Axis 3

Axis 3 | Ancient Societies of the Pacific, Maritime Asia and Southwest America – PAmAs

This research axis covers very different geo-cultural entities scattered over more than 15,000 km in the Pacific Ocean, from the Asian coast to the tip of South America. The emphasis on this mainly southern hemisphere-oriented geographical dimension distinguishes this axis from the other two, which focus on the Old World. However, the most obvious cohesive element is the fundamentally maritime character of our fields of research, whether they concern coastal, insular or continental zones. The societies that developed in this vast area are very different, both in terms of their ways of life (hunter-gatherers, fishermen, farmers, breeders, merchants, etc.), and in diachronic terms, covering the entire Holocene (and even beyond) in continental areas. In the islands scattered in the centre of the Pacific Ocean, this timescale is limited to the last two millennia. All of the studied societies are linked to the sea, and relied heavily on marine resources. Their mastery of navigation techniques led to the settlement of certain isolated regions and favoured inter-community contacts (socio-political, ceremonial, merchant networks, etc.). Four sub-fields allow us to cover the different themes uniting our research teams, in particular, techno-economic responses to environmental constraints, the impact of inter-ethnic contacts, but also the impact of the arrival of Europeans from the fifteenth century to the present day.

Research developed in this sub-axis aims to shed light on the technical logics, methods of adaptation, and the technological, economic and cultural choices that enabled the exploitation of mineral and organic resources by ancient societies in maritime Asia, the Pacific and Southwest America. Our research programme is based on the methodological and conceptual foundation of cultural technology and comprises several components:
(1) the technical processes used to extract and transform natural resources;
(2) the structural elements and logics inherent in technical systems;
(3) highlighting interactions between technical systems and social organisations.
Our approach aims to identify and define the technical parameters characterising each activity: know-how, tools and materials, environmental conditions, and the spatio-temporal dimension of the studied processes. The analysis of archaeological remains makes it possible to take into account the quality and intrinsic properties of the materials used, tool functionality, the organisation of technical processes in space, as well as the traditions and technological choices specific to each cultural entity. Finally, our research aims to evaluate the functioning of techno-economic phenomena and the associated social relations, as well as the size of the exploited territories and the accessibility of socially valued resources in relation to possible socio-political control. From continental domains to large archipelagos and small oceanic islands, the island and coastal environments considered here are characterised by different degrees of geological and ecological diversity. In particular, they encompass a heterogeneous distribution of the materials used in the production of material cultures, and of the natural resources exploited as part of subsistence activities.
These activities are limited by environmental constraints but are also the cause of major ecological changes, in terms of the density and distribution of species or in terms of their natural habitats. Through the exploration of technical systems and the identification of adaptative and innovative trends in the different exploited environments, our work will also seek to describe the complex socio-ecosystemic dynamics in place during the settlement of new regions and their long-term evolution.

The insular and coastal areas of maritime Asia, the Pacific and Southwest America form very specific environments for the ancient societies that discovered and populated them, adapted to them, and developed original modes of social organisation. These societies are characterised by very diversified social and political organisations, from the most horizontal to the most vertical, with pre-state forms as in the archipelagos of Hawai’i or Tonga, or state forms as in South America, South Asia and Southeast Asia. Through the analysis of historical trajectories and the mechanisms of their transformations, we will attempt to shed light on the emergence and evolution of these socio-cultural constructions in their regional contexts. These trajectories are of variable durations, and, beginning with the first human settlements, we will examine them from the perspective of structural trends (technical, economic, symbolic and cultural) and from that of transitions. The forms, durations and implications of these changes will be defined at local and regional levels. The clarification of the chronological framework of human occupations and chrono-cultural sequences is a priority in most of the studied regions, and constitutes a prerequisite for the reconstruction of historical trajectories. The analysis of societies and their interactions will also be based on multi-proxy approaches, involving in particular, the study of material cultures, funerary practices, the provenance of objects and materials, and biological parameters measured on humans, animals and plants. Factors of change will be assessed in terms of internal and external dynamics. Processes of diversification, differentiation and adaptation will be defined in environments where geographical, climatic and ecological conditions are often restrictive. The study of medium and long-distance mobility will allow us to take stock of the role of migratory movements and exchange systems in the composition and formation of socio-cultural entities with interconnected historical trajectories. The demographic factor, underlying all the historical dynamics, will also be considered in the light of the particular environmental conditions and the size of the territories available in the coastal and island areas of maritime Asia, the Pacific and Southwest America.

Sub-axis 3 concerns the processes and consequences of contacts between indigenous populations in maritime Asia, Oceania and Southwest America and Westerners. Some of these contacts occurred at the time of the first major European explorations, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but also much later: in the nineteenth century and even in the twentieth century for certain regions, for example in Papua New Guinea. They may correspond to occasional incursions, accompanied by exchanges of objects, materials and foodstuffs, but they also led more or less rapidly to colonisation and evangelisation – sometimes accompanied by conflicts. The work carried out within this sub-axis aims to reconstruct the social, political, artistic, technical and economic dynamics that arose from interactions between the ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Worlds. In certain studied geographical contexts, the archaeology of the most recent periods is often emergent, or even practically non-existent (this is the case, for example, in French Polynesia). By developing research in archaeology, it should be possible to approach the mechanisms of transmission, continuity, rupture, and cultural appropriation, and assess how they unfolded during these pivotal moments, from a new angle – while opening the way to transregional comparisons. This research is not limited to material data, but also involves the writings produced by local actors and Westerners. Written sources are often overlooked or underexploited, and the identification and analysis of such documents is indeed a goal in itself. Several of us will focus in particular on enhancing our understanding of transformations in material practices during the first contacts with Westerners, with the integration of new materials and technical concepts (the metric system, metal, glass, etc.), the appearance of ‘composite’ objects combining existing and imported forms, or the expansion of trade. Christianisation is itself a vector of major changes, visible, for example, in transformations in burial practices or in architectural changes. The arrival of Westerners also led to significant changes in dietary practices and the occurrence of epidemics, which must be studied through the combined angles of history and archaeology. An archaeology of conflicts and anti-colonial struggles could also emerge within this sub-axis in the future.

