From Near to Remote Oceania

In many respects the counterpart to the Arafura Sea in the “Colonisation of Sahul”, this research area encompasses the movement beyond Near Oceania into each of the archipelagos that border the Coral Sea.

It extends across a range of time scales starting from 30,000 years ago when this was the outer reach of the populated world, and extending through waves of settlement and influence both from Austronesian populations but also most likely from more recent Papuan groups as well. This is also a region where patrilineal, matrilineal and various mixed forms of social organisation sit cheek by jowl, reflecting layered histories of interaction between multiple Papuan and Austronesian populations. If historical reconstructions beyond Western Polynesia follow a relatively simple sequence with an increasingly well-established chronology, the sequences for much of Island Melanesia are both less certain and more complex. These sequences involve movements between the Bismarck Archipelago and the rest of Island Melanesia that have unresolved cultural, genetic and linguistic signatures, and processes for which there are no evident ethnohistoric analogues. Tracing these transfers of language, material culture, biota and people through space and time will require innovative and integrated methodologies from the range of disciplines represented in ECDI. These more complex sequences of Island Melanesia are likely to be quite typical of cultural interaction, especially in continental settings, so this is another instance where Oceania exemplifies, perhaps in a more tractable form, a general problem in reconstructing and explaining cultural trajectories.

Research area lead: Stuart Bedford

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