An archaeology of artisan identities and global relationships: Case studies of 19th and early 20th century weavers and carvers from Pohnpei and Kosrae, Micronesia
Alderson, Helen Alycia
University of Cambridge
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Alderson, H. A. (2019). An archaeology of artisan identities and global relationships: Case studies of 19th and early 20th century weavers and carvers from Pohnpei and Kosrae, Micronesia (Doctoral thesis). https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.41571
Pacific islanders have interacted for millennia. From the 16th century, foreigners arrived, and Islanders’ interconnectivity further increased. Archaeologists have fruitfully investigated such multicultural interactions by researching processes such as globalisation. However, as a descriptive mechanism, cosmopolitanism is a useful alternative (Thomas 2010). The term prioritises people, not processes, and emphasises the complexities of human relationships. Many Oceanians, such as those of Kosrae and Pohnpei in Micronesia, participated in a cosmopolitan world for decades, due to their frequent interactions with both local and worldwide travellers. Accordingly this thesis asks: how can we examine the ways in which Pacific islanders responded to increased global interconnectivity in the nineteenth century using archaeological methods and theory? To answer, I draw inspiration from post-colonial principles, feminist archaeological theory and the social learning literature to propose a new archaeological approach: the Archaeology of Shared Experiences. The approach rests on the premise that increased cosmopolitanism affects people’s identities. Some identity changes are materialised in the dynamic designs of artisan-made ethnographic goods. Archaeologists can therefore examine identity changes by isolating and then tracking artisans’ design choices. Hundreds of choices can be clustered and compared against historic datasets and global distributions to discover trends. More intimately, each design can be analysed for its origin and possible significances to its maker. Through a series of illustrative case studies, this research focusses on the experiences of Pohnpeian and Kosraean weavers and carvers of 19th and early 20th century. It unites over 500 under-studied textiles, warping benches, dancing paddles and carved panels from over 30 museums. Each museum collection is conceptualised as an archaeological cache, and together they represent global archaeological sites of cosmopolitan interactions and relationships. As a discussion point, the research briefly compares this identity data with that gained from a new archaeological survey of contemporaneous Pohnpeian grave exteriors. The results reveal the interwoven and ambiguous web of identity construction in a cosmopolitan context, with many strong trends emerging. For example, Pohnpeian women carefully replicated their textiles’ designs over decades, indicating stability in their identities as traditional knowledge holders. In contrast, Kosraean women diverged and became innovative traders, targeting people of different cultural groups, and occupations, with customised textiles. The motifs on Pohnpeian men’s dancing paddles and carved panels differed from Pohnpeian women’s textile designs, perhaps illustrating carefully-preserved gendered identities. Furthermore, the sharing of certain designs between Pohnpeian and Kosraean women suggests pan-island relationships, materialised alongside the use of Western writing.
Micronesia, Archaeology, Material culture
This research was funded primarily by Gates Cambridge. St John’s College, the Archaeology Department (University of Cambridge), and an Anthony Wilkin grant also contributed financially to this research.
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This record's DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.41571
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