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Dr Sarah Byrne

Doctoral Thesis Abstract: Practice-centred approach to Uneapa Island’s archaeology in a long term context (University College London, 2008)

Recent archaeological research on Uneapa Island, West New Britain, Papua New Guinea has uncovered a rich and varied archaeological landscape, unique within the surrounding region. Locales range from single stones to large-scale complexes of over three hundred arranged stone features. ‘Seats’ and ‘tables’, stone mortars, cooking places, grinding stones and carved boulders have been found in various contexts and locations throughout the island. Uneapa islanders are divided in their attitude to these features, opinions range from expressions of indifference to passionate engagement and specialist knowledge. Most locales are remembered as being clan meeting places (lupuanga mudina), used up to the time of European contact; public arenas in which a range of social activities took place, including oratory, song and dance performances, cooking, feasting and cannibalism etc. Although most locales seem to have been abandoned after European contact, certain groups continue to actively interact with these places through processes of re-erecting and re-locating the stone features.

This thesis argues that social practice needs more serious consideration in the interpretation of monumental landscapes. The fracas with functionalism and replacement of epistemology and phenomenology as central agendas within postprocessual monument studies has largely de-prioritised consideration of social practice in favour of perception. I aim to rectify this imbalance by exploring the role of practice in the creation, use/re-use, maintenance/destruction and development of the stone feature complexes on Uneapa. In order to achieve this aim, I have developed a methodology that creates a dialogue between local perspectives and archaeological analysis. This helps to provide a better understanding of the meaning and distribution pattern of Uneapa’s features/locales.

Stone features in Melanesia are understudied and those studied elsewhere in the Pacific have mostly been framed within social evolutionary paradigms. This research offers not only the first systematic study of stone features in the Bismarck Archipelago, but also provides important methodological and theoretical frameworks that can contribute to the understanding of monumental landscapes both in the Pacific and beyond.

This page last modified 26 September, 2012 by [UCL Mellon Admin]

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