Material traces of movement: objects as evidence of trade and connection in Melanesia

Photo: Dr Lissant Bolton (Photo: Benedict Johnson); Courtesy EMKP Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas The British Museum

Event details


Date & time

Monday 24 October 2022


Seminar Room D (3.204) HC Coombs Building and Online via Zoom


Dr Lissant Bolton


CHL Communicate

Additional links

Photo: Dr Lissant Bolton (Credit: Benedict Johnson); Courtesy EMKP Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas The British Museum

Synapse Trans-Disciplinary Seminar Series by the School of Culture, History & Language

This event will be hosted in hybrid format, with both online and in-person attendance options. Online guests will receive Zoom details once they register for the seminar via Eventbrite.


Museum collections of objects, brought into dialogue with research outcomes in anthropology, archaeology, linguistics and genetics, provide evidence of the connections between people across the Pacific. Archaeologists use such object-based evidence regularly – for example in tracing Bismarck obsidian through the region – but much more can be done in recognising connection through material traces. There are several levels at which this can operate. Connections can be traced through objects which have been moved themselves (as with obsidian), but also through similarities in the styles and manufacture of objects made in different regions, through the distribution of the plants from which objects are made, and so on. Recent genetic evidence of Papuan connections to and presence in Vanuatu can be illuminated by comparisons of objects and styles from New Britain and Malakula, for example. Ethnographic accounts of trade, objects collected far from their place of origin, similarities in practice and form can all suggest or document connections. In the past this kind of evidence was used in arguments about matters such as the distribution of backstrap looms through the north-western Pacific. This paper offers a preliminary excursion into such evidence. I suggest some principles for how such evidence can be applied and propose avenues for future research.

About the Speaker

Dr Lissant Bolton is Director of the Endangered Material Knowledge Programme at the British Museum. She is an anthropologist whose research focuses on gender and kastom in Vanuatu and on the indigenous use of collections and cultural knowledge. Lissant has worked in Vanuatu since 1989, collaborating with the Vanuatu Cultural Centre (VKS) in the development of programs to document and revive women’s knowledge and practice.

This is a public seminar and will be recorded.

The recording will be made available after the event through the Synapse Trans-Disciplinary Seminar Series page.

Updated:  7 July 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, Culture, History & Language/Page Contact:  CHL webmaster