- Polynesians in America: Pre-Columbian Contacts with the New World ed. by Terry L Jones et al.
Polynesians in America reopens the case for pre-Columbian landfalls along the Pacific coasts of North and South America by bringing together new linguistic, biological, material, nautical, and physical anthropological evidence produced during the past decade. The purpose of the assembled authors is to establish conclusively, through a set of mutually reinforcing analyses, that Polynesian contacts took place with at least three societies of the American Pacific, namely the Mapuche of Southern Chile, the coastal peoples of the Gulf of Guyaquil in Ecuador, and the Chumash/Gabrielino of the Santa Barbara Channel in Southern California. The result is a largely convincing set of interleaving case studies whose collective persuasiveness speaks to the rigor with which the editors approached their task.
Most of the fourteen chapters that make up the book are assembled from papers presented during the 2010 meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. However, the final product is more than just a hasty compilation. It is clear that the editors realized that they would need to make a considerable effort to rise above the troubled history of the debate regarding transoceanic contacts. Accordingly, [End Page 212] three of the first four chapters are dedicated to "Re-introducing the Case for Polynesian Contact" (chapter 1), "Diffusionism in Archaeological Theory" (chapter 2), and "A Long-Standing Debate" (chapter 4). The second chapter offers a particularly useful reappraisal of the concept of "diffusion" and its permutations across North American, South American, and Oceanic scholarly traditions. The result is an informative overview of the state of the art that crosses different continental traditions and may be worthy of inclusion in reading lists for introductory courses in archaeological theory. Unfortunately, not all of the initial chapters sustain the same level of tight, explanatory style. For instance, the brief third chapter is dedicated to "mythological similarities" between North and South America and Polynesia, but the available data is so meager that its reporting may come across as excessive. Nevertheless, this scrupulous, preliminary laying out of every scrap of potential evidence in relation to the main argument of the book is not a minor issue. In addition to offering necessary contextualization, eventually coming to seventy pages authored by two of the editors (Alice A Storey and Terry L Jones), this framework ultimately supports the case studies that serve as the key material contribution of this compilation.
The fifth and sixth chapters, titled "The Artifact Record of North America" (Jones) and "The Mapuche Connection" (José Miguel Ramírez-Aliaga), delve respectively into the Southern Californian and Chilean cases. Both texts have a concentration on material culture. At issue is a suite of artifacts—including sewnplank watercraft, compound fishhooks, composite harpoons, hand clubs, and various other tools and ritual objects—whose form and phylolinguistic reconstruction lend themselves to the possibility of transcultural borrowings. Various localities of Eastern Polynesia are identified as likely origin points for these transfers, most notably Hawai'i and the Tuamotu group in relation to the Chumash/Gabrielino peoples, and Rapa Nui in relation to the Mapuche (speculation as to direct Māori/Moriori-Mapuche connections represents something of a stretch). Chapter 7, "Identifying Contact with the Americas: A Commensal-Based Approach" (Storey, Andrew C Clarke, and Elizabeth A Matisoo-Smith) is a discussion of "those plants, animals and viruses that have been identified as evidence for contact or have the potential to in the future" (III). It presents a valuable mise-en-scène about the application of commensal models to contact situations (ie, relative to the study of interactions between humans and different organisms that become food, including the remains thereof) and sets the stage for chapter 8, "A Reappraisal of the Evidence for Pre-Columbian Introduction...