Peter Veth (eds)
Terra Australis 22, Pandanus Books, Canberra, 2005, x+314pp,
ISBN 1 74076 113 8
Reviewed by Daniel Rosendahl
Aboriginal Environments Research Centre, School of Geography
Planning and Architecture, University of Queensland, Brisbane,
QLD 4072, Australia
|Tuan Lengam Gurgurem 1907 (Gaimar Legend)|
The Aru Islands are situated southwest of New Guinea and are part of the Maluku province of Indonesia, comprising several island groups. This compendium presents a synthesis of recent geomorphological, geological, environmental, archaeological, ethnographic, zoological, oesteological and historical research providing a record of human occupation on the Aru Islands from around 28,000 BP to the present. Recurring themes throughout the volume include: isolation and insularity around the time of the terminal Pleistocene and its impact on endemic biota; increasing evidence of trade and exchange in the last thousand years with the introduction of several exotic domesticated species, such as dog, pig and deer; and the signifi cance of the islands in understanding Pleistocene human migration pathways into Sahul.
|Tuan Lengam's Atribute|
The wide-ranging introductory chapter by Spriggs, O’Connor and Veth places the Aru Islands in their palaeoenvironmental and contemporary geographical and biogeographical contexts.
During times of low sea-level the Aru Islands were situated on the western margin of the Torresian land-bridge which connected Australia and New Guinea. These connections are refl ected in the contemporary and fossil fauna of the islands. The Aru Islands are therefore ideally situated to contribute to understandings of the settlement and occupation of Australia. Across three fi eld seasons the research team located and excavated two stratifi ed Pleistocene rockshelter deposits on Pulau Kobroor, documenting continuous occupation of the islands throughout the marine transgression as well as a rich record of cultural shifts and environmental change. This chronology was complemented by the excavation of a late Holocene midden on Pulau Wamar that included a ceramic component.
Hope and Aplin (Chapter 2) use a range of techniques, including oxygen isotope analysis of foraminifera, palynology and analysis of excavated faunal assemblages, to construct a five-phase palaeoenvironmental sequence spanning the last 28,000 years. Each phase is characterised by changing suites of fauna, climatic transitions, demographic restructuring and/or shifts in subsistence strategies. The last 1000 years (Phase V), for instance, is characterised by increasing marine specialisation, a decline in terrestrial resource exploitation and the introduction of several exotic mammal species to the islands.
Aplin and Pasveer (Chapter 3) report the analysis of the faunal mammal assemblages from the limestone rockshelter excavations at Liang Nabulei Lisa and Liang Lemdubu. With a total of 29 mammal species represented, the faunal assemblage represents a ‘complex admixture of open and closed and wet and dry’ (p.60) species. The analysis documented mammal species that have not 68 Number 63, December 2006 Book Reviews previously been recorded on the Aru Islands and also the absence of several extant species. The authors characterise the Aru Islands as being on the edge of a biogeographical boundary with the faunal assemblage refl ecting the impact of climatic change on endemic species.
Field surveys documented a rich archaeological record with 31 sites recorded, including pre- and post-European contact places and an historical archaeological record commencing with initial contacts with the spice trade (Chapter 4). The earliest historical site recorded is the ruins of Ujir (Chapter 5), a remnant pre-European fort possibly dating to the fi fteenth century, left over from the rich spice trade. Ujir is an outstanding example that provides evidence of a complex history of trade pre-dating the European expansion into the region.
Specialised analyses of the main classes of material recovered from each of the three excavations are presented, including a pottery sequencing, sourcing and typological study of the midlate Holocene site, Wangil Midden (Chapter 6). Peter Hiscock complements the dataset with an analysis of the lithics from the two Pleistocene cave excavations (Chapter 10), drawing parallels with artefact assemblages in northern Queensland. Excavation reports, including stratigraphy, sediment matrix and features, are provided for Liang Nabulei Lisa (Chapter 7) and Liang Lemdubu (Chapter 9), with bone artefact analysis (Chapter 11) and interpretation of human skeletal material (Chapters 8 and 12).
