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Research in Archaeology

The Prehistory Department administers all matters of archaeological nature within Papua New Guinea. These matters are related to;

  1. Archaeological Research
  2. Archaeological Collections
  3. Archaeological Awareness
  4. Archaeological Legislation

Within the three natures, research encompasses acquiring raw data in the field through archaeological excavations, sampling and analyzing the raw data, dating samples and eventually publishing the results. Publishing results is a jointly collaborating exercise with colleagues both internally and externally This has brought to international light the contributions of the Papua New Guinea National Museum as an equal participating research institution in the world of archaeology.

Archaeological collections fall into three categories; (1) the acquiring collections, (2) the storage of collections and (3) the recording of the collections using computerized database. There are a number of ways in which collections are acquired. The main type of acquiring collection is through archaeological excavations of sites where artifacts are brought back, analyzed and stored in the storeroom II. In other instances, collections are purchased in the field and/or brought to the National Museum. The third type of acquirance is through donations by donors. Other collections are acquired through confiscations from unscrupulous art dealers.

Archaeological awareness has largely been achieved through print-media publications. Reports of archaeological expeditions and their successes has been written for public consumption and resulted in the public being made aware of the significance of archaeological work within Papua New Guinea. Plans are being made to also raise large “billboards” to inform the travelling public about prohibited materials in archaeology. Impact projects have also been targeted for archaeological in-house training for their staff – especially in the construction sector.

Archaeological Legislation must be amended immediately. This cannot be highlighted more importantly. The amended draft that was made to the National Cultural Preservation (Property) Actof 1956 has been pending since 2008 but not further action has been taken since. Without the implementation and enforcement of an amended legislation, the highway to cultural degradation remains wide open.

Research Affiliations

Since it is not possible for the staff of the National Museum to carry out all the research that needs to be done, the National Museum will affiliate researchers both from within Papua New Guinea and from overseas. Such researchers are entitled to use the title “Research Associate of the Papua New GuineaNationalMuseum”. For foreign researchers, such affiliation is a necessary step in obtaining a research visa. The NationalMuseum takes the view that both basic research and applied research are important and should be encouraged. The Museum will affiliate researchers in archaeology, anthropology, modern history, contemporary art, and natural science.

At the same time, research affiliation will only be given to researchers whose research can be shown to benefit Papua New Guinea. To this end, the researcher must meet the certain requirements as set by the National Museum.

Research Priorities

The National Museum is committed to carry out basic research in archaeology, anthropology, modern history, contemporary art, and natural science. The National Museum will not be bound either by narrow or rigid disciplinary boundaries or by narrow or strictly traditional definitions of culture, history, or art. Interdisciplinary research which attempts to broaden our understanding of general topics such as culture or art is strongly supported.

The primary research priority of the National Museum is research that will benefit Papua New Guinea. But such benefit need not be direct or tangible. Basic research which increases our general knowledge and understanding of flora and fauna of the country and the prehistory, natural history and cultural diversity of its people, as well as how those issues are related to the larger world.

The National Museum’ research priorities include:

  • Research of human adaptation in Papua New Guinea during the last 50,000 years. Archaeological research has an important role to play in nation building because it provides us with important information about the history of Papua New Guinea prior to the introduction of writing and during time periods beyond the reach of oral history.
  • Documentation of the Museum’s collections. This is urgent research because much of the knowledge about objects in our collections (especially ritual objects) is kept by older people who may die without passing that information on to younger people.
  • Documentation of the cultural diversity of Papua New Guinea. This is also an urgent project because rapid social change is modifying this diversity. The issue of cultural diversity is not only important from a scientific perspective, but also has practical implications for the formation of a single country from a diversity of peoples.
  • The delineation of cultural areas and the assessment of social research in each of those areas with the goal of establishing priorities for research and documentation.
  • Documentation of the full range of colonial and postcolonial history in Papua New Guinea.
  • Research on the flora and fauna of Papua New Guinea.
  • The documentation of the personal histories and achievements of war heroes, artists, politicians, community leaders, and other people important to the history of Papua New Guinea. The Museum has established partnerships with outside stakeholders in an effort to create an avenue where our oral history can be made availabe through PNG Speaks. PNG Speaks is a research project that features interview recordings with prominent Papua New Guineans about PNG’s transition to independence in 1975.  It is a collaboration between the NMAG, Deakin University, the University of Queensland, and the Australian Government.