UPPER SEPIK-CENTRAL NEW GUINEA PROJECT

PROGRESS REPORT February 2009
Barry Craig Current activities Since the completion of his PhD thesis last year, Andrew Fyfe has been working with craftsperson Jill Bolton, writing a paper for publication on the technical aspects of string bag and arrow construction. This paper reports the units of analysis Fyfe used in his thesis and will provide the groundwork for future analyses of these two artefact classes from all over New Guinea. A paper recounting the objectives and methods of the Upper Sepik-Central New Guinea Project, submitted to the journal Oceania last year for publication, is being revised as requested by the journal editors. A second paper summarising the results of analysis carried out for the purpose of the thesis also is being prepared for publication. Program of analysis Fyfe has been reading further on the uses of SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences) and other software relevant to analysis of the project's database and is preparing a program of analysis to be carried out over the next 12-18 months. This will include the coding and analysis of the carved and painted designs on many of the arrows of the study area. The program of analysis will be directed towards the development of a theory of the processes that bring about diversity of material culture. We will refine the classification of the dataset but also apply new analytical methods to better identify the processes responsible for material culture variation. The project’s underlying theoretical premise is that the make up of a material culture assemblage is the sum of a group’s range of social practices and subsistence strategies, and the format and composition of any object has the potential to reflect a group’s repertoire of technical and operational modes and their sequences. Another aspect of our approach is the application of Darwinian evolutionary theory to facilitate explanatory models for the persistence and redundancy of cultural variants. The rationale behind such an approach is simple: like the physical characteristics of biological species, artifacts can be seen as physical parts of human behavioural phenotypes. Like biological phenotypes, cultural traits are reliant on transmission if they are to survive over generations or to distribute over space. Theoretically, particular objects, or rather the particular traits that compose those objects, can persist unchanged over considerable time if they have been transmitted faithfully between generations. If a population splits, and the resulting populations become isolated from each other, such traits may still remain in the assemblages of the two populations if the processes of natural selection and drift, and other stochastic processes, are working equally. It is therefore conceivable that, as with biological populations, phylogenetic relationships can be established between the cultural packages of two related but presently isolated populations where those packages share a common set of behaviours, beliefs and material culture templates that existed in the parent population.

To test for significance between language, distance and culture we do analysis based on distance and similarity matrices created for individual artefacts within each class found across the region. We believe that through this we can assess how classes of artefacts are differentially shaped by a range of social and ecological factors. Website The USCNGP website is currently being revised. It has a new address: www.uscngp.com Should people go to the old address, there is a link that automatically takes the visitor to the new address. The new site has a background structure that will enable the research team to add or modify content without the need for the website designer to be involved. It includes a visitor-counter that will quantify the effective reach of the website. There is a photo gallery able to accommodate hundreds of field images (presently 'under construction'). The dataset will be stripped down to essential data (no coding of analytical units such as kinds of arrow bindings) and placed on the website, with point locations and language polygons on Google maps providing active links to the dataset and images of the artefacts. Thus visitors to the site will be able to see, for example, all the objects in the dataset that come from a particular settlement, or from a particular language group; or review all the stone adzes, or all of each category of arrows (bamboo-bladed, bone tipped, multi-pronged, etc) in the dataset. This is designed particularly with the Papua New Guinea visitor in mind, who might want to see objects from his or her settlement, or his or her language group. Publications Dr Craig has published two papers in 2008 that relate in some way either to the study area itself or the questions being addressed by the project. Craig, B., G. Lewis and W.E. Mitchell. 2008. War Shields of the Torricelli Mountains, West Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea. Oceania 78,3: 241-259. Craig, B. 2008. Sorcery Divination among the Abau of the Idam Valley, Upper Sepik, Papua New Guinea. Journal of Ritual Studies 22,2: 37-51.

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