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Jeju, Island of Change and Challenges: Cultural Niche Construction of the Holocene Islanders in Southern Korea

Date and Time: 
Thursday, April 19, 2018. 05:00 PM - 06:30 PM
Meeting Location: 
Stanford Archaeology Center
Workshop: 
Archaeology--Political Landscapes: Past and Present
Meeting Description: 

Islands can offer an intriguing case study for cultural trajectories of societies pursuing both isolation and connectedness. Jeju became sensational in Asian archaeology with the discovery of one of the world’s earliest earthenware, dating back 10,000 years. Jeju is also well known with its unique cultural heritage and volcanic island ecosystem, hosting UNESCO-designated world heritage. Despite such recognition, little is known about long-term human-environmental interactions there and a deep root of distinct cultural heritage. Our team aims to assess the inner workings of niche construction by documenting the cultural and environmental particulars of the island’s past (10,000–3,000 BP). Under the niche construction perspective, this project poses a series of questions. What motivated people to cross the open ocean and settle on Jeju? What environmental specifics facilitated the long Neolithic tradition and how has culture modified the surroundings? How did interactions between Jeju islanders and mainlanders contribute to shaping cultural customs on Jeju? At the same time, the project aims to establish groundwork on understanding current practice and the future direction of cultural heritage management on Jeju. Findings guided by both objectives will contribute to achieving our long-term goal, raising public awareness of the cultural heritage vulnerable to climate changes and tourism. The talk will introduce the preliminary research outcomes on these inquiries on Jeju.

Gyoung-Ah Lee is an archaeologist investigating ancient human-environment interactions and cultural niche construction in prehistoric Asia. Her work primarily focuses on the long transition from hunting and gathering to dependence on farming for food, and has been featured in media outlets ranging from scientific journals to NPR. While focused in Asia, her research spans the globe, and she has led archaeological projects and participated in excavations in Australia, Canada, China, Indonesia, Korea, and Vietnam. Recently, she started an island archaeology project on Jeju with National Geographic support to understand peopling and cultural connections over the oceans, island adaptation, and origins of pottery and farming in Asia. Dr. Lee’s topical interests include paleoethnobotany, paleoenvironment, social complexity in early states, transition from foraging to food production, traditional farming technologies, phylogenetics of crops, labor organization, ideology of food, and quantitative archaeology. Since 2007 she has been based at the University of Oregon, in Eugene, as a member of the faculty of anthropology.

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