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  • Lapita and its Transformations in the Mussau Islands, Papua New Guinea, 1985–1988: Volume 1, Introduction, Excavations and Chronology
  • David Burley
Lapita and its Transformations in the Mussau Islands, Papua New Guinea, 1985–1988: Volume 1, Introduction, Excavations and Chronology. Edited by Patrick V. Kirch. Contribution No. 59, Archaeological Research Facility, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, 2001. 246 pp, 139 illustrations, 16 tables. ISBN 10882744-11-X.

In the early 1980s, archaeological data for the Bismarck Archipelago off of northeast coastal New Guinea was provocative but frustratingly limited. The region long was suspected to be the source of the Lapita cultural complex that had colonized Remote Oceania from the Reef/Santa Cruz Islands through to Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa. Yet little more could be said, either about the origin of Lapita or its subsequent transformations in Near Oceania. At the Pacific Science Congress held in Dunedin in 1983, Jim Allen began to invite participants to a potentially exciting research program that might resolve these critical issues. Dubbed the Lapita Homeland Project, Allen's plan was to have multiple researchers conduct independent but linked studies throughout the Bismarcks. The 19 projects that resulted were connected through a shared logistical network for fieldwork and analysis, through shared data recording protocols, but most importantly through their focus upon a shared set of research questions. Patrick Kirch was assigned the Mussau group, where fieldwork in 1985, 1986, and 1988 included survey of eight islands as well as limited and more extensive excavations at many sites. Most important among the latter is Talepakemalai (ECA), a quite spectacular stilt-house Lapita village of over 82,000 m2 complete with anaerobic preservation of house posts, botanical remains, and abundant ceramic collections. Volume 1 of Lapita and its Transformation in Near Oceania is the first of three analytic and interpretive reports on this study. It provides an introduction to the project and its research design, a detailed account of survey and excavations, and an in-depth examination of chronology.

Kirch invited some 20 colleagues and graduate students as collaborators in Mussau fieldwork and analyses. The three-volume set consequently incorporates numerous chapters authored by them as well as his own contributions. A research team approach has many important advantages, including highly specialized analytic treatments and insights. On the other hand, as Kirch freely laments, the larger the team, the more difficult it is to get a timely set of completed manuscripts. The result for Mussau has been a 13-year delay from end of fieldwork to the first volume's release. Notwithstanding Kirch's feelings of tardiness, this is only the second published report to be completed for the Lapita Homeland project as a whole, the other being the Watom studies of Roger Green and Dimitri Anson released in 1998 as a special issue of The Journal of New Zealand Archaeology. In this light Patrick Kirch is to be commended for his persistence, and his final success. [End Page 178]

Volume 1 includes 10 chapters that provide contextual information for the project as well as a highly illuminating discussion of fieldwork, site excavations, and data recovery. The volume begins with Kirch's presentation of project history and research design (Chapter 1). In typical site report fashion he, with Carla Catterall, follow with a synthesis of existing as well as newly collected data on the natural and cultural environment (Chapter 2). A Kirch-authored discussion of sampling strategies, excavation methods, recording schemes, and databases provides a final contribution (Chapter 3) leading up to the detailed accounts of island surveys and excavation projects. Kirch (Chapters 4 and 6) authors two of these accounts, two are authored by Marshall Weisler (Chapters 5 and 7), another is authored by Kirch and Weisler (Chapter 9), and a sixth is provided by Nick Araho (Chapter 8). With one principal exception, these tend to be short and almost formulaic in their presentation of setting, excavation approaches, stratigraphy, and other data for a range of site types, most being associated with the post Lapita era. The exception is Chapter 4 in which Kirch delivers an extensive documentation of site data, excavations and landscape transformations for three Lapita villages: Talepakemalai, Etakosarai, and Etapakengaroasa...


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