The archaeology of prehistoric occupation of the island of Garua, West New Britain, is beginning to provide a detailed picture of human adaptation to a highly volatile environment in which periodic catastrophic destruction of vegetation, soils and, presumably, human habitation, is countered, apparently, by the human ability to recolonise and adapt to changing circumstances. However, our ability to fully identify these human responses is presently limited by a lack of paleoenvironmental data. This wet tropical region presents specific problems in obtaining and analysing such data. In this case these problems are in part being overcome by the use of fossil phytolith analysis. However, to put this technique into use, several methodological issues have had to be addressed. This paper considers several of these, describing experiments testing preparation techniques, introducing key elements influencing assemblage compositions in this environment, and outlining the form of statistical analyses adapted and adopted to interrogate the large multivariate data set. Results are described from tests using modern analogue samples, which indicate promise in the ability of the analytical techniques to identify and differentiate key indicators of the complex and dynamic environment of prehistoric West New Britain.

You do not currently have access to this article.