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Recent Discoveries from the Archaeology of Mission Sites in the Mangareva Islands of Polynesia

Wednesday, April 24 at 3:30pm

Museum of Natural and Cultural History, Galleria
1680 E 15th Avenue, Eugene, OR

Please join us for a talk by James L. Flexner, Associate Professor of Historical Archaeology and Heritage, University of Sydney, on Wednesday, April 24, 2024 at 3:30 PM in the Museum of Natural and Cultural History Galleria. 

The archaeology of Catholic missions is a subject of global research, including the Pacific Rim from the California hills to remote Pacific Islands. Beginning in 1834, a group of Catholic priests and lay builders under the auspices of the Pères des Sacrés Coeurs established a mission in the Mangareva Islands (also called Îles Gambier) in what is today French Polynesia. In the subsequent decades, the missionaries and their Polynesian converts constructed churches and shrines on each of the main inhabited islands; a royal complex for the “king” Maputeoa; towers and other monuments; and dozens of stone houses for Christian Islanders. Remarkably, this landscape of conversion and culture change remains largely in place today, albeit in a state of ruination. This talk presents the current findings of an ongoing four-year project investigating the archaeology of the Catholic mission in the Mangareva Islands and relevant cultural collections around the world. Archaeological survey and excavations during 2022 and 2023 documented dozens of 19th century mission structures, from the grand cathedral in Rikitea to the boys’ school at Aukena Island, to local sites of food production such as bread ovens and pits for the making and preserving of popoe (fermented breadfruit paste). This research highlights themes of transformation, but also adaptation and resilience during a century of dramatic encounters with others in Oceania.