SEMINAR: Archaeology Seminar
|Archaeology Seminar : Gulf Spirit Boards: a pre-contact social narrative
Traditional material culture of Papuan Gulf peoples was abundant and rich. It should come as no surprise that it became the object of continual acquisition by European visitors, especially London Missionary Society missionaries and government officials. Today, customary ritual practices have effectively ceased. The associated, elaborate ceremonial objects now fill the collections of museums around the world, and retained memories are mostly all that now remains of the traditional ceremonial life.
My current research concerns spirit boards, one class of Gulf ceremonial objects, that are sourced from the Australian Museum and National Museum of Australia, as well as from illustrated works. Contextual information from libraries and archives forms another source of data.
The project centres on the analysis of decorative elements that once served as kinship group ‘identifiers’. This information will be used to determine the geographic distribution of and differences among Gulf social systems. This will, in turn, help establish the social dynamics of the Gulf communities who were a key element of the Motu hiri trade system that began 500 years ago.
Community engagement is another and perhaps more important objective. This is because it leads to a reconnecting of contemporary Papuan communities with their past, for which material culture and documentation now mostly resides in overseas institutions.
The seminar presentation will focus on the background to the project, development of analytical processes, the initial results and next steps in advancing the research program.
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