Uncovering Pacific Pasts: Harvard’s Early Endeavors in Oceanic Anthropology

Model of an Outrigger Canoe

Model of an Outrigger Canoe (vaka) Tatakoto Atoll, French Polynesia. Gift of Alexander Agassiz, 1905. © President and Fellows of Harvard College, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, PM 05-2-70/64866.

UPCOMING EXHIBIT: Open Saturday, March 7, 2020–Sunday, March 7, 2021

This new exhibit explores how early Harvard scholars influenced the development of anthropology and archaeology in the Pacific region. Produced in collaboration with over thirty other museums around the world, Harvard’s contributing exhibit will feature historical images and objects from the Peabody collections, including intricately carved Fijian clubs, models of distinctive Pacific outriggers, and a striking example of Samoan bark cloth (siapo). Together they weave a compelling narrative about the ideas, people, and networks pivotal to both early understandings and ongoing studies of Oceania.

A related public program, “Early Archaeology of the Pacific,” will be offered Tuesday, March 10, 2020 at the Geological Lecture Hall (24 Oxford Street, Cambridge). Matthew Spriggs, Laureate Fellow and Professor of Archaeology at Australian National University, will give a free lecture on the findings of a five-year project to understand the early history of Pacific archaeology and its contributions to our understanding of human settlement in the region.

Over thirty institutions worldwide will offer Uncovering Pacific Pasts exhibits, including five in the United States. All are targeted to open in early March 2020. The Peabody Museum’s contribution is the only Uncovering Pacific Pasts exhibit in New England. All of the Uncovering Pacific Pasts exhibits are part of the Collective Biography of Archaeology in the Pacific (CBAP) Project, an Australian Research Council (ARC) funded Laureate research program based in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology, College of Arts and Social Sciences at The Australian National University in Canberra, Australia.  The Peabody Museum collections from Oceania—comprising the islands of the North and South Pacific, and Australia—are extensive and include many rare eighteenth-century items collected by Boston merchants, traders, explorers, and researchers on Pacific voyages dating back to the late 18th century.