Ethan E. Cochrane and Terry L. Hunt
The archaeological record of Oceania stretches over one-third of the earth’s surface with the first humans entering Oceania 50,000 years ago and with the last major archipelago settled approximately a.d. 1300. Oceania is often divided into the cultural-geographic regions of Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia, but these divisions mask much variation, and they do not always accurately characterize the historical relationships among Oceania’s populations. Since the 1950s, archaeological researchers have investigated Oceania’s human and environmental past and have focused on colonization chronologies and the origins of different populations, the intensity and spatial scale of interaction between groups, and changes in social complexity through time and space with a particular concern for the development of chiefdoms. Oceanic archaeologists often use historical linguistics, human genetics, and cultural evolution models to structure their research on ancient Pacific island populations.
The first human populations colonized the Bismarck Archipelago about 40,000 years ago. The zooarchaeological evidence from Buang Merabak (New Ireland) reveals that, at a first stage, hunter-gatherers only focused on the exploitation of local faunal resources, especially cave-dwelling bats and varanids. As for other Pleistocene assemblages, the contribution of fish to the diet is negligible. Introduced species appear since about 23,050 cal bp with the northern common cuscus (endemic of New Guinea), although bats still provided most of the meat consumed at the site. In later times, the cuscus dominates the assemblage, partially replacing cave-dwelling bats, and the wallaby is also introduced from New Guinea. The introduction and increasing consumption of the cuscus had major implications in terms of land use and mobility. The initial focus on cave-dwelling bats implied shorter stays at sites and required constant movements through the landscape; the shift towards cuscus consumption reduced mobility.
Michel Orliac and Catherine Orliac
Easter Island is known for its giant, stereotyped stone statues, distributed along the coasts and originally visible from out at sea. Most are associated with cult monuments and the unique sanctuary where they were carved. More discreetly, the islanders’ houses were inhabited by a host of wooden figurines, in a variety of forms, carved in sacred types of wood: toromiro, makoi, driftwood. These depictions of men (moai tangata, moai kavakava), women (moai papa), animals, and real chimeras (moko, bird-man) were the subject of domestic cults and used in activities linked to protective or aggressive magic. Displayed during public ceremonies, they were associated with the insignia of power (ao, ua) and with dance accessories (rapa, tahonga). The production of figurines, introduced to the island by its first inhabitants a little less than 1,000 years ago, ceased with the disappearance of the priest-sculptors after 1863 and the conversion to Catholicism in 1868.