On the Edge of Archaeology: The Historiography of Australian, Pacific and Southeast Asian Archaeology

The CBAP team was well represented at this year Conference of the Australian Archaeological Association in Fremantle, Western Australia – just last week: we had a session co-chaired by Emilie and Matthew, where we had 10 papers overall – so although CBAP did take over we had some “outsiders” presenting on the History of Hawaiian, New Zealand and Australian archaeology, and some quite good discussion times. It was nice to see that the topic interested a large public, and that people seem to have enjoyed the papers!

Below are the abstracts of the papers – they can be found on the website of the AAA 2015 conference too.

We also had an adventurous post-conference tour among the caves and wineries of the Southwest – but that is a story for another post, with pictures needed!

Can the Other Have a (Dynamic) Past? The Difficulty of Linking Relics of “Past Civilisations” and Indigenous People in Early French Studies of Pacific Prehistory

Emilie Dotte-Sarout, Australian National University

At the turn between the 19th and 20th century, France is securing its presence as a colonial power in the Pacific, starting official colonies as in New Caledonia or developing economic and religious activities as in the New Hebrides (Vanuatu). Among the first French settlers to live in the Pacific Islands, some – mainly missionaries and colonial public servants – quickly take notice of relics of past human activities: petroglyphs, monumental buildings, human and ceramics remains are the most commented. A rich and sometimes surprisingly precise literature appears, describing these objects and their stratigraphic context. In the interpretations proposed in published articles or in the unpublished notes of their authors, a recurrent theme emerge: the apparent need to appeal to racial differences, waves of migrations and cataclysms to explain the presence of traces of ancient civilisations where now live “primitive” people. A presentation of a selection of authors will show the apparent difficulty existing at this period in thinking about change and antiquity when considering the past of the Pacific Islands people, even more so in the newly defined region of Melanesia.


Migration Myths and Missionary Endeavour

Eve Haddow, Australian National University

In 1893, in his role as President of the Ethnology & Anthropology section of the prestigious Australian Association for the Advancement of Science, Reverend Samuel Ella gave an address entitled ‘The Origin of the Polynesian Races’. Delivered almost a century after the establishment of the London Missionary Society (LMS), one of the first of many organisations that sent missionaries across the Pacific following Cook’s voyages, Ella’s paper was peppered with references to significant ethnological work by missionaries from the LMS and elsewhere. His report highlights the continuing status of mission accounts within 19th-century discussions of Pacific migration and prehistory. However, the involvement of Christian missionaries in the development of Pacific archaeology in many ways remains on the ‘edge’ of the discipline’s history. My paper seeks to address this by exploring how particular missionary theories germinated and reflecting on the sometimes challenging legacy of these ideas for Pacific archaeology today. I will consider contributions by two well-known LMS missionaries who were active in Polynesia: Reverend William Ellis and Reverend John Williams. In investigating the development and transmission of their ideas, specific focus will be directed to their collection of oral traditions in Polynesia and the ways in which they read their versions of Pacific prehistory in island landscapes and material culture. Williams’ and Ellis’s theories attracted interest from eminent individuals such as John Dunmore Lang, and a complex network of knowledge exchange can be mapped between missionaries, Pacific Islanders and armchair ethnographers. The work of LMS and other missionaries, both in terms of conversion and involvement in early ethnology associated with Pacific archaeology, has had far-reaching implications with some ideas persisting today. Understanding and unpacking the history of this work has value not only for Pacific archaeology, but for those with interests in the Pacific more broadly.


“Prehistoric Pottery Vessels”: Early Twentieth-Century German-Language Analyses Of Pottery Fragments from Papua New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago

Hilary Howes, Australian National University

In December 1905, the Austrian anthropologist and medical practitioner Rudolf Pöch (1870-1921) unearthed a number of “shards and handles of pots” from a refuse heap near the Wanigela Anglican Mission in Collingwood Bay, Papua New Guinea. He argued that these objects could legitimately be described as “prehistoric”, noting that they displayed “a far more advanced ceramic technique than [that found] anywhere in the region today” and that he had been unable to discover any “tradition about them amongst the present-day inhabitants”. Four years later, the German-language journal Anthropos published excerpts from letters by Otto Meyer (1877-1937), a German-born Missionary of the Sacred Heart based on Watom Island in the vicariate of Rabaul, describing “numerous fragments of prehistoric pottery vessels” that had been exposed by unusually severe north-westerly wind and rain. Several decades later, his illustrated accounts of these fragments and others uncovered during pioneering excavations of the area were acknowledged as the earliest descriptions of what is now known as Lapita-style decorated pottery.

These two men shared a common language and were examining similar materials from neighbouring parts of the Pacific at much the same time. A closer investigation of their interpretations of these materials, however, reveals subtle yet important differences. I compare and contrast their analyses of prehistoric pottery and their speculations about its origins, paying particular attention to their educational and experiential backgrounds, their interactions with local people, and their discussions with international networks of friends and colleagues who shared their interests. This comparative approach will help contextualise early archaeological work in the Pacific and shed new light on the development of ideas about the settlement of the region, some elements of which remain influential in archaeological thought today.


