Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 25, Issue 2, pp 520–558 | Cite as

The Evolution of Migration: the Case of Lapita in the Southwest Pacific

  • Ethan E. CochraneEmail author


Migrations have occurred across the history of the genus Homo and while the movement of pre-modern humans over the globe is typically understood in terms of shifting resource distributions and climate change, that is in ecological terms, the movement of anatomically modern, and specifically Holocene, populations is often explained by human desire to discover new lands, escape despotic leaders, forge trade relationships and other culture-specific intentions. This is a problematic approach to the archaeological and behavioural explanation of human migration. Here an evolutionary and ecological framework is developed to explain various movement behaviours and this framework is applied to the movement of human groups from the inter-visible islands around New Guinea to the widely dispersed archipelagos of the southwest Pacific about 1000 BC. Labelled the Lapita Migration, this movement is explained as a selection-driven range expansion. The development of evolutionary and ecological theory to explain human movement facilitates empirical testing of alternative hypotheses and links different histories of human movement through shared explanatory mechanisms.


Dispersal Lapita Oceania Migration Range expansion Selection 



The argument developed here was first presented at the 2015 Lapita Conference in Port Villa, Vanuatu, and I thank the organizers of the conference Stuart Bedford and Matthew Spriggs, as well as Glenn Summerhayes for his symposium invitation. The University of Auckland Performance Based Research Fund supported my conference attendance. Comments by Atholl Anderson, Robert DiNapoli, Thegn Ladefoged, Mark Madsen, Timothy Rieth, Peter Sheppard, Jim Specht, Matthew Spriggs, John Terrell and Michael Walker have improved the written work and I thank them. Three reviewers also provided helpful comments.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.AnthropologyThe University of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

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