With only a limited sample the editors have succeeded in synthesising a broad swathe of current knowledge to illustrate the rich archaeological potential of the Aru Islands. With an emphasis on trade and exchange, cultural adaptations to environmental change, links to Australia and New Guinea, historic Aru Islands and the spice trade, this work provides insight into the role of the Aru islands and the Arafura plain in the pathways of connection between southeast Asia and Australia.
AUSTRALIA AT THE THRESHOLD OF
Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 2004 (reprinted 2006),
xi+436pp, ISBN 0 19 550766 5
Reviewed by Peter Veth
Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Studies, GPO Box 553, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia
Given the burgeoning interest of archaeologists in the dynamics of Aboriginal societies at the time of British colonisation, this substantial volume focusing on seven peoples and regions from around mainland Australia is both timely and relevant. This book describes mainland Aboriginal economy and society with three major sections profi ling the ecology, institutions and economy of the seven study areas. Torres Strait and Tasmanian study sites are not included. Chapters are divided into themes including environments and resources; technology; population; settlement and mobility; identities; kinship and marriage; cosmology and quasi-technology; governance; control of the means of production; distribution and consumption; and exchange and trade. Most of these are problem areas that come clearly within the theoretical purvey of contemporary archaeologists in Australia, regardless of their theoretical bent. That a complex and interdisciplinary exercise of this kind has resulted in such a clearly structured and parsimoniously written text is a great credit to the author. It speaks to meticulous and exhaustive research from myriad sources including social anthropology, linguistics, history, ecology and, not the least, archaeology. The volume sets out to compare the following groups to explore their similarities and differences:• Kunai people, Gippsland, eastern Victoria
• Yuwaaliyaay and neighbours, Darling/Barwon River NSW
• Pitjantjatjara and neighbours, Western Desert
• Wiil and Minong, southwest Western Australia
• ‘Sandbeach’ people, eastern Cape York Peninsula
• Ngarinyin and neighbours, northwest Kimberley
• Yolngu people, northeast Arnhem Land
Keen makes it clear at pp.14-16 and elsewhere that the quality and quantity of ethnographic sources varies predictably between these study areas and that the postcontact trajectories experienced by different groups (e.g. Cape York versus Western Desert) will result in different levels of fine-grained information on topics such as settlement and mobility and relations of power. The relative weightings given to these different historical sources remain somewhat opaque, however, being touched on in different ways throughout the text rather than comprehensively at the beginning. Given that this volume must by defi nition be a reconstructive exercise this seems somewhat of an omission. So, for example, at p.63 we have Sue O’Connor’s (1999) southwest Kimberley pre- and post-contact island archaeology (Koolan and Montgomery Islands) being treated with equal valency as her ethnographic observations – which actually are explicitly and largely based on work by Valda Blundell and previous twentieth century ethnographers. Elsewhere (pp.275-276) while tracing the history of remote social mapping by British social
anthropologists such as A.W. Howitt, Keen acknowledges that the fi rst models of pre-contact societies ‘were made decades after people from Britain had appropriated their land and waters, and had begun to farm, while other immigrants mined for gold and other metals’. Like any archaeologist struggling under the albatross of ethnographic analogy, being potentially a mischievous refl ection of pre- or immediately post-contact societies (be they dynamic or normative), I couldn’t help but wonder how the historic linguistics, ethnohistory, early ethnography and contact archaeology were being moderated or correlated against each other? This methodological quandary was recently addressed in part by Smith (2005) by looking at historic processes of demography and language spread in the Western Desert. This need for a more detailed discussion of the methodology of handling disparate (and unquestionably different quality) datasets is probably my only major and substantive criticism of the volume.
Keen provides a coherent conclusion to the volume whereby the comparisons of the 11 previous chapters are brought together, major points of similarity and difference are noted, and explanations for some of these are provided. I will highlight some of these here.