1st Edition

The Archaeology of Portable Art
Southeast Asian, Pacific, and Australian Perspectives

ISBN 9781138237766
Published May 3, 2018 by Routledge
342 Pages

USD $155.00

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Book Description

The development of complex cultural behaviour in our own species is perhaps the most significant research issue in modern archaeology. Until recently, it was believed that our capacity for language and art only developed after some of our ancestors reached Europe around 40,000 years ago. Archaeological discoveries in Africa now show that modern humans were practicing symbolic behaviours prior to their dispersal from that continent, and more recent discoveries in Indonesia and Australia are once again challenging ideas about human cultural development. 

Despite these significant discoveries and exciting potentials, there is a curious absence of published information about Asia-Pacific region, and consequently, global narratives of our most celebrated cognitive accomplishment — art — has consistently underrepresented the contribution of Southeast Asia, Australia, and the Pacific Islands. This volume provides the first outline of what this region has to offer to the world of art in archaeology. 

Readers undertaking tertiary archaeology courses interested in the art of the Asia-Pacific region or human behavioural evolution, along with anyone who is fascinated by the development of our modern ability to decorate ourselves and our world, should find this book a good addition to their library. 

Table of Contents


Francesco d’Errico

1/ In Search of the Archaeology of Portable Art from Southeast Asia, the Pacific, and Australia

Duncan Wright, Michelle C. Langley , Mirani Litster , and Sally K. May

Section 1: Southeast Asia

2/ The Contribution of Early Southeast Asian Material to a Global Understanding of Portable Art.

Sue O’Connor and Michelle C. Langley

3/ Exploring Red Ochre Use in Timor-Leste and Surrounds: Headhunting, Burials, and Beads

Michelle C. Langley and Sue O’Connor

4/ Enduring Value: Shell Ornaments in the Metal Age of Island Southeast Asia with a Focus on the Southwestern Philippines

Katherine Szabó

5/ Tracing the Trade of Heirloom Beads Across Zomia: A Preliminary Analysis of Beads from the Upland Regions of Northeast India and Mainland Southeast Asia

Alison Kyra Carter, Barbie Campbell Cole, Quentin Lemasson, and Willemijn van Noord

6/ Greenstone Jewellery Workshops in the Tabon Caves Complex of the Philippines

Hsiao-Chun Hung, Yoshiyuki Iizuka, and Mary Jane Louise A. Bolunia

Section 2: Pacific

7/ ‘Portable Art’ and the Pacific

Katherine Szabó

8/ Pendants and Beads of Stone, Shell, and Tooth from Southern Vanuatu.

Eve Haddow, James Flexner, Stuart Bedford, and Matthew Spriggs

9/ Modified Canines: Circular Pig’s Tusks in Vanuatu and the Wider Pacific

Stuart Bedford

10/ Shell Beads as Markers of Oceanic Dispersal: A Rare Cypraeidae Ornament Type from the Mariana Islands

Geoffrey Clark, Michelle C. Langley, Mirani Litster, Olaf Winter, and Judith Amesbury

11/ Value from the Inside: Recycling, Reuse and Life Histories in Fijian Chiefly Breatplates (Civavonovono)

Katherine Szabó and Lucie Carreau

12/ Recovering Lost Histories: DNA Analyses of Kiwi Feathered Bags (Kete Kiwi)

Katie Hartnup, Leon Huyen, Craig D. Millar, Rangi Te Kanawa, and Dave M. Lambert

Section 3: Australia

13/ The Esoteric and Decorative Use of Bone, Shell, and Teeth in Australia

Kim Akerman

14/ Beads and Boundaries

Leila McAdam and Iain Davidson

15/ Tales of a Fat-Tailed Macropod

Steve Brown

16/ Marine Shell Ornaments in North Western Australian Archaeological Sites: Different Meanings over Time and Space.

Jane Balme, Sue O’Connor, and Michelle C. Langley

17/ Portable Art in Australia’s Western Desert

Jo McDonald

18/ Developing Approaches for Understanding Indigenous Australian Glass Bead Use During the Contact Period

Mirani Litster, Daryl Wesley, and Gretchen Stolte

19/ Lithics as Portable Art

Peter Hiscock

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Michelle C. Langley is a DECRA Research Fellow in the Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia. Her research revolves around issues of human behavioural evolution in both Neanderthals and Modern Humans, and specialises in the traceology of hunter-gatherer technologies. 

Mirani Litster is a Research Officer in the Department of Archaeology and Natural History at the Australian National University. Her research focuses on the archaeology of past globalisation and interaction in the Indian Ocean and Australasia.

Duncan Wright is a Senior Lecturer at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia, specialising in Australian Indigenous archaeology. Since completing a doctorate at Monash University in 2010 he has conducted extensive fieldwork in Australia-Pacific and Europe. A principal focus of his research is understanding the long-term human story of places that retain significance for contemporary communities.

Sally K. May is a Senior Research Fellow with the Place, Evolution and Rock Art Heritage Unit, Griffith University, Australia. As an archaeologist and anthropologist her research focuses on relationships between people, landscapes, material culture and imagery, with inspiration drawn primarily from fieldwork in northern Australia.


"This volume explores the rich world of portable art in the Asia-Pacific, from the earliest examples of beads and other ornaments made by Pleistocene hunter-gatherers in Australia and Southeast Asia to the staggering diversity of small carved objects and related artworks from the recent past and ethnographic present of Oceania. The book provides an important compilation of the many discoveries of portable art made at archaeological sites across this vast region. It also presents a stimulating discussion of what portable art is and what it means from a uniquely Australasian perspective, as well as from the viewpoint of those interested in the origin of art and the evolutionary history of our species."

- Adam Brumm, Griffith University, Australia