From Pessimism To Collaboration. The Impact of the German Frobenius-Expedition (1938- 1939) on the Perception of Kimberley Art and Rock Art

Martin Porr, Universität Tübingen

In 1938 and 1939 the “Institut für Kulturmorphologie”, based in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, conducted an ethnographic expedition into the remote Kimberley in Western Australia. Despite some earlier activities and publications this expedition represents the first dedicated effort to conduct detailed and extensive ethnographic work in the region. It was also the first endeavour to specifically focus on the recording of rock art images and related ethnographic information. The “Institut für Kulturmorphologie” was founded by Leo Frobenius in 1925. Because of Frobenius’ theoretical orientation, the expeditions were guided by a holistic approach and recording activities were aimed to be thorough and comprehensive. They were also driven by a perceived urgency to secure as much information as possible from what they believed to be the last living remnants of pristine and uninfluenced traditional cultures. The motive of primitivism and originality was also the main element behind the decision to choose the Kimberley as the regional research focus. Over the last decades the importance of this expedition, the respective publications and the related collections in Germany have been repeatedly recognised, but systematic and collaborative community-based research has not been conducted. Therefore, the collection and the related ethnographic information have not been properly assessed and even misrepresented. Recent collaborative efforts between the relevant Aboriginal Wandjina-Wunggurr communities and researchers in Australia and Germany have allowed entering a new phase in the engagement with these materials with new valuable academic and non- academic outcomes.


The Ongoing Contribution Of Museum Collections to the Construction of Archaeological Knowledge in the Pacific Region

Michelle Richards, Australian National University

Archaeological objects from the Pacific have been studied in museums for over a century. This makes it possible to historically review the archaeological interpretations of these collections in order to track the changes throughout the development of Pacific archaeology.

This paper begins by examining the ideas of selected pre-WWII European scientific explorers within the emerging discipline of Pacific archaeology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The aim is to consider the collections in relation to their hermeneutic constructions: the original motivations for collecting certain objects, methods and archaeological interpretations of early explorers, the impacts and ramifications of their conclusions on the discipline over time, and how this compares and contrasts to our current archaeological knowledge of the Pacific when using the same archaeological objects.

In addition to the original collectors, many other scholars have studied these collections over the last century and in some cases more recent archaeological excavations have been undertaken at the original sites. This also makes it possible to track the transformation or continuity of the narratives and interpretations attached to these collections over time. More recently the availability of portable analytical equipment such as pXRF, XRD, Raman, NIR and FORS means these museum collections may become the target of new archaeological research that could enhance existing narratives, fill in research gaps or cause us to completely rethink what we thought we knew.


Thomas G. Thrum, John F.G. Stokes: Australian Archaeologists in Paradise in the Early 20th Century

Matthew Spriggs, Australian National University

Thomas George Thrum (1842-1932) and John Francis Gay Stokes (1879-1954) were both born in Newcastle, New South Wales but spent most of their adult lives in Hawaii with long associations with the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum. Thrum, whose great-grandfather had been with Captain Cook when he ‘discovered’ Hawaii in 1779, came to Hawaii in 1853, later setting up as a stationery supplier and starting Thrum’s Hawaiian Annual in 1875, which continued under one name or other until 1974. Thrum published details of over 500 Hawaiian heiau (temples) in the Annual over many years. His first specifically archaeological paper was published there in 1900. He was a fluent Hawaiian language speaker and once he largely retired from business he was involved in the translation of many key Hawaiian language texts. Stokes came to Hawaii in 1899 to work for the Bishop Museum’s Director, William T. Brigham, and for many years his position was as a museum ethnologist, carrying out archaeological surveys and studying material culture in Hawaii, and late as part of the Bayard- Dominick Expedition in the Austral Islands. After Brigham retired, Stokes was never in favour with the new Director Herbert E. Gregory. He was let go by the Museum in 1929, in large part because of his failure to finish a major report on the ethnology of Rapa. In Stokes’ own view he had an “unmade reputation” and became a rather bitter and damaged person. But his own contribution to Thrum’s status as the “Dean of Hawaiian Antiquarians” has been misunderstood, which is why in part his importance as Hawaii’s first professional archaeologist has been underestimated.


What Was (and Wasn’t) Recorded: The Monumental Archaeology of J.F.G. Stokes on Moloka‘I, Hawai‘I

James Flexner, Australian National University Patrick Kirch, University of California
Mara Mulrooney, Bishop Museum
Mark McCoy, Southern Methodist University

In the early 1900s, Australian-born archaeologist John F.G. Stokes was the first to extensively use modern surveying techniques and photography to document Hawaiian archaeological sites. Participating in a Bishop Museum-based research program driven by interests in Polynesian origins and Hawaiian religious change, Stokes’ surveys focused on religious sites, and specifically the monumental temple sites called heiau in Hawaiian. Using the visual record (primarily plan maps and photographs) of Stokes’ work in Hawai‘i, we examine what sites were recorded by Stokes, and the variable level of detail offered for different sites, focusing on the currently unpublished survey of heiau and other sites on Moloka‘i Island. Stokes’ reliance on Native Hawaiian informants is notable, as it may have played an important role in shaping his view of the archaeological landscape. Stokes’ survey record provides an important dataset for understanding the paradigms at work in Hawaiian archaeology in the early 20th century, and the influences of this work in subsequent approaches to monumentality in the archipelago and beyond.


