Janet Davidson and Nukuoro

mas-00217 Guest blog by Helen Alderson, visiting researcher

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog that talked about Nukuoro, a Polynesian outlier in Micronesia. While the museum collections here can tell us a lot about how cultures operated in the past, they can also tell us about the researchers who amassed them. The collection of Nukuoro artifacts lends a fascinating insight into the interests and motivations of Dr. Janet M. Davidson, who travelled to the remote atoll while she was in her early 20s in 1965.

In Pacific Island archaeology, we are fortunate to have many scholars who have dedicated their careers to increasing understanding of our unique heritage. Like many others, Dr. Davidson is an inspiring Pacific Island archaeologist who has left a legacy of research at Bishop Museum. She has long been my role model, as a prominent female New Zealand archaeologist, and I was fortunate to see her awarded the Roger C. Green Lifetime Achievement Award at the New Zealand Archaeological Association’s Conference in Christchurch, New Zealand this year in  June.

Davidson championed the idea of a more holistic archaeology in the Pacific. Frustrated at the lack of research on shell artifacts during a time in which lithics and ceramics were treated with a greater preference, she collected and analysed hundreds of shell fishhooks, coconut scrapers and adzes. She illustrated that shell artifacts are pivotal to studies of change over time on atolls, not only in material culture, but in the implications they have for understanding cultural interaction and integration (Davidson 1968:59). In my own research on volcanic high islands in Micronesia, I have found that monumental architecture is often treated with interest and preference over portable material culture. Davidson’s work serves as a reminder to us all that all material culture is relevant to societies’ development.  mas-00659

In another line that is still relevant today, Davidson also called for a greater focus on studying the geographic region Micronesia, particularly Eastern Micronesia (Davidson 1968:51). In particular, she stressed the importance of building a comparative collection database of artifacts (Davidson 1968:59, 63). In her Nukuoro collection, there is a representation of a variety of different artifacts, including ornaments, adzes, and fishhooks.

Finally, Davidson warned against stereotyping a culture based on its linguistic or physical attributes. Nukuoro is linguistically Polynesian, and has many Polynesian societal qualities. Nevertheless, the society has also taken on a variety of other material culture traits, particularly from neighbouring Micronesian islands (Davidson 1968:60-61).  For example, within the Nukuoro collections here at Bishop Museum, a distinctive sliced Tridacna shell adze type is prominent. This type is not widespread in Polynesia, but is found in Micronesia and Melanesia (Davidson 1968:61). In the collections here, I have seen similar adzes from Pohnpei – a volcanic high island in Micronesia, and even Vanuatu, Melanesia. Davidson’s collections and research remind us to think of Oceania as an interacting sea of cultures, who interacted and innovated with each other.

See also: Davidson, J. M. (1968). Nukuoro: archaeology on a Polynesian outlier in Micronesia. Prehistoric culture in Oceania, 51-66.

For an overview of Dr Davidson’s contribution to Pacific archaeology, see Kevin Jones’ summary for the NZAA: http://www.nzarchaeology.org/citations/Janet%20Davidson%20Citation.pdf

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Inventorying the Micronesian Archaeology Collections

photo-1 Guest blog by Helen Alderson, visiting researcher

I am currently here in the lab working on a project that focuses on the Micronesian archaeological collections at Bishop Museum. Micronesia is one of three commonly-used terms to divide Oceania geographically, the others being Polynesia and Melanesia. While Micronesia covers a stretch of ocean greater than the size of the continental U.S., it does not receive as much archaeological attention as Polynesia and Melanesia. Despite this, Micronesia is well-known within archaeological circles for its impressive monumental structures, such as the vast ceremonial, administrative and mortuary complexes Nan Madol on Pohnpei and Lelu on Kosrae, the sculptured hills of Babeldaob in Palau, and the stone columns left from the latte buildings of the Marianas. It also is home to the often huge rai (colloquially known as “stone money”) on Yap, which capture the imagination as massive exchange valuables.

While monumentality is both inspiring and can tell us much about the past, collections of Micronesian archaeological artifacts are equally as valuable. Bishop Museum holds thousands of Micronesian items. Currently, with the guidance of Dr. Mara Mulrooney, I am creating an inventory to make these items more accessible for future research. I have inventoried 2200 artifacts so far, most of which are shell adzes, ornaments, fishhooks and fishhook blanks from Nukuoro, a Polynesian outlier in Micronesia, currently located within the Federated States of Micronesia.

