9. Does Island Archaeology Matter?
Cyprian Broodbank [+]
University of Cambridge
Island archaeology is now a well-established field, but within the changing conditions of the twenty-first century AD, within and beyond archaeology, how can it best ensure its continued wider appeal and relevance? Three mutually compatible and far from exclusive responses are advanced here. The first emphasizes the intrinsic importance of understanding early island societies, both for the politics of identity among islanders today, and in order to contextualize the challenges they face in terms of current and future geopolitics and global warming. The second concerns the comparative insights into wider sociopolitical developments that we might gain from island archaeology, and suggests that this investigation requires a revision of questions if it is to prosper. The third argues for a new approach and agenda that explores the impact of island societies on deep global history. Preliminary indications suggest that with regard to the islands of the world’s three great oceans this is a relatively recent phenomenon, a millennium or less in age, with the possible exception of Indian Ocean transfers. Deeper time antecedents exist among some of the world’s inner seas, specifically exemplified from at least 5,000 years ago in the Mediterranean. Yet even amongst other such theaters there seems to be significant variation both in the roles played by islanders and the cultural dynamics of insularity, variation not entirely explained by differential surviving evidence. This prompts some final observations on the unusual dynamics of insularity that Mediterranean conditions encouraged, the extent to which approaches to islands first developed there as long ago as this region’s Bronze and Iron Ages became cumulatively globalized after AD 1492, and the consequent potential for a more historicized approach to comparative island archaeology.