Australian Archaeologist: Collected Papers in Honour of Jim Allen.
A volume dedicated to Jim Allen might be expected to be larger than life; exploratory, expansive, critical, opinionated and fairly rude ill its delivery. This collection of essays in honour of Jim Allen ably lives up to these expectations.
After overcoming the initial frustration of not having an introduction that explained the layout of the volume--this only appears on the back cover of the book--I immersed myself in the cornucopia of invited papers arranged within sections entitled Introduction, Perspectives, Issues and Evidence: Australia and Papua New Guinea and Issues and Evidence: Into Remote Oceania. These headings do not represent a particularly satisfying organizing principle for some of the important papers that lie hidden within these overly large and amorphous sections. There are a total of 31 papers here covering every conceivable aspect of Australasian and Oceanic archaeology. That, of course, is the nature of festschrifts--especially when they attempt to engage the enormous diversity of theoretical, geographical and disciplinary targets that Jim at various times has set his sights on.
And herein lies one of the problems of the volume. There is a very uneven balance between the length of contributions, the quality of their deliberations and the extent that they present purely data and descriptive narratives or instead engage in larger themes that have some legacy in Allen's archaeological endeavour. Some of the papers I feel are provocative and make very innovative new syntheses that can be directly attributed to intellectual foundations laid down by Jim Allen. Given the diversity of topics I believe it is worth giving a brief synopsis of the more substantive and interesting papers in an effort to guide readers to apposite topics and sections.
A background piece on Allen's pioneering status in Australian archaeology is provided by Anderson and Murray. Allen's doctoral dissertation on Port Essington was the first in Australian historical archaeology and also the first by an Australian-born archaeologist. The authors trace his successive involvement in research in Papua New Guinea, pre-contact Australia, the beginnings of the Lapita Homelands project and the Southern Forests Archaeological Project. His international contribution to the theory of trade and social complexity is highlighted. Jones and colleagues examine his earlier intellectual roots in more detail covering phases labeled as Sydney University, the Port Essington project, research in Edinburgh and Papua New Guinea and Cambridge. Highlighted is his engagement with the theories of V. Gordon Childe, his critique of the inadequacies of historical archaeology, the seeding of projects in the Highlands such as Kuk and his eventual snubbing of St John's High Table at Cambridge! Jones and Meehan provide a fascinating account of how many seminal ideas about Aboriginal social organization, environmental impact and climate cycles were outlined at the 1965 Hobart ANZAAS Conference and provided a backdrop for archaeological research, including Jim Allen's, from the late 1960's.
V. Gordon Childe looms large in Allen's early work and appears as a focus in two of the contributed papers (Allen and Megaw). Harry Allen's thoughtful piece traces the history of Childe's increasingly complex reworking of his cultural stage schema and the utility of his empirical approaches within a Marxist interpretive framework. As Allen concludes Childe focused attention on "... the relationships between material culture and culture in its broadest sense, and ... how technology, economy and ideology might be articulated within a society".
Allen's contribution to investigations of Pleistocene archaeology in PNG, early agricultural origins and coastal archaeology, with particular focus on pre-market trade and interaction, is discussed by a range of authors (Frankel and Kewibu, Golson, Lilley and Spriggs). An overwhelming theme to emerge from these and other papers is how social complexity might be identified in early sequences from mainland and Island Melanesia, that processes of trade, interaction and change are likely to have been highly dynamic and have both indigenous and exogenous origins and lastly how Australianists need to take a more comparative view of the theoretical basis of what constitutes complex and non-complex societies.
One of the two major collaborative projects spearheaded by Allen, and arguably the more productive, was the Lapita Homeland Project. This is clearly seen from this current volume in that over 10 papers address aspects of the Lapita phenomena as modeled by Allen and others. The origins and outputs of the Lapita Project are discussed in summary form by Ambrose, Golson and Yen. The doubling of known Lapita sites in the Bismarcks, the evidence of the deep-time New Ireland sequences being brought to bear on questions of the indigenous and exogenous contributions to Lapita origins and the six subsequent Lapita conferences, and the corporate intellectual activity that these represent, are all testimony to the considerable impact of the Project.
A number of papers dealing with the age, distribution and sourcing, stylistic evolution and location of Lapita pots are fascinating and make important new observations or confirmations that go to the heart of what constitutes the Lapita reality. The issue of how widely Lapita pottery was traded in the Bismarck Archipelago is discussed by Thomson and White. Following analysis of Duke of York sherds and possible zones of supply for the tempers the authors conclude that firstly, tempers can only be linked to approximate and sometimes multiple source areas which are not geographically precise (resource procurement zones) and secondly, that pottery transfer between Lapita sites was negligible. The profound conclusion is that Lapita pottery did not serve as trade ware and therefore could not have played a significant role in what tied Lapita communities together. The authors conclude (p. 319) that "Lapita interaction was clearly more subtle than simple trade or exchange of archaeologically visible goods".
Torrence and Stevenson examine Lapita landscapes on Garua Island, Papua New Guinea, employing a fine-grained dating (14C and obsidian hydration) and spatial program reaching two major conclusions. In the wider Willaumez Peninsula Lapita sites are not tethered to the beach or coast--with a number of interior settlements indicated. The patterns of artefact discard within the overall landscape between 3600-1000 BP are also changeable through time. Movement inland through time and then retraction to hilltop locations near the coast and then possible abandonment is posited to be due either to territoriality and defence or evolution of agricultural practices. A very dynamic view of Lapita, at least at the local level, emerges and stands in some contrast to networked strand dwellers. The social function of Lapita pottery is explored by Summerhayes who asks what the role of the pottery is and what makes up a Lapita assemblage using quantitative techniques on an assemblage from the Arawe Islands. It is elegantly demonstrated that dentate-stamped vessels constitute just one specialized part of a sizeable assemblage. The dentate component is shown to change through time. In contrast strong correlations are found between the form and decoration of non-dentate pottery and these do not change significantly through time. Summerhayes argues (p. 303) that "... within Lapita assemblages there are two sets of vessels (dentate versus non-dentate) each having a different tempo or rate of change over time". The slow rate of change in non-dentate forms is ascribed to the ongoing domestic/utilitarian role of this ware. It is concluded that the dentate-stamped vessels likely acted as social markers and signifiers (possibly as clan marks) transported by Austronesian speakers as they colonized Remote Oceania.