Material culture from Nukuoro is intrinsically interesting, as although it is positioned within our current geographic borders of Micronesia, it was populated by people of Polynesian descent in ancient times. As such, the artifacts that I have been inventorying look Polynesian, with some subtle differences. The range of items will make great future projects for students or scholars interested in deconstructing concepts of both geographic and cultural boundaries, and how they are reflected in material culture.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Hooked on Scanning

photo-2-3 Guest blog by Avalon Coley, Archaeology Collections Intern

For the past several weeks during my internship at Bishop Museum, one of my favorite tasks has been scanning fishhooks from the H1 site at South Point (Ka Lae). Excavated between 1953 to 1959 by Dr. Yosihiko Sinoto and his colleagues, these fishhooks have been of interest to archaeologists for many years. I am honored to do my part in creating a digital database which will aid researchers both near and far in better understanding these unique artifacts. Each individual hook or hook fragment gets scanned four times – one low and one high resolution scan of each side. Using Photoshop, I lightly enhance the high res scans. These images will greatly help researchers from the University of Auckland with a stylistic re-analysis that they have planned, the first in many decades.

I find that each hook has its own personality. Some are of bone while others are carved from spectacular pearl shell. Some are double-barbed, while others have a single point. Many of the pieces are either the shank or point of a two-piece fishhook, contrasting with the whole single-piece fishhooks. Frequently, I come across fishhook blanks, which consist of worked material that never became finished products. A spectrum of colors, sizes, and differing attention to detail sets each piece apart from the one previous.

The tool used in manufacturing the many fishhooks in the Museum’s collections is known as a pump drill, consisting of two crossing wooden sticks held together with cordage and weighted with a stone above a pointed stone tip. Wrapping the cordage around the vertical piece of wood, the worker would push down on the horizontal stick, which would cause the vertical piece and therefore the pointed tip to rotate and drill into the blank material. The perforations would serve as the inner, rounded part of the hook-to-be, with the outer material shaped until it was perfect.

It has been incredible being a part of this important effort. I am amazed at how much I have learned in these past few weeks, and knowing how much more can be gleaned from these artifacts is incredible. Although they no longer catch fish, they have certainly captured my imagination.

Categories: Digitization, Interns | Leave a comment

Scan, Scan, Scan!

photo-1 Guest blog by Kaile Luga, Archaeology Collections Intern

Last week, I began my internship at the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum’s Anthropology Department. When I initially heard the Anthropology Department was accepting applications for its summer internship program, I thought it would be such an awesome opportunity to gain more experience in the lab. Most of my anthropology experience thus far has been classroom-based, and I was very interested in expanding my knowledge base – specifically in the area of archaeological laboratory techniques.

Over the past few weeks, I have participated in a number of different activities. I have had the chance to help re-house artifacts, sort through midden, and had the opportunity to handle some glass negatives over in the archives. The activity that stood out to me the most, though, was the one I found most challenging – scanning project manuscripts.

I have spent the bulk of my afternoon sessions scanning manuscripts from fieldwork conducted by the B. P. Bishop Museum’s Anthropology Department across the Hawaiian archipelago. It was challenging for me personally because it is a more solitary job, and I’m more of a social person who loves talking with the other interns and employees. For me, scanning was a little lonely and boring – and I found myself almost always in serious need of a caffeine boost to help me push through. Although I do not exactly enjoy scanning, I was more than willing to do it because I saw the importance behind it.

The department is working to digitize these documents so we can upload an itemized manuscript inventory to the Hawaiian Archaeological Survey (HAS) database, in conjunction with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA). The inventory will also be incorporated into OHA’s Papakilo Database in the future. As a future researcher, I understand the importance of responsible research and data being easily accessible and available to all. Once uploaded onto the HAS database, the manuscripts inventory, and the bounty of information contained in their pages, will be more easily accessible to those interested. With that knowledge, I know that the many hours I spent scanning manuscripts were well worth it. It has been a great privilege to have been involved in this scanning endeavor!

A hui hou!

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment