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  • The Archaeology of Lapita Dispersal in Oceania: Papers from the Fourth Lapita Conference, June 2000, Canberra, Australia
  • Jim Specht
The Archaeology of Lapita Dispersal in Oceania: Papers from the Fourth Lapita Conference, June 2000, Canberra, Australia. Edited by G. R. Clark, A. J. Anderson, and T. Vunidilo. Terra Australis 17. Canberra: Pandanus Book, Australian National University, 2001. viii + 222 pp. ISBN 1-74076-010-7.

Since the Lapita Homeland Project (LHP) in the Bismarck Archipelago in 1985, there has been a string of conferences relating to Lapita pottery, its predecessors and successors. Originally, the conferences were designed as a forum for reporting on the outcomes of the LHP, but from 1988 the format was broadened beyond this narrow geographic focus, and now covers the western Pacific Islands from New Guinea to New Caledonia and Fiji-Tonga. The temporal boundaries are also broader than the few hundred years of the span of Lapita pottery.

The 2000 conference was originally planned to take place in Fiji, but the venue [End Page 175] was relocated to Canberra following the Fijian coup attempt, just two weeks before the start of the conference. This relocation had several impacts on the conference, not least the reduction in non-Australasian participation, as many North American and other colleagues were unable to rearrange at the last minute their schedules and itineraries to accommodate the additional travel. This meant the absence of a number of significant 'players' in the region's archaeology, and a reduction in the overall scope of the conference papers. The resulting volume, however, is a significant one in its own right.

The volume contains 19 of the 40 or so papers presented, covering a wide range of topics, places, and periods, though the period prior to Lapita is dealt with only in general terms in some papers. Geographically, the papers cover the Bismarcks (Summerhayes on Lapita chronology in the Arawe and Feni Island groups; Parr et al. on phytoliths and landscape-subsistence reconstruction on Garua Island; Leavesley on New Hanover earth mounds of uncertain age; Smith on Arawe shell artifacts; Torrence and White on Lapita faces from Boduna Island), Solomon Islands (Felgate on the Roviana pottery sequence), Vanuatu (Bedford on Malakula pottery; Spriggs and Bedford on possible Lapita at Mangaasi; Bedford and Clark on incised and relief pottery of Vanuatu and Fiji), New Caledonia (Sand on nonceramic artifacts), and Fiji (Parke on Vanua Levu pottery handles; Szabo on Natunuku molluscs; Valentin et al. on a late "prehistoric" burial mound on Cikobia). Less geographically focused are papers by Anderson and others on an inventory of Lapita sites, Anderson on Lapita mobility models, Davidson and Leach on "strandloopers" and naïve interpretation of subsistence data, Hagelberg on genetic affinities, Cameron on textile technology, and Bulmer on dogs in the New Guinea region. With such a diversity of topics, this review can only attempt a selective coverage, though all papers warrant reading.

There is a strong representation of the younger generation of Pacific archaeologists. As the editors note, the papers "suggest that there are changing interests in Lapita and its descendant assemblages," and among these changes is an increasing focus on regional sequences and histories. The extent to which this is possible for any one area depends on the quality as well as quantity of available data, and the kinds of questions and theoretical frameworks within which these data can be articulated. Felgate's paper on Roviana illustrates this nicely. Following the remarkable results from Kirch's work on Eloaua and Gosden in the Arawes, the Roviana project focused explicitly on intertidal contexts to address the simple but significant question whether the lack of evidence for Lapita in the main Solomons' chain reflects lack of field research or Lapita "avoidance" of the region. This oversimplifies his argument, but the preliminary results provide sufficient evidence to instill caution against generalizing across the region.

Sand's approach to the nonceramic artifacts of New Caledonia warns us to be wary of accepting perceptions based on data derived from a few points on the landscape. The range of nonceramic items is impressive, as are the changes through time suggested by his "seriation table" (p. 87). This invites comparison with Smith...


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