Technique and practice : shell-working in the Western Pacific and island Southeast Asia

by Katherine Anne Szabo

Institution: Australian National University
Year: 2004
Record ID: 1031985
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1885/10078


The Lapita cultural complex has been a focal point of Pacific archaeology for many years. Not only is it materially distinctive, but it is also cast as signalling the first colonisation the western Pacific beyond the main Solomon Islands chain, the introduction of a neolithic way of life to this area, and providing the cultural base from which later Polynesian cultures emerge. The 'origins' of the Lapita cultural complex have also been a major area of interest, and there has been much debate as to how much Lapita owes to the Island Southeast Asian neolithic, and how much of the culture represents a continuation of Near Oceanic cultural trajectories. Despite all this debate, archaeological material from Island Southeast Asia, pre-Lapita Near Oceania and the Lapita cultural complex itself, has never been physically compared in any systematic way. This task forms the basis of the research presented here. Artefacts produced in shell have been central to arguments for both Lapita representing an 'extension' of the Island Southeast Asian neolithic and a local trajectory encompassing the neolithic transition in Near Oceania. It was thus felt that a controlled comparison of worked shell material across Island Southeast Asia and the western Pacific, deriving from different temporal contexts, would be fruitful. The issue of social and ancestral relationships, both through time and across space, is a challenging one to address. Necessarily, it broaches on longstanding disagreements within archaeology as a whole, such as the status of diffusion as a mechanism for social change and the issue of 'homology' versus 'analogy'. Thus, as well as presenting the results of the conducted analysis, this thesis details new theoretical and methodological perspectives that have both structured the overall approach and facilitated interpretation. Through the application of a rigorous methodology, situated within a transparent theoretical framework, clear patterns have emerged. The results do not agree with either 'intrusionist' or 'indigenist' arguments for the genesis of the Lapita cultural complex. Rather, they suggest widespread relationships in shell­ working practices across the Island Southeast Asia/western Pacific area that have a considerable time-depth.