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.