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FW: Book Review - On the Road of the Winds

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  • Popplestone, Ann
    ... From: Danny Yee [mailto:danny@ANATOMY.USYD.EDU.AU] Sent: Wednesday, August 02, 2000 10:30 AM To: ANTHRO-L@LISTSERV.ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU Subject: Book Review -
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      FW: Book Review - On the Road of the Winds

      -----Original Message-----
      From: Danny Yee [mailto:danny@...]
      Sent: Wednesday, August 02, 2000 10:30 AM
      To: ANTHRO-L@...
      Subject: Book Review - On the Road of the Winds


      An HTML version of this book review can be found at
       http://dannyreviews.com/h/Road_Winds.html
      along with more than five hundred other reviews.

       TITLE: On the Road of the Winds
       - An Archaeological History of the Pacific Islands before European Conquest
       AUTHOR: Patrick Vinton Kirch
       PUBLISHER: University of California Press 2000
       OTHER: 422 pages, halftones, notes, bibliography, index

      _On the Road of the Winds_ is a history of the Pacific islands that
      combines a "big picture" overview (invoking Braudel and the _longue
      durĂ©e_) with a feel for the "dirt" of actual excavations.  It is both
      a historical synthesis and, in so far as is possible in the space,
      an archaeological survey.  Kirch integrates the diachronic evidence of
      archaeology with the synchronic evidence of linguistics, ethnography,
      and biology to describe the human settlement of the Pacific and its
      history down to European conquest.  And along the way he summarises the
      archaeological record, with details from key excavations.

      Kirch writes for specialists (he merrily switches, for example, between
      BC/AD and calibrated and uncalibrated radiocarbon BP dates), but for such
      a broad range of specialists that the informed lay reader won't miss
      much -- and unwanted detail about excavations and artifacts is easily
      glanced over.  With an effective selection of halftones, figures, and maps
      complementing clear and incisive prose, in elegant and attractive physical
      packaging, _On the Road of the Winds_ is an all-round outstanding volume.

      --

      Pacific archaeology has an intriguing history of its own, from voyages
      of exploration and missionaries to modern academic research and cultural
      resource management.  Earlier thinking was bedeviled by now antiquated
      racial typologies and a stress on the ethnographic present that in some
      cases amounted to outright denial of history and time-depth.  The power of
      archaeology to uncover depth in Pacific prehistory is now unquestioned,
      but much remains unknown and work in Melanesia and New Guinea is really
      only beginning.

      The Pacific islands are a unique and diverse environment, offering
      unique challenges to human settlement.  In twenty pages Kirch gives
      a rapid overview of the geological origins and development of the
      different islands (island-arc islands, high islands, atolls, and
      _makatea_ islands), their climate (especially rainfall variation), their
      biogeography and ecosystems, and the considerable impacts of indigenous
      Pacific peoples on the latter.  He also touches on the often neglected
      microbiotic world, explaining how "the concentration and persistence of
      disease-causing microorganisms in Near Oceania had serious consequences
      for long-term human history" (with Remote Oceania in comparison relatively
      disease-free).

      Human settlement of Sahul (Australia and New Guinea, joined when sea
      levels were lower) in the Pleistocene almost certainly involved repeated,
      purposeful water crossings of some distance.  It is perhaps no surprise,
      therefore, that people had crossed the Vitiaz Strait to the Bismarck
      and Solomon Islands by 35 000 years ago; scattered evidence reveals
      tantalising glimpses of their lives.  The early Holocene saw changes
      in settlement and foraging patterns: in the New Guinea Highlands there
      is evidence for very early agriculture, while the lowlands and islands
      saw innovations in arboriculture and shell-working.  Malaria may have
      played a key role in limiting population growth in the region.

