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On the Road of the Winds: An Archaeological History of the Pacific Islands Before European Contact [Paperback]

Patrick V Kirch
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

8 Mar 2002
The Pacific Ocean covers one-third of the earth's surface and encompasses many thousands of islands, the home to numerous human societies and cultures. Among these indigenous Oceanic cultures are the intrepid Polynesian double-hulled canoe navigators, the atoll dwellers of Micronesia, the statue carvers of remote Easter Island, and the famed traders of Melanesia. Recent archaeological excavations, combined with allied research in historical linguistics, biological anthropology, and comparative ethnography, have begun to reveal much new information about the long-term history of these Pacific Island societies and cultures. "On the Road of the Winds" synthesizes the grand sweep of human history in the Pacific Islands, beginning with the movement of early people out from Asia more than 40,000 years ago, and tracing the development of myriad indigenous cultures up to the time of European contact in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. Questions that scholars have posed and puzzled over for two centuries or more are illuminated here: Where did the Pacific Islanders come from? How did they discover and settle the thousands of islands? Why did they build great monuments like Nan Madol on Pohnpei Island in Micronesia or the famous Easter Island statues? This book provides an up-to-date synthesis of archaeological and historical anthropological knowledge of these fascinating indigenous cultures. In particular, Kirch focuses on human ecology and island adaptations, the complexities of island trading and exchange systems, voyaging technology and skills, and the development of intensive economic systems linked to the growth of large populations. He also draws on his own original field research conducted on many islands, ranging from the Solomons to Hawai'i, as he takes us on an intellectual voyage into the Oceanic past.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; New Ed edition (8 Mar 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520234618
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520234611
  • Product Dimensions: 2.6 x 21.8 x 29 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 796,787 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Riveting." - Washington Post "Excellent." - Times Literary Supplement "A grand synthesis. Kirch has done Pacific archaeology proud with this book." - Peter Bellwood, Antiquity "Kirch writes for specialists (he merrily switches, for example, between BC/AD and calibrated and uncalibrated radiocarbon BP dates), but for such a broad range of specialists that the informed lay reader won't miss much - and unwanted detail about excavations and artifacts is easily glanced over. With an effective selection of halftones, figures, and maps complementing clear and incisive prose, in elegant and attractive physical packaging, On the Road of the Winds is an all-round outstanding volume." - dannyreviews.com

About the Author

Patrick Vinton Kirch is Class of 1954 Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of seven books including The Evolution of the Polynesian Chiefdoms and Anahulu: The Anthropology of History in the Kingdom of Hawaii (with Marshall Sahlins, 1992).

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First Sentence
Pacific islanders have always promulgated their own indigenous forms of history, encoded in oral traditions passed from generation to generation. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fills a great hole in the literature! 18 May 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
On a recent trip to New Zealand, I became very frustrated with the historical sections of the bookshops I visited. I have been interested in Pacific migrations since reading Heyerdahl's Kon Tiki Expedition as a kid. But in New Zealand all I could find, and in excruciating detail, was the history of the Maori - almost exclusively since they landed in New Zealand 700 years ago and most of if covering only the period since Europeans had an impact - a mere 150 years. Now the Maori are a very agreeable people, and I'm sure their recent history is of interest, but I wanted to know the why and how of this nautical drift eastwards of closely related ethnic groups over possibly thousands of years, of which the Maori are only a small part. "On the Road of the Winds" fulfils this need admirably - or, at least, it provides a prodigious starting point. The problem is that much of the archaeology remains to be done, and durable remains tend to be scant.

This is a very scholarly archaeological analysis, drawing together such sources as there are into a coherent and logical picture. The whole is illustrated with extremely useful maps, line-drawings, and photographs. Rather than attempt to describe the encyclopaedic scope of this book, I will list the chapters: 1 Discovering the Oceanic Past, 2 The Pacific Islands as a Human Environment, 3 Sahul and the Prehistory of "Old" Micronesia, 4 Lapita and the Austronesian Expansion, 5 The Prehistory of "New" Micronesia, 6 Micronesia: in the "Sea of Little Lands", 7 Polynesia: Origins and Dispersals, 8 The Polynesian Chiefdoms, 9 Big Structures and Large Processes in Ocean Prehistory. These are followed by Notes, copious References, and a comprehensive Index.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Patrick Vinton Kirch is renowned for his faith in the multidisciplinary approach to understanding Oceanic and Pacific history and culture before European contact. On the Road of the Winds is his great synthesis on the subject to date based on that holistic perspective, drawing together information from the fields of archaeology, historical linguistics, comparative ethnology and biological anthropology, while emphasising that these disciplines are not bound to co-vary. This is largely a scholarly historical archaeological text (but with numerous photographs and tables listing sites with details replacing tedious description) and arises, as the author explains, as a result of the archaeological aspect largely being ignored until after the war. Anthropologists until then had been constrained by preconceived beliefs of Pacific cultures having been fairly recent and unchanging arrivals; nations without history. The emphasis of research had been placed firmly on ethnology using outdated - even racist - typology mingled with some good and some dubious linguistic analysis. Since then a fascinating narrative of rich historical cultures, some containing extraordinarily elaborate constructions and of complex social structures and hierarchies that we are only now beginning to understand, has been uncovered by archaeological excavations.
It is as well for the reader to familiarise his or herself with some basic concepts at the outset and these are largely outlined in an introduction.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great synthesis on the use of historical (archaeological) evidence to examine the peopling of the Pacific 9 Feb 2009
By Trevor Coote - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Patrick Vinton Kirch is renowned for his faith in the multidisciplinary approach to understanding Oceanic and Pacific history and culture before European contact. On the Road of the Winds is his great synthesis on the subject to date based on that holistic perspective, drawing together information from the fields of archaeology, historical linguistics, comparative ethnology and biological anthropology, while emphasising that these disciplines are not bound to co-vary. This is largely a scholarly historical archaeological text (but with numerous photographs and tables listing sites with details replacing tedious description) and arises, as the author explains, as a result of the archaeological aspect largely being ignored until after the war. Anthropologists until then had been constrained by preconceived beliefs of Pacific cultures having been fairly recent and unchanging arrivals; nations without history. The emphasis of research had been placed firmly on ethnology using outdated - even racist - typology mingled with some good and some dubious linguistic analysis. Since then a fascinating narrative of rich historical cultures, some containing extraordinarily elaborate constructions and of complex social structures and hierarchies that we are only now beginning to understand, has been uncovered by archaeological excavations.

