David Burley

Dave Burley



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David Burley’s research programs over the past two and a half decades have largely focused in the west Polynesian Kingdom of Tonga and the Republic of Fiji. Tonga was the first set of islands in Polynesia to be colonized, and it is here that the Ancestral Polynesian homeland developed. His archaeological studies consequently concentrate on the discovery and excavation of first settlement locales, sites we refer to generically as “Lapita” based on a distinctive type of pottery.

Of particular concern has been the establishment of refined chronologies for first settlement, the expansion of peoples through the 170 island-archipelago, the impact colonizers had on pristine tropical ecosystems and the documentation of culture change as these peoples formed a cultural and technological template that would ultimately be transported throughout the Polynesian triangle.

His research in Fiji has been alternatively focused on a single site, the Sigatoka Sand Dunes, and what this site can tell us about migration and culture change on the island of Viti Levu. Sigatoka is a parabolic dune system with archaeological materials constantly exposed as the dune sands move. SFU archaeological field schools and a collaborative project with the Fiji Museum and the National Trust for Fiji have completed nine excavation and recovery projects and generated a very large volume of data on the Fijian mid- sequence (500 BC – 1000 AD). These data are significant to the question of Fijian ethno-genesis and why Fijians are considered Melanesian not Polynesian. Finally, with Adjunct Professor Robyn Woodward, he has been intermittently carrying out survey and excavations at the first Spanish colony in Jamaica, Sevilla la Nueva (1509-1534 AD). In 2014, they shifted their studies to Maima, an indigenous Taino Village that provisioned Christopher Columbus for a year in 1503 AD. This village was annihilated within 20 years of first Spanish presence.