Uncovering Pacific Pasts: Histories of Archaeology in Oceania, edited by Hilary Howes, Tristen Jones and Matthew Spriggs is one of the major products of Prof. Spriggs’ ARC Laureate Fellowship project ‘The Collective Biography of Archaeology in the Pacific’ or CBAP (2015-2020).
The culmination of the project at the end of March 2020 was to involve simultaneous mini-exhibitions at almost 40 museums and other institutions across the world illustrative of the results of the project, an international conference on ‘Histories of Archaeology’ and a workshop for Pacific Island museum and archive specialists to raise awareness of the project’s results. Of course in early March COVID lockdowns worldwide intervened and many of the exhibitions opened only to close within a few weeks, the international conference had to be postponed and eventually took place as a virtual event in November 2021 and the workshop is now due to take place at the end of October 2022 as a virtual event.
Despite the many challenges of coordinating such a devolved exhibition, the public did get to see the various mini-exhibitions eventually and some are still on display in Europe, USA, Australasia and the Pacific.
Uncovering Pacific Pasts provides object biographies for many of the artefacts displayed at the various institutions involved in the CBAP project, providing context and background to their journeys from the islands of manufacture to their current museum or archival homes. Together the 38 chapters and an appendix by the community of Rakival on Watom Island in PNG provide wide-ranging perspectives on the history of archaeological research in the Pacific, starting with the early European ‘explorers’ and their baffled attempts to explain the origins of the Pacific Islanders they met as they navigated across a third of the world’s surface from the 16th to 18th centuries. Missionaries and traders were soon to follow, later attracting a disparate group of ‘scientists’ that only crystallized into the professional archaeologists of today in the post-WWII period.
The book will prove an invaluable resource for a range of audiences, not least Pacific Islanders themselves whose cultural heritage is scattered across the world, often unbeknownst to the communities that created it. Many of the illustrated artefacts have never been displayed publicly before, nor have their stories been told. Their images are often seen here for the first time in print.
As with standard ANU Press practice, the entire 600-plus page book can be downloaded for free from the ANU Press website, thus making it easily available to Pacific and worldwide readers.
Uncovering Pacific Pasts (ANU Press)