Archaeology as a modern science only reached the South Pacific in the wake of World War II. Before then, everyone's understanding of Pacific prehistory was grounded on misleading European ideas about race and alleged racial migrations "out of Asia." Recently, human molecular geneticists have begun to turn their gaze toward Oceania and its inhabitants. The results published so far leave a great deal to be desired--as Regenstein Curator John Terrell surveyed last year in Scientific American. In April 2019, Antony Funnell at the Australian Broadcasting Company interviewed Terrell about the use and misuse of human genetics. In particular, Funnell asked him to explain why he feels it isn't necessarily a wise idea to send off a sample of your spit to a commercial genetics laboratory in hopes of discovering the secrets allegedly hidden in your DNA about your personal ancestry and future prospects for a good, healthy life. Listen to the program here.
Our co-curation gallery has been updated for 2019. The Museum’s Filipino-American community has chosen a new selection of materials for the Philippines case, including tattoo-related implements and an example of the Tagbanwa writing system. Both traditional tattooing and this writing system are experiencing something of a modern resurgence; our co-curators wanted to connect historical objects with contemporary interests in the Philippines.
Visitors can also see the second of our contemporary Fijian barkcloth wedding dresses (the other occupied this space last year.) Purchased by collections manager Chris Philipp in 2015, both dresses were made by Mere K. Morris, a dressmaker in Suva, Fiji. The barkcloth, known as masi, is stencilled with traditional designs on a contemporary style dress.
Distance can sometimes be a challenge in our efforts to collaborate with our partners in the Pacific, but exhibitions developer Ryan Schussler managed to work with a group of Kiribati and Kiribati-Americans via Facebook on our first co-curated Kiribati case. Ryan shared photos of the collection and asked a few questions of the Facebook group, who then discussed and made decisions about how they wished to represent their islands in the Field Museum. The case features everyday objects from Kiribati life in the 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as coconut fiber armor and a shark tooth trident meant for combat. The labels, and [coming soon] digital rails contain information and thoughts from our Kiribati co-curators.