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SYNAPSE Seminar: Material traces of movement: objects as evidence of trade and connection in Melanesia, 24 Oct

Australian National University, Outreach, SYNAPSE

Date: 20 October 2022

Seminar: Material traces of movement: objects as evidence of trade and connection in Melanesia

Speaker: Lissant Bolton (The British Museum)

When: 24 Oct 2022, 2pm-3.30pm AEDT

Where: Seminar Room D (3.204) HC Coombs Building and Online via Zoom (Online guests will receive Zoom details once they register)

Registration via Eventbrite


Museum collections of objects, brought into dialogue with research outcomes in anthropology, archaeology, linguistics and genetics, provide evidence of the connections between people across the Pacific. Archaeologists use such object-based evidence regularly – for example in tracing Bismarck obsidian through the region – but much more can be done in recognising connection through material traces. There are several levels at which this can operate. Connections can be traced through objects which have been moved themselves (as with obsidian), but also through similarities in the styles and manufacture of objects made in different regions, through the distribution of the plants from which objects are made, and so on. Recent genetic evidence of Papuan connections to and presence in Vanuatu can be illuminated by comparisons of objects and styles from New Britain and Malakula, for example. Ethnographic accounts of trade, objects collected far from their place of origin, similarities in practice and form can all suggest or document connections. In the past this kind of evidence was used in arguments about matters such as the distribution of backstrap looms through the north-western Pacific. This paper offers a preliminary excursion into such evidence. I suggest some principles for how such evidence can be applied and propose avenues for future research.


Dr Lissant Bolton is Director of the Endangered Material Knowledge Programme at The British Museum. She is an anthropologist whose research focuses on gender and kastom in Vanuatu and on the indigenous use of collections and cultural knowledge. Dr Bolton has worked in Vanuatu since 1989, collaborating with the Vanuatu Cultural Centre (VKS) in the development of programs to document and revive women’s knowledge and practice.

This is a public seminar and will be recorded

This seminar is part of the SYNAPSE Series

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University