Forthcoming conference papers

18th Congress of the International Union of the Prehistoric & Protohistoric Sciences (UISPP) 4 - 9 June 2018, Paris

Session XXXVIII-1: Mobility and networks in Oceania: Archaeological and ethnohistorical approaches

Prehistory may not be what it seems – Using network analysis as a research tool in historical studies

John Edward Terrell (Field Museum of Natural History) and Mark L. Golitko (Notre Dame)

In his book Reality is Not What It Seems – The Journey to Quantum Gravity (2017), the physicist Carlo Rovelli does a skillful (although at times obscure) job of showing us that many of our fundamental ideas about space, time, and the universe are simply cognitive and cultural constructs rather than substantive statements about the true nature of things and events. Ever since Thomas Kuhn’s influential book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) challenged the notion that science advances by the steady accumulation of facts and theories, it has been accepted by many that “plugging” new finds and discoveries into already accepted interpretations— however seemingly well-established—can get in the way of learning anything new about the world around us, today and in the past. We have been devising network methods to examine the likely spatial and temporal structuring of the transport of obsidian in Near Oceania before, during, and after the appearance of pottery in the Lapita style in Oceania. Using only geopositional information and a set of basic assumptions about plausible alterations in the structuring of longer-distance connections, we have been able to model and reproduce observed changes in the distribution of obsidian from source areas on New Britain and in the Admiralty Islands for the period between 6000 BP and the present. Contrary to expectations often voiced in reconstructions of Pacific prehistory during the Holocene, a few fundamental network considerations can be used to summarize the patterning of archaeological data without having to assume there were major transformations in network ties among communities in the New Guinea region during the mid Holocene. Said less formally, our analyses of the distribution of obsidian around the Bismarck Sea suggest that the everyday lives of those living in this part of the world were little changed by the greater integration of coastal and offshore island communities following the introduction from island Southeast Asia of new canoe-making skills and voyaging know-how.

European Association of Archaeologists, Session #392 The “island laboratory” revisited: integrating
environmental and sociocultural approaches. Barcelona, 5 - 9 September, 2018

Metaphor & theory in island archaeology

John Edward Terrell, Regenstein Curator of Pacific Anthropology, Field Museum, Chicago

The claim made more than a generation ago that islands are laboratories for studying the earth, its history, and lifeforms was always more a metaphorical notion than a scientific reality, although Dan Simberloff (Simberloff  & Wilson 1969), Mark Lomolino (1984), and others back then famously tried to give substance to such an idea. Instead of continuing to debate whether islands are laboratories, therefore, it seems more telling to ask why it would be useful if they were, and why many of the metaphors archaeologists use instead in their work should be challenged and even abandoned—metaphors such as those enshrined in Vere Gordon Childe’s classic statement on archaeological method and theory Piecing Together the Past (1956) encouraging archaeologists to see the past as a lost or broken urn we are somehow uniquely qualified to restore to functional use.  Even those who see themselves solely as historians and not as scientists helping to resolve questions of broad global significance should think twice before using simple “plug & play” strategies of interpretation rather than more formal methods of plausibility analysis and statistical assessment. References: Simberloff, Daniel S., and Edward O. Wilson (1969), "Experimental zoogeography of islands: the colonization of empty islands," Ecology 50: 278–296. Lomolino, Mark (1984), "Immigrant selection, predation, and the distributions of Microtus pennsylvanicus and Blarina brevicauda on islands," American Naturalist 123: 468–483.