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Landesque capital as an alternative to food storage in Melanesia: Irrigated taro terraces in New Georgia, Solomon Islands

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Bayliss-Smith, TP 
Hviding, E 


In the Pacific islands, subsistence diversity made possible continuous production of food while welldeveloped exchange networks redistributed these foodstuffs as well as items within the prestige economy. All these were aspects of the ‘storage structures’ that enabled social and nutritional value to be saved, accumulated and later mobilised. In addition, there were investments in the land, landesque capital, which secured future food surpluses and so provided an alternative to food storage, in a region where the staple foods were mostly perishable, yams excepted, and food preservation was difficult. Landesque capital included such long-term improvements to productivity as terraces, mounds, irrigation channels, drainage ditches, soil structural changes and tree planting. These investments provided an effective alternative to food storage and made possible surplus production for exchange purposes. As an example, in the New Georgia group of the western Solomon Islands irrigated terraces, termed ruta, were constructed for growing the root crop taro (Colocasia esculenta). Surplus taro from ruta enabled inland groups to participate in regional exchange networks and so obtain the shell valuables that were produced by coastal groups. In this paper, we reconstruct how this exchange system worked in New Georgia using ethno-archaeological evidence, we chart its prehistoric rise and post-colonial fall, and we outline the factors that constrained its long-term expansion.



Landesque capital, New Georgia, Solomon Islands, Taro, Terraces, Irrigation

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Environmental Archaeology

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Informa UK Limited
Our gratitude for support during earlier fieldwork in the New Georgia group has already been expressed in previous publications. The 2014 project was supported by the Smuts Fund and Foreign Travel Fund, University of Cambridge, and by St John’s College, Cambridge.