The Headhunters of the North and the Polynesian Shadow: Thor Heyerdahl’s Skull Collecting on Fatu Hiva in the Light Of 20th-Century Scandinavian Racial Biology and the Chronology of Marquesan Archaeology

Victor Melander, Australian National University

In 1936 Thor Heyerdahl set out on his first expedition to the South Seas; his destination was the Marquesas Islands in eastern Polynesia. The official aim of the expedition was to collect specimens of the native flora and fauna, but Heyerdahl himself had another vision in mind: he and his wife Liv meant to “escape civilization”. This plan was eventually abandoned and instead Heyerdahl became fascinated by Marquesan culture and history, a fascination that gave his career a new direction, from zoology to anthropology and archaeology. Hence Heyerdahl’s collection from the Marquesas also came to include archaeological artefacts and human remains. The collection of human remains, particularly skulls, were retrieved using methods that, from a modern point of view, can seem morally dubious. Heyerdahl and his wife Liv had to trick “the Polynesian shadow” (their local guide) to be able to obtain the skulls and then went through great ordeals to hide them from the local villagers. Their behavior follows the same pattern as the field-practice used by the American-Australian expedition to Arnhem Land and the Swedish Institute of Racial Biology.

In hindsight it is easy to condemn this action as a step over to the dark side of antiquarian practice, as a lapse in morals. But to understand Heyerdahl’s actions they must be read within their historical context. If this “collecting action” is viewed in the light of the importance placed on physical anthropology and the cephalic index during the first half of the 20th century, both within the Scandinavian scientific community and for the development of Pacific archaeology, the moral dimensions become more complex. This paper will therefore address Heyerdahl’s skull collecting on Fatu Hiva by viewing physical anthropology and the cephalic index as virtually unquestionable scientific conditions during the first half of the 20th century.


‘The Dawn’ of Australian Archaeology: Gordon Childe and John Mulvaney

Billy Griffiths, University of Sydney

In the final week of his life, on 13 October 1957, Vere Gordon Childe offered a blistering assessment of the state of Australian society. In a public broadcast on the ABC he despaired at the hopeless neglect of Australian archaeology and he railed against the ‘old dogma’ that Australian history begins in ‘the British Isles and Continental Europe, while the Aborigines stagnated in illiterate savagery’. Childe, the ‘great synthesiser’ of archaeology and author of The Dawn of European Civilisation, wondered ‘what a systematic investigation of archaeological documents might do for Australian history’? He did not live long enough to see his question answered, but, in his final month, he met the archaeologist who transformed the conventional narrative of Australian history.

John Mulvaney was teaching Australia’s only university course in Australian and Pacific prehistory when Childe returned in 1957. In their brief encounters the two men formed a mutual respect. Both shared a sense that they were standing at the edge of an intellectual precipice in the study of Australian prehistory. This paper charts ‘the dawn’ of the modern archaeological era in Australia. It moves from Mulvaney’s excavations at Fromm’s Landing on the lower Murray River in South Australia through to his triumphant opening sentence of The Prehistory of Australia in 1969: ‘The discoverers, explorers and colonists of the three million square miles which are Australia, were its Aborigines.’


Development of Historic Archaeology in New Zealand

Caroline Phillips, University of Auckland

The archaeology of the historic period has been a late starter in New Zealand and theoretical considerations have been very recent indeed. Factors against the study included ageism: research of older sites was nobler. Pre-contact archaeology, which linked to Neolithic research overseas, was regarded as being theory-driven and hence academic, in contrast to the mere collection of rusty nails and broken glass. In fact, some of the early work on historic sites was dominated by these collections. There was also the uncertainty about how to relate the historical records with the physical material. The latter probably stemmed from a similar problem of relating Maori traditional accounts to

the archaeological evidence.

Another issue was the dichotomy of pre-contact Maori versus historic European. More recent research has acknowledged that New Zealand is a bi-cultural space, in which most sites of the historic period have influences from both communities: developments which affected the Colonial

culture of the 19th century and resonate up to the present.

One of the key drivers in changing the situation came through legislation. Heritage legislation fixed the cut-off date for archaeology at 1900, which meant that historic archaeology spanned 130 years, although most of the sites that are examined date to the last 50 years of this period. Rather than limiting the study, legislation combined with development programmes forced cultural heritage management archaeologists to record, examine and analyse the material that was being unearthed. This process has influenced not only the numbers and types of site being excavated, but also encouraged a sea-change in which New Zealand archaeologists are considering more critically how

they interpret these historic places.



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