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Geoffrey S. Hope and Simon G. Haberle

New Guinea can be seen as a result of gradual indigenous development punctuated by external influences such as introduced domestic plants and climate change and variability. Any ‘foreign’ influences would be small and possibly isolated to single locations in the cordillera. Our records come from swamps and these may have been the birthplace of an agriculture that depended on aroids and banana.

There is much we still do not know about the environmental history of the island. One example is that we are unsure of the causes of a ‘gap’ in sedimentation that occurs in many sites. At Kuk no sediments are known from the period 16–9000 BP, and the peatland is not present until 5500 years ago, by which time the catchment is virtually as deforested as the present day. From the handful of sites that cover this gap, such as Hordorli or Tari, there are few clues. Perhaps a phase of dry weather and widespread fires occurred and catchment clearance may be implicated. This lack of detail is frustrating because of our inability to relate the modern diversity to its past history. This will remain a major aim as the framework of sites and records is strengthened.


This review rests heavily on the work of many archaeologists and palaeoecologists. We are grateful to Michael Bourke, Tim Denham, Tim Flannery, Pawel Gorecki, Phillip Hughes, Jack Golson, Juliette Pasveer, Ron Petocz, Jocelyn Powell, Pamela Swadling, Marjorie Sullivan and Donald Walker for their insights. Our own work as palaeoecologists would not have been possible without the support of various Indonesian and Papua New Guinean authorities and the farmers and hunters of New Guinea who shared their real knowledge with us and provided practical assistance. We thank the Australian Research Grants Scheme and The Australian National University for financial aid and the Quaternary Dating Centre at the ANU for its massive program of dating in the island over the past 40 years.


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Corlett, Richard T., 1984, Human impact on the subalpine vegetation of Mt Wilhelm, Papua New Guinea. Journal of Ecology 72:841–854.

Denham, Tim P., Simon G. Haberle, Carol Lentfer, Richard Fullagar, Judith Field, Michael Therin, Nick Porch and Barbara Winsborough, 2003, Origins of agriculture at Kuk Swamp in the Highlands of New Guinea. Science 301:189–193.

Denham, Tim P., Simon G. Haberle and Carol Lentfer, 2004, New evidence and revised interpretations of early agriculture in Highland New Guinea. Antiquity 78:839–857.

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