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The CECD is an AHRC funded research group dedicated to examining the evolutionary underpinnings of human cultural behaviour, past and present. more>

Page Title - projects
Phase 1: Cultural diversification: Project 044
How has interaction influenced cultural diversity in the southwest Pacific?

SUPERVISOR: - Ethan Cochrane

Ethan Cochrane (International Archaeological Research Institute, Inc.)

PROJECT FUNDING: California State University, Long Beach, Department of Anthropology Short-Term Visitor Program.

Explanations of cultural, linguistic, and biological diversity in the southwest Pacific (southern Island Melanesia-Fiji-West Polynesia) often invoke processes of migration, interaction, and colonization. Robust archaeological data on prehistoric interaction, however, are not well integrated in these explanations. The goal of this project is to generate data on homologous similarities and artefact provenance pertaining to interaction in the southwest Pacific. Analysis of these data will define changing temporal and spatial characteristics of populations (i.e., cultural transmitters). Definition of such populations will modify our current understanding of the evolution of homogeneity and diversity in the Pacific. The first phase of the project will take place in Fiji. Subsequent field seasons will be spent in Samoa, and Vanuatu.

The Fiji Islands were colonised approximately 900 BC by populations carrying intricately decorated Lapita pottery. Analyses of Lapita decoration and raw material provenance indicate that Fiji’s first inhabitants used locally made pots, but they shared ideas about decoration across larger regions. Lapita decoration disappeared circa 700 BC and archaeologists suggest that the spatially extensive sharing of ideas also ended. Subsequent interaction apparently occurred within separate eastern and western Fijian populations. The coarse description of post-Lapita interaction is based on isolated finds, linguistic data and relatively few archaeological assemblages. In short, our knowledge of Fijian interaction is nascent and largely untested. The first stage of this project builds on previous interaction work to examine changes in the spatial scale of both information sharing through the distribution of similar pottery decorations and the movement of pottery evidenced by clay chemical composition in Fiji. The results will significantly affect our knowledge of Pacific prehistory and importantly contribute to continuing development of theory relating human interaction and cultural change.