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The Australian National University

Mr Ben Shaw

Position: PhD Candidate


Thesis Title: The prehistory of Rossel Island, Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea: The archaeology of interaction and isolation


The island of Rossel is located in the Louisiade Archipelago at the extreme east of the Milne Bay province, off the east coast of the Papua New Guinea mainland. It has been the subject of intrigue among anthropologists since first European contact as the people living there have developed social systems unique to the island, and also speak a Papuan or 'Non-Austronesian' language. In contrast, the people on every other island in the region speak various Austronesian languages associated with a more recent spread of people into Melanesia around 3,300 years ago. It therefore appears that Rossel Island is an isolated Papuan linguistic and cultural outlier in an otherwise Austronesian region.

Despite the large anthropological interest in the island, no archaeological work has yet been undertaken to determine how Rossel Island became such an isolated outlier. Whether this occurred as a result of an existing population resisting the influence of ‘Austronesian’ associated cultural groups entering the region, or was instead a more recent transition in prehistory remains unclear. There are undertones of influence and interaction between Rossel Island and communities elsewhere in Milne Bay that allude to the previous development of a more complex society than currently exists there today. This PhD project is therefore aimed at understanding the temporal and spatial extent of human occupation on Rossel Island. Questions about prehistoric interaction and the development of the distinctive Rossel culture can then be addressed archaeologically. The prehistoric cultural sequence from Rossel Island will then be placed into a wider regional context of colonisation and cultural development in order to interpret, and fully understand the implications of the results. This study will also provide the framework for future archaeological research in the Louisiade Archipelago.

Updated: 29 March 2012/ Responsible Officer:  Head of School / Page Contact:  Web Publisher