Entangled Histories

Ethnology, Archaeology and Physical Anthropology in Oceania


  • Hilary Howes The Australian National University


The discipline of ethnology, now more commonly known as social and cultural anthropology, developed from a variety of research fields. Although the establishment of ‘four-field anthropology’ is generally attributed to Franz Boas in 1904, it was already common in the second half of the nineteenth century for traveller-naturalists, missionaries and colonial authorities who were actively involved in ethnology to engage in other disciplines at the same time, notably physical anthropology, archaeology and linguistics. Often their findings in one discipline coloured their conclusions in another; for example, the belief that a particular population or ‘race’ was ‘primitive’ on account of physical or cultural characteristics could influence which theories about the prehistory of that population or ‘race’ were considered plausible and which were dismissed as impossible. This paper examines three German-speaking researchers – Jan Kubary, Otto Finsch, and Paul Hambruch – who, at different points in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, engaged with the prehistory of Nan Madol, a monumental stone complex and ceremonial centre of eastern Micronesia, and reached quite different conclusions. These three case studies demonstrate how closely the history of ethnology in the Pacific is intertwined with the histories of archaeology and physical anthropology.



How to Cite

Howes, H. (2022) “Entangled Histories: Ethnology, Archaeology and Physical Anthropology in Oceania”, Journal of Pacific Archaeology, 13(1). Available at: https://pacificarchaeology.org/index.php/journal/article/view/340 (Accessed: 10 December 2022).