The theme of indigenous versus exogenous influence in the emergence of the Lapita phenomena is taken up by Green who opts for a model of intrusion, integration and innovation (Triple I model). Essentially challenging the largely indigenous origin of Lapita culture in Western Melanesia, as originally proposed by Allen, he nevertheless accepts the case (developed largely from the endeavours of Allen and colleagues) that much of the subsistence behaviour and material culture normally associated with Lapita was already present in Western Melanesia.
The actual timing, mechanisms and behavioural stages of colonization into Near and Remote Oceania are taken up by several papers. Spriggs examines two ocean gaps that may have represented barriers to maritime colonizers--the Bismarcks-Solomons Gap and the Remote Oceania Barrier. His thorough review of relevant sequences shows that the former ocean leg did not present a major barrier to movement of humans out of the New Guinea-Australian region given the Pleistocene dates now available for the northern Solomons. Post-Pleistocene movement across the Bismarck-Solomons gap is next provided by the Lapita settlements of Nissan and Buka. The first movement of people into Remote Oceania comprise the Reef-Santa Cruz Lapita sites. While the northern section of the Solomons chain was colonised early it took over 25,000 years for the southern boundary of the chain to be breached.
Irwin expands on his previous considerations of maritime technology, probable sea routes and colonization to present a major piece which considers the many stages and facets of colonization, the accessibility of islands for Near and Remote Oceania and the Pacific Plate and the relationship of island land area and surrounding sea area (by longitude) and how this relates to the archaeological chronology of Lapita colonization. Irwin concludes that for Lapita sites there is better agreement between chronology and land/sea ratios than with the accessibility of islands, per se. The implication is that it was easier to navigate to an eastern island than it was to settle on it. The continuous occupation of an island apparently required social interaction between them--increases in isolation had to be mediated. The relationship between the chronological cline for settlement with decreasing longitude and degree of isolation (land/sea area ratio) constitutes what Irwin (p. 407) refers to as "... a coherence in space which helps confirm its [Lapita] status as a navigationally and culturally integrated episode".
The Southern Margins Project (Anderson and O'Regan) reports that the subantarctic islands south of New Zealand were colonised as early as any other in South Polynesia (circa 650 BP). Almost all islands in this huge area, involving voyages of up to 1,300 km, were discovered within the space of 100 years. The implication is that voyagers did not accumulate long-term knowledge of the highly variable offshore wind patterns. Instead a deliberate strategy of rapid colonization appears to have occurred.
Other papers dealing with Remote Oceania includes a consideration of the dietary and social role of fish (Leach and Davidson) and the nature of trophic competition on small Pacific islands (Kirch). An exhaustive analysis of fish remains from Pacific and New Zealand sites leads Leach and Davidson to conclude that fish capture has been highly selective. In the tropical Pacific six families of fish account for 60% of all fish identified. For New Zealand the figure is 84% despite 1200 to 1500 species being documented. Given the abundance of key species and the limits to which human populations can rely on protein the authors suggest that factors other than purely diet and prey abundance are at work, such as the seeking of prestige and social signaling behaviour. The other interesting trend to emerge from the work is an increase in average fish size within families through time. This suggests the emergence of refined fishing techniques and again argues against natural population decline through over-predation. Kirch explores the historic phenomena whereby three small Pacific islands cease domestication of pigs in the pre-contact period. Looking at both proximate and ultimate causes, Kirch concludes that while pigs may have become increasingly difficult to manage with human populations growing in size and exercising greater territoriality on these small islands, on energetic grounds alone it is more likely that pigs became direct trophic competitors with humans and that overall levels of production could not sustain the accumulation of such ritual wealth.
Of the substantive papers addressing aspects of Tasmanian archaeology and the Southern Forests Archaeological Project there are leaner pickings and only two which merit discussion here. Cosgrove addresses the issue of lithic raw material distribution in Tasmania examining the complex relationships between group mobility, boundaries, rationing, exchange behaviour and the social composition of groups. There is good evidence for direct acquisition of raw materials with their distribution correlating with ethnographically documented boundaries. There is negligible evidence for widespread distribution of cherts and spongolite, however, despite Aboriginal groups being noted to have had a far wider range than these materials. Thus we have the typical face of ethnography having some `relevance' to diachronic procurement behaviour but being out-of-synch with the synchronous and palimpsest nature of rationing, curation and discard. The contribution by Holdaway advocates an economic approach to understanding raw material variation. In considering changes in the Bone Cave lithic assemblages from south-west Tasmania he argues that increasing intensity of occupation, likely as a reflection of reduced mobility, is reflected in the changes in the proportions of local to exotic materials and in the intensity with which these materials were worked. Such an interpretive framework is also being used by a number of researchers in Australia's arid zone and the temperate south-east, as witnessed by papers presented at the last couple of meetings of the SAA and AAA.
This volume is well illustrated and produced and is relatively free from typographic and layout errors. It represents a valuable resource for those interested in the intellectual contribution of Jim Allen in his pioneering work in PNG, Island Melanesia and Australia. It also provides fascinating insights into the social milieu from which Jim was spawned.
PETER VETH James Cook University
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|Publication:||Archaeology in Oceania|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2002|
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