Modelling prehistoric social interaction in the south-western Pacific: a view from the obsidian sources in northern Vanuatu. In From Field to Museum—Studies from Melanesia in Honour of Robin Torrence, ed. Jim Specht, Val Attenbrow, and Jim Allen
This paper investigates the history of social interaction within communities in the Vanuatu Archipelago and between Vanuatu and other regions in the Western Pacific as reflected by variations in lithic raw material sources and technology of stone artefacts. Past research determined an apparent contradiction between long-distance transportation of obsidian, indicating high value, and the under-utilisation of the raw material at the place of discard, indicating low value. The paper concludes that because previous hypotheses depend too much on the notion of the scarcity of resources in their evaluation of the concept of value, they are insufficient to explain the pattern of spatial and temporal distribution of lithic artefacts. Rather than focusing on the intrinsic value of obsidian raw material for individuals or communities, it is more useful to view it as a marker of group identity in a complex system connecting discrete populations in mitigating risk in unpredictable new environments. These new environments included pre-established populations, which might be hostile to new arrivals. The necessity for this complex system quickly disappeared once the colonisers arrived in regions uninhabited by prior populations.