A note on the abandonment of raised field agricultural systems in the lower Bensbach River area, southwest Papua New Guinea

22nd January 2014

A mound and ditch taro garden in the Morehead District (around 1930) (published in Australian Archaeology 43:38).

A mound and ditch taro garden in the Morehead District (around 1930) (published in Australian Archaeology 43:38).

Garrick Hitchcock

Introduction*

Construction of raised field agricultural systems was once widespread throughout the lowlands of south coast New Guinea and on Saibai Island in northern Torres Strait, but is no longer practised in many parts of the region (Swadling 1983:26–27). This is the case along the lower Bensbach River in Papua New Guinea’s Western Province, near the border with West Papua (Irian Jaya), where relict field systems comprising long rectangular mounds separated by ditches are the most salient archaeological features. It has been suggested that these and other mound-and-ditch systems in western lowland Papua were abandoned some time prior to European colonisation (which began in the late nineteenth century) following a population decline in the area (Barham and Harris 1985, 1987; Harris 1995; Harris and Laba 1982). Recent ethnographic and archival research demonstrates, however, that abandonment of the Bensbach River systems took place more recently, and indicates that changes in local environmental conditions played a key role in this process.

*Note that an abstract was not included with this paper, and so the introductory paragraph has been included here instead of the abstract.

Hitchcock, G.
A note on the abandonment of raised field agricultural systems in the lower Bensbach River area, southwest Papua New Guinea
December 1996
43
37–38
Short Report
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