14. Thoughts of a Comparativist on Past Colonisation, Maritime Interaction and Cultural Integration
Comparative Perspectives on Colonisation, Maritime Interaction and Cultural Integration - Lene Melheim
Matthew Spriggs [+]
The Australian National University
I read these papers looking for parallels in my own area, broadly the Pacific, not as specific sources for new models in my own practice but, as Price (this volume) puts it, “as a lens through which to view the period afresh” or rather, in my case, to view the trajectories of social change in the Pacific Islands afresh. It works the other way, too, of course; hopefully, the Pacific might, in turn, provide a similar lens. The claim of a modern evolutionary approach in archaeology (Shennan 2004) must be that one would expect parallels between sequences of cultural change where the motivations of the actors and their circumstances are similar, despite differences in geography and/or temporality. Thus, Glørstad and Melheim (this volume) seek “to assess the structural basis for the apparent similarities in the material record” – in their case between the Bronze and Viking Ages – in order to identify “universal parameters behind the particularities of the two historical trajectories”. One should stress, however, as Glørstad and Melheim indeed do, that the dissimilarities between otherwise seemingly parallel sequences should be equally instructive; they allow us to examine what happens when one or more parameters change, and why such changes can spin the trajectory in each particular case off in a different direction. Glørstad and Melheim also brilliantly illustrate the limitations of classic ethnographic analogies in considering aspects of the Bronze Age: “the Pacific has been to the Bronze Age what the written sources have been to the Vikings”. And, one might add, their examples clearly show the limits of both relational and direct historical analogy in explicating archaeological data.