Reconstructing settlement histories in the Papua New Guinea Highlands through ceramic analysis and oral traditions

Kristine Hardy*, Mathieu Leclerc, Chris Ballard, Brett Knowles, Ulrike Troitzsch

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    This study explores the scope for using ceramic and geochemical analyses to substantiate narratives about group origins and migrations and inter-group relationships in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Detailed oral traditions told by communities speaking the Gadsup and Agarabi languages recount histories of movement, conflict and trade in the Arona or Yonki Valley and its surrounds. These narratives have guided field surveys of former settlements and surface collections of archaeological ceramics at a number of sites across the Arona Valley. Detailed analyses of the resulting ceramic collections provide an opportunity to establish how archaeological science and oral traditions can collaborate in the reconstruction of micro-histories. Analysis of decoration, surface characteristics and clay composition for both diagnostic and non-diagnostic sherds allows for certain distinctions to be drawn between Agarabi pottery produced in the Arona Valley and Adzera pottery traded in from the neighbouring lowland Markham Valley. This preliminary characterisation is largely supported by differences in elemental signature identified through LA-ICPMS, as well as petrography and p-XRF. The marked differences in the distribution across sites of Agarabi and Adzera wares essentially confirm the oral traditions of patterns of migration and exchange in the pre-colonial past.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number12
    JournalArchaeological and Anthropological Sciences
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024


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