power of ritualism as a kind of metasociety-polity organizing principal. With so much current discussion on topics such as the Austronesian expansion and the Lapita culture, surely Yoffee's...