The dimensions of social life in the pacific: Human diversity and the myth of the primitive isolate

John Edward Terrell, Terry L. Hunt, Chris Gosden

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

123 Scopus citations


The Pacific has been thought of as a region in which isolated societies are related to one another more by descent from the same ancestral traditions than by continuing social, political, and economic interaction. The apparent marginality of island societies has led scholars to assume that language, biology, and culture have coevolved in this part of the world in such an orderly fashion that language can be used to circumscribe populations and reconstruct their ancient migrations and culture history. Cultural evolution has often been conceptualized as a process of radiating differentiation from a common source or (borrowing thought from zoology and paleontology) a process of adaptive radiation. During the pioneering phase of anthropological field research in the Pacific after World War II, the simplifying assumption that people who live on islands live isolated lives played a useful role. Now scholars are working to improve the historical realism of their claims and reconstructions. This shift in orientation promises to unify the study of history and synchronic analysis in the Pacific as, in Alexander Lesser's words, "parts of one universe of discourse, of one order or level of the human social process."

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)155-195
Number of pages41
JournalCurrent Anthropology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology


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