It is as well for the reader to familiarise his or herself with some basic concepts at the outset and these are largely outlined in an introduction. Unlike most simplistic nineteenth century anthropological classifications Dumont d'Urville's familiar tripartite categorisation of Pacific peoples into Melanesian, Micronesian and Polynesian still holds as a useful geographical reference when describing regional differences, though only the Polynesians can be considered a phyletic entity whose languages, cultures and biological similarity point to a common origin. Melanesians in particular are an astonishingly diverse mix of different cultures and linguistic groups. These three groups (Melanesians, Micronesians and Polynesians) make up the peoples of Oceania but exclude the islands of South-East Asia, notably the Philippines and Indonesia, even though the great Austronesian language family (found as far west as Madagascar) spans both regions. All Oceanic peoples except those on New Guinea and some islands nearby such as New Ireland and Bougainville speak Austronesian languages. There, the non-Austronesian or Papuan languages are more numerous and diverse than their Austronesian counterparts thus demonstrating the deeper time span of occupation of this region which is referred to throughout the book as Near Oceania. Near Oceania is a concept introduced to distinguish those long-settled islands (maybe 40,000 years) from those that were to be reached much later in waves of long distance voyages: Remote Oceania.

Human history is effectively the history of migrations. The author begins this odyssey by reviewing the archaeological evidence for the arrival of the first people into Sahul (Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea merged during higher sea levels) and Near Oceania (the islands around and beyond New Guinea) during the Pleistocene. This is the prehistory of "old" Melanesia and constitutes the first great colonising epoch of the Pacific. However, it was the appearance of a distinct ceramic-making culture known as Lapita about 1,500 BC, a culture that had most likely developed in situ in the region of the Bismarck Archipelago by a branch of the Austronesian peoples, that was to have the most profound effect on the region. The seafaring Lapita began to greatly expand their material culture, transform the cultural landscape of the region and to spread ever further eastward into Remote Oceania. This is archaeology's greatest contribution to Pacific research. The peopling of the islands of the Pacific by this new culture truly required a new vision of the world. These would not have been hunter-gatherers wandering in search of something to eat but horticulturalists, who, as populations challenged ability to supply, needed to seek fresh lands. Some of these lands could be seen from where they were living and, as the Lapita made vessels to transport them there, they would have seen more on arrival. Ultimately, planned voyages of expansion would reach as far afield as Hawai'i, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Pitcairn and finally New Zealand.

This book explores the origin and range of cultures throughout the Pacific by examining archaeological, palynological, palaeobotanical and faunal evidence and where appropriate calling upon linguistic and biological co-evidence. (There is some, but little, reference to the molecular genetic analysis of Pacific populations which is increasingly producing powerful new information, much of which backs Kirch's theories based on his archaeological research.) It asks questions about why some cultures built monumental structures, why others degenerated into warfare, and why still others became isolated and excluded from the great grid of trade routes that criss-crossed the ocean. It examines the nature of production and power, considers the pre-European contact demographics of islands and compares the different ecologies and pressures on the different islands, many of which at first glance appear to be very similar. It then puts into context the shaping of different and sometimes distinct cultural differences between these islands without inferring that their must always be an ecological explanation. For me personally, it was most important that the author reiterated throughout that race (human biological variation), language and culture are independent variables (given the sorry history of confusion and subsequent abuse), but he also rightly points out that it has been clear to some anthropologists working in different parts of the world that there is sometimes evidence of some covariance, e.g. in the case of the Polynesians.

This is a large and ambitious work but it was time for such a synthesis. It is a huge task to have brought together all the information and it is greatly aided by over seventy pages of notes and references. However, as the author points out, there are still huge gaps in our knowledge and understanding of Pacific human history and an even larger task remains ahead.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Updating South Pacific Archaeology 7 Oct 2011
By Thomas Hubbard - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Kirch's book updates his previous "The evolution of the Polynesian chiefdoms" and synthesizes numerous technical publications on the pre-history of the South Pacific. Very well written and very readable. Recommended for anyone interested in the Pacific islands before the explorers and missionaries arrived.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly readable, whole-heartedly recommended 17 Mar 2013
By Edwin Kite - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book is great for the interested nonspecialist. It covers a great deal of ground, is honest about the parts of the story where we don't know much, but doesn't obsess over these gaps. It isn't formatted as a coffee-table book - there is a fair bit of scholarly detail - but I dare anyone to read for 20 pages and put it down.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Early Polynesian life better understood. 20 July 2013
By Linda Ann - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A factual glimse into the technologies, capabilities and migrations of the ancient polynesians. Tracking their migrations eastward throughout the pacific. This historically accurate and easily understandable text provided an accurate account of the ancient way finders.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars great 9 Dec 2013
By Felicia - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Great book. Perfect and exactly what i was looking for for my Arthopology class . THank you! Excellent Used condition. Loved how every now and then it had main points highlighted. Helped alot to explan the overall meaning of the text.
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