      One of the central events of Pacific history (and one of the great human
      migrations) is the spread of Austronesian speaking peoples from Taiwan.
      Some groups travelled along the north cost of New Guinea and interacted,
      starting around 1500 BC, with the indigenous occupants of the Bismarcks
      to create the Lapita cultural complex.  Around 1200 BC this jumped
      across the gap between the southeast extremity of the Solomons and the
      Santa Cruz islands, then rapidly expanded, reaching to Fiji, Tonga, and
      Samoa by around 1000 BC.  This reconstruction rests on a combination of
      ethnographic, linguistic, and biological evidence.

      Post-Lapita, the New Guinea Highlands saw increasing populations,
      especially with the introduction of sweet potato by the 17th century.
      Patchy excavations across the islands between coastal New Guinea and
      Fiji leave it unclear to what extent these were linked, but there is
      evidence for increasing economic specialisation, with trading networks in
      the Massim and coastal New Guinea and islands specialising in ceramics.
      There is also evidence for concentration of chiefly power (notably the
      burial site of Roy Mata in Vanuatu) and for agricultural intensification
      (with terraced, canal-fed irrigation systems on several islands).
      Disruptive volcanic events may have played a significant role in some
      areas.

      Micronesia was settled from several directions: the Marianas and Palau
      were settled by Western Malayo-Polynesian speakers, probably from the
      Philippines; the Caroline, Marshall, and Kiribati archipelagoes were
      settled by speakers of the Nuclear Melanesian branch of Proto-Oceanic,
      probably from the Solomons or Vanuatu; Yap is something of an anomaly,
      possibly reached directly from the Bismarcks in the second millenium
      BC; and then there are Polynesian Outliers such as Kapingamarangi.
      Kirch surveys the archaeological record of the region, covering the
      Caroline high islands, limestone columns in the Marianas, terraces on
      Palau, the Yapese "empire", and so on.

      Culturally and linguistically "monophyletic", Polynesia is a unique
      opportunity for studying cultural and linguistic change.  Historical
      linguistics and ethnography provide a fairly clear picture of Polynesian
      origins and dispersals, starting with the Ancestral Polynesian region
      around Tonga and Samoa and then expanding first to the Society and
      Marquesas islands and thence to Hawaii, Easter Island, and New Zealand.
      Many of the details are still debated: the exact sequence and timing of
      settlements in Eastern Polynesia, the nature of Polynesian exploration and
      voyaging, and whether there was a "long pause" between the initial Lapita
      occupation of Western Polynesia and expansion eastwards.  Kirch outlines
      the archaeological sequences in Western Polynesia and the earliest
      settlements in Eastern Polynesia, with details from key excavations.

      A second chapter on Polynesia looks at its subsequent history, at the
      evolution of chiefdoms.  Here Kirch uses a Traditional/Open/Stratified
      typology, but only heuristically -- he argues that there was no
      "standard progression" and that the various islands "are best seen
      as a series of sometimes parallel or convergent, sometimes divergent,
      historical trajectories, all ultimately springing from the common basis
      of Ancestral Polynesia Culture".  He presents case studies from Mangaia,
      the Marquesas, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), New Zealand, Tahiti and the
      Society Islands, and Hawaii, illustrating "the contexts, constraints,
      and processes" behind sociopolitical transformation.

      The final chapter of _On the Road of the Winds_ looks at "big structures
      and large processes" in Oceanic prehistory: correlations between language,
      biology, and culture; the role of demographic change and controversies
      about pre-colonial populations; the environmental impact of human
      settlement; the political economy of changing landscapes; intensification
      and economic specialization; and transformations of status and power.

      --

      %T      On the Road of the Winds
      %S      An Archaeological History of the Pacific Islands before European Conquest
      %A      Kirch, Patrick Vinton
      %I      University of California Press
      %C      Berkeley
      %D      2000
      %O      hardcover, halftones, notes, bibliography, index
      %G      ISBN 0-520-22347-0
      %P      xxii,422pp
      %U      http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/8928.html
      %K      archaeology, Oceania

      2 August 2000

              ------------------------------------------------------
              Copyright (c) 2000 Danny Yee <editor@...>
              Danny Yee's Book Reviews      http://dannyreviews.com/
              ------------------------------------------------------

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