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Fertility and Analogy in Pacific Palaeodemography

ALEXANDRA A. BREWIS
Asian Perspectives
Vol. 34, No. 1 (Spring 1995), pp. 1-20
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/42928337
Page Count: 20
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Fertility and Analogy in Pacific Palaeodemography
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Abstract

Understanding the palaeodemography of Pacific populations is fundamental to interpreting biological and cultural transformations in pre-Contact Pacific island societies, but skeletally based reconstructions of past demography are of questionable utility. This paper argues that the use of historic and contemporary population studies, which describe the dynamic of population change in ecological context, offers a particularly rich, but often ignored, source of material for palaeodemographic inference. Reasons for this underutilization include the notion that prehistoric and historic populations on islands were essentially dissimilar in structure and mode of change, most particularly that pre-Contact populations grew and had high fertility whereas post-Contact populations collapsed and were uniquely infected with fertility-inhibiting diseases. An examination of the available case studies shows that, on the contrary, there is no such clear dynamic that describes these ethnographically situated cases, except for a tendency to recover—often effectively—from population collapse. Rather, structural similarities between pre-European and historic demographies allow analogies to be drawn backwards, providing an underused means for examining the ecological and behavioral correlates and tempo of population expansion, the nature of responses to population collapse, and repertoires of internal population regulation in Pacific prehistory.

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