East of Wallace's Line. Studies of past and present maritime cultures of the Indo-Pacific region.
The main title describes the central focus of this book, but the subtitle is a better indication of its scope. The twelve chapters range from the Pleistocene to the present in time and from island southeast Asia to island Melanesia in area. Focussed around archaeological data, there is a wide use of palaeoenvironmental, historical, ethnographic and anthropological data and passing references to linguistics and human biology. Many of the chapters include substantial new data and perspectives and overall the book provides a much better overview of the archaeology of the region than any other available. It raises, mostly by implication, a number of problems of wide-ranging archaeological interest and could be easily used to start off a course in Pacific or Australian prehistory.
The basic theme of the volume is the relation between humans and the sea's resources. Within chapters 2-6, which deal mostly with Pleistocene and Sahul, some important variations in views emerge. Anderson, discussing the development of boat technology over the western Pacific primarily on the basis of ethnography and age-area data, argues that the evidence for regular voyaging is very dubious before the mid-Holocene (vale Irwin's `voyaging nursery). Allen's view is that the Pleistocene/early Holocene archaeological evidence, especially from the Bismarcks, requires this. A similar contrast occurs in regard to the dating of first settlement of the area, with Chappell using dates currently to hand (to 2000!) to claim that the Australian part of Sahul is older than the New Guinean, a view which Allen brushes aside as highly improbable. There are also different views as to whether developed coastal exploitation was a feature of very early economies of the region. O'Connor and Veth's comprehensive review of the evidence argues that this was rare before the early Holocene (absent in Australia?), an interpretation which sits well with Chappell's picture of Pleistocene coastal environments, while Allen notes that it was the coastal resources which would have been most familiar in any new locality and thus basic to settlement.
Chapters 7-10 focus on the later Holocene, with a common theme of tracing the emergence of societies known in the ethnographic present.
Barham's massively detailed and elegant account of the emergence of Torres Straits societies (it takes a quarter of the book) is the highlight. Drawing on his extensive research in a range of disciplines he shows that the `Torres Straits culture complex' only developed within the last 1000-1200 years, and argues that it was dependent on the `arrival' of the double outrigger canoe, the source of which remains unclear. Also of interest is his demonstration that most of the habitats exploited by Torres Straits Islanders in the last millennium were likely in existence a thousand years or more before people arrived to exploit them.
Roe shows that in the Solomons the well-known bush/salt water cultural divide found through much of Melanesia developed within the last 1500 years, is much more complex than the name suggests and will often be difficult to pin down archaeologically. Clarke argues, contra Macknight and drawing on Mitchell and Schrire, that extensive changes in archaeological behaviour in Arnhem Land show that external contacts started much more than 200-300 years ago. In this collection, Lilley's highly speculative discussion of linguistic and pottery change along the north coast of New Guinea during the last 2000 years seems archaic and in need of some solid data.
The final chapters, by Fox and Pannell, discuss modern sea-based communities in Indonesia and their current destruction, sometimes deliberate. The extreme switch in approach and evidential base means that they sit oddly with the rest of the volume, though they may well have been useful in stimulating discussion at the conference from which it derives.
This book sees the re-vitalisation of the MQRSEA series under the Australian editors Aplin and Pasveer. They have chosen an important and interesting volume for their first, and Balkema's production continues the series' high standard.
J. PETER WHITE University of Sydney
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|Author:||White, J. Peter|
|Publication:||Archaeology in Oceania|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2002|
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