Archaeologist Discusses Discoveries of the Early Pacific


Archaeologist Matthew Spriggs spoke about the often-overlooked contributions of indigenous people and women in archaeology in the Pacific during a talk at the Harvard Museum of Natural History Tuesday evening.

In the lecture — which was live-streamed due to coronavirus concerns — Spriggs, an archaeology professor at the Australian National University, presented an overview of his five-year project. Entitled “The Collective Biography of Archaeology in the Pacific,” the project focused on important findings in early Pacific settlements and the history and methods of archaeology in the region.

“Investigations like [the CBAP project] are really critical in these sensitive times,” Spriggs said at the beginning of his talk.

Spriggs began the CBAP project five years ago as an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow. His research had nine objectives, including creating a subfield of the history of Pacific archaeology, recovering information about pre-World War II excavations in the Pacific, and investigating the extent to which “descendant communities” and female scholars aided in the fieldwork.


During the lecture, Spriggs focused on archaeologist Edward W. Gifford’s efforts to study Fiji, specifically on indigenous people’s involvement in his work.

“His entire expedition [had] been directed by native Fijians and he had no idea that this was the case,” Spriggs said.

Spriggs also highlighted the lack of female representation in archaeological work, citing the absence of Gifford’s wife, Delila S. Gifford, from his publications — despite her presence as a principal photographer.

There was “virtually no mention of his wife in his notes, let alone in his publication,” Spriggs said.

Spriggs also chronicled the history of the prehistoric Lapita people, who settled the Pacific approximately 3,000 years ago and ultimately spread throughout Oceania. Lapita pottery is distinguished by its stamped geometric patterns, according to Spriggs. In 1948, Ratu Rambithi Vuikandavu Longavatu, the grandson of a Fijian chief, and archaeologist Lindsay Verrier discovered the first Fijian Lapita pottery, which they sent to Gifford.

Spriggs told the audience how he met with Rambithi’s children decades later and informed them that their father “found the first Lapita pottery in Fiji.”

“[Rambithi’s son] never knew his father had been in archaeology. He just knew his father was a civil servant in Fiji,” Spriggs said.

Spriggs concluded his lecture by calling for more research on under-acknowledged contributions to early Pacific archaeology.

“There are many more Pacific angles to be explored,” Spriggs said.