Abstract: Ancient Polynesians, Lapita Pottery, and the Seductive Power of Common Sense

Common sense and science alike are grounded on human experience. Yet these complementary perspectives on the world and our place in it are often in conflict. For instance, practically all social science reasoning rests on the idea that there are different kinds of people on earth who can be variously labeled communities, ethnic groups, populations, societies, or cultures – a commonsense idea that begs more questions than it resolves. Consider the case of the so-called Polynesians of the South Seas and prehistoric Lapita pottery, the oldest known pottery found in Melanesia and on islands east of there in the Pacific as far as Tonga and Samoa in western Polynesia. For centuries, scholars and others have said that Polynesians are a biological and cultural people, or race, apart from other islanders in Oceania whose ancestors migrated thousands of years ago swiftly out into the Pacific from an ancient homeland somewhere in Southeast Asia or on Formosa (Taiwan). A great story, but is it the right story?

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