So near and yet so far: Reflections on archaeology in Australia and Papua New Guinea, intensification and culture contact

22nd November 2013

Ian Lilley

Introduction*

The use of the word ‘Sahul’ in the title of this book indicates that it will focus on the similarities, as well as the differences, between Australia and New Guinea. Because these are now two islands, and separate political entities, they are usually studied by different people, from different perspectives and using different methodologies … But for at least 80% of the time during which people have occupied the area, Australia and New Guinea were subsumed into the single continent of Sahul. For about the first 40,000 years, the people of Sahul have a common history (White with O’Connell 1982:3).

Although some researchers have worked in both countries, White and O’Connell’s statement sums up relations between archaeology and archaeologists in Australian and Papua New Guinea (PNG) quite accurately. This situation persists even though, as Ballard (1993:21) reminds us, ‘any significant cultural continuity between New Guinea and Australia during the Pleistocene … remains to be demonstrated’ rather than assumed (as does the lack of continuity in the Holocene). The fact that the two regions were joined at times of lowered sea levels encourages archaeologists in each region to consider the other, at least when referring to the Pleistocene. However, most scholars have long seen the post-glacial human histories of the two regions as very different. Thus Holocene PNG is generally considered separately from Holocene Australia. Moreover, despite the unquestionable substantive and theoretical significance (e.g. Allen 1998:11–12) and supposed professional glamour of Pleistocene archaeology (e.g. Moser 1995:126), it is in fact the post-glacial period that has received the most detailed archaeological attention overall, especially in PNG. This focus on the Holocene has led to the situation where ‘the two islands are now usually studied by different people, from different perspectives and using different methodologies’.

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

Lilley, I.
So near and yet so far: Reflections on archaeology in Australia and Papua New Guinea, intensification and culture contact
June 2000
50
36–44
Article
You must be a member to download the attachment ( Login / Sign up )