Island Melanesia after Lapita

Movement, Evolution and Adoption

The present distribution of cultural, linguistic and genetic traits in Oceania is a palimpsest of multiple layers of movement, evolution and adoption.

Conventional disciplinary approaches operating individually often struggle to grasp this complexity. The post-Lapita period in Island Melanesia has often been characterised in terms of the fragmentation of wider networks and the development of locally or regionally specific traditions, but the picture now appears increasingly more convoluted. “Back” migrations of Polynesian-speakers and the establishment of new circuits of movement and exchange promoted a diversity of forms of social organisation that cannot be explained in simple evolutionary terms. The visibility of these processes varies with disciplinary perspective – so-called “Polynesian Outliers” present as a particular subset of populations defined largely in terms of their retention of Polynesian languages, and yet archaeologically and ethnographically, a much wider range of “Polynesian” traits can be identified across the region, both pre- and post-dating the establishment of the classic Polynesian Outliers. Working in close combination, archaeology, palaeoecology, genetics, linguistics, anthropology and oral history can deliver much more convincing accounts of process informed by historical contingency. Central Vanuatu will provide one area of focus for this topic, with substantial resources already committed to unravelling the sequence of multiple introductions and adoptions of genes, cultures and languages, greatly assisted in terms of chronological calibration by the 550-year old Kuwae eruption.

Research area lead: Chris Ballard

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