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Exploiting Diversity: Plant Exploitation and Occupation in the Interior of New Guinea during the Pleistocene

Tim Denham
Archaeology in Oceania
Vol. 42, No. 2 (Jul., 2007), pp. 41-48
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40387380
Page Count: 8
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Exploiting Diversity: Plant Exploitation and Occupation in the Interior of New Guinea during the Pleistocene
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Abstract

Over the last 30 years, successive researchers have portrayed occupation in the highlands of New Guinea during the Pleistocene, or prior to the advent of agriculture, to have been based on hunting and the exploitation of seasonally-producing high-altitude Pandanus spp. (karuka in pidgin). The reporting of high-altitude Pandanus dating to c. 31-30,000 uncal. BP from the Kosipe Mission site (Owen Stanley Range, Papua New Guinea) has breathed new life into this scenario. However, such portrayals are based on long-held and simplistic assumptions regarding Pandanus phenology, vegetation history and resource availability in the highlands during the Pleistocene. I advance an alternative interpretation which highlights the spatial and temporal variability in the seasonally of Pandanus production, the persistence of mixed Castanopsis-Lithocarpus lower montane forest on the lower slopes and floors of some highland valleys during the Pleistocene, the resultant variability in abundance and diversity of plant food resources across space and through time, and the highly variable food procurement strategies adopted by people inhabiting the interior of New Guinea during the Pleistocene.

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