The transdisciplinary experimental research carried out in sub-axis 4 is at the interface of Archaeology and Ethnology and should lead to methodological developments. The focus here is on indigenous groups. Some of these groups are minorities marginalised by nations. This is the case for many groups in Amazonia or Southeast Asia, such as certain forest hunter-gatherers or marine nomads. This work on the history of indigenous groups (‘indigenous archaeology’) can be carried out in collaboration with the communities. In this case, archaeology aims at the co-construction of knowledge and history. A multivocal approach prevails in which the archaeologist must work with very different records of knowledge. This work is intrinsically reflexive, and involves the restitution of history to the groups concerned and valorising this history through the patrimonialisation of the associated remains. This multidisciplinary research often involves ethnohistory, ethnology, geography and ethnolinguistics working in synergy with archaeology and should not be confused with public archaeology, which is concerned with the enhancement and education of a very wide public. It is extremely diversified, on account of the political and social structures in place (presence of traditional or non-traditional chieftaincies, particular systems of affiliation in the communities, etc.) and the varied historical trajectories in the different regions in this sub-field. Archaeology can seek to provide information on the long-term history of currently colonised or minority groups. It can investigate a fairly recent or older history. It can thus record practices, map a territory and participate in the spatio-temporal anchoring of these groups, which have sometimes been evicted. The archaeology of these groups, which some anthropologists analyse as ‘libertarian’ (Formoso) or ‘anarchic’ (J. Scott), not only contributes to providing a history of these communities, which are often considered as ‘ahistorical’, but also to mirroring that of currently dominant groups. In the case of earlier history, ethnoarchaeological research aims to develop methodologies to identify the remains attributable to these groups. The aim is not merely to piece together their ancient history, but also to determine their role in exchanges and cultural diffusion in large maritime and island areas. It is part of a systemic archaeological approach targeting the contributions of different groups within regional historical trajectories.

Liste des programmes de recherche en cours

  • Mission archéologique franco-Thaïe en péninsule Thaï-Malaise, Silpakorn
    2005-en cours
    Ministère de l’Europe et des Affaires Etrangères, Mission archéologique
  • Mission Archéologique française en Thaïlande-Birmanie Péninsulaire. Projet Tanintharyi and the early Maritime Silk Roads
    2017-en cours
    Ministère de l’Europe et des Affaires Etrangères, Mission archéologique
  • Batchelor : un site de contact entre indigènes et navigateurs dans le détroit de Magellan au XVIIème siècle
    Ministère de l’Europe et des Affaires Etrangères, Mission archéologique
  • The First Polynesians: Their Origins, Lifeways and Environmental Challenges (project ID DP200102872)
    Clark G., Reepmeyer C., Frédérique Valentin
    2020-en cours
    Australian Research Council (équivalent ANR en Australie)
  • Entre el mar y la tierra: Arqueología del seno Skyring, Otway y Obstrucción, un espacio de interacción cultural y ambiental durante el Holoceno tardío en Patagonia (Iniciación Nº 11200969)
    FONDECYT, Chili
  • Caractérisation des géomatériaux et mobilité des populations anciennes du Désert d’Atacama (ECOS SUD – ANID, C20H02)
    Pierre Allard, Santoro C. M. (IAI Chili)
    FONDECYT, Chili
  • Arqueología y ambiente: interacción cultural en Fuego-Patagonia durante los ultimo milenios / « Archéologie et environnement : interaction culturelle en Patagonie et Terre de Feu au cours des derniers millénaires.
    ECOS-ANID C19H0 2, Projet de mobilité scientifique France-Chili
  • La Diáspora de Atacama. Red global de objetos precolombinos, coleccionistas y museos entre 1850 y 1950 (FONDECYT REGULAR, Chili)
  • Colores, Polvos y Minas del Período Intermedio Tardío. Biografías pigmentarias del Desierto de Atacama (FONDECYT REGULAR, Chili)
  • Des artefacts au cœur des marges
    AP MAE/MSH Mondes
  • Techno-économie comparée des productions en matières dures d’origine animale chez les chasseurs-cueilleurs de la côte pacifique du Chili (IIIème et IVème régions) à l’Archaïque moyen-récent
    Aide à la recherche doctorale de l’Institut des Amériques
  • Teti’aroa archaeology project (Seeley Foundation grant)
    2015-en cours
    Contrats financés par des associations caritatives et des fondations (ARC, FMR, FRM, etc.)
    Seeley Foundation
  • Les expressions symboliques chez les chasseurs-cueilleurs terrestres et maritimes de « Fuego-Patagonia » (Chili) : techniques et codes visuels de l’art rupestre
    Fondart, Chili
  • Les néo-tailleurs d’obsidienne de Pachuca
  • Andean Potter’s Knowledge: Ceramic Production, Circulation and Use in Southern Ecuador and Northern Peru
    Gabriel Ramón Catherine Lara Martha Bell
    Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, IFEA
    Endangered Material Knowledge Programma (British Museum)
  • An archaeological investigation of Inca Mitmaq colonies in southern Ecuador: exploring imperial impacts, ethnicity and inter-ethnic relations through technologies of pottery production
    Tamara Bray, Catherine Lara
    Wayne State University, IFEA
    Fondation Gerda Henkel, Rust Foundation (SAA), H. and T. King Grant for Precolumbian Archaeology