A 1980 Attempt at Reviving Ancient Irrigation Practices in the Pacific

Matthew Spriggs

in The Oxford Handbook of Historical Ecology and Applied Archaeology

Published in print January 2019 | ISBN: 9780199672691
Published online July 2015 | e-ISBN: 9780191810794 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

A 1980 Attempt at Reviving Ancient Irrigation Practices in the Pacific

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The author was project leader on an attempt to revive ancient irrigation practices on Aneityum Island (Vanuatu, S. Pacific) in 1980, based on his archaeological and ethnoarchaeological research on the island. Here he tries to reconstruct the context and his rationale for instigating such a project. While successful in a technical sense—abandoned irrigation systems were indeed brought back into use as planned—the project was set up in the absence of a defined market and marketing policy. Inevitably it soon collapsed when the taro that was produced remained unsold. But all was not lost after all and a seed was sown. Recent reports from participants in the original project suggest that the ancient techniques that were re-taught to a wide section of the Island’s community in 1980 have not been forgotten. These productive techniques are increasingly being reapplied on Aneityum in a time of rapid population growth.

Keywords: irrigation; ethnoarchaeology; taro cultivation; Aneityum Island; Vanuatu

Article.  6509 words. 

Subjects: Archaeology by Region

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