The Unsung Characters of the “Gifford & Shutler” 1952 expedition to New Caledonia: Rediscovering the Role of Mary Elizabeth Shutler and of the Kanak Fieldworkers

University of Western Australia, Australia

The 1952 American archaeological fieldwork mission that led to the discovery of the now famed ‘Lapita site’ (Xapeta’a, Foué peninsula, Grande Terre of New Caledonia) is recognised as a landmark event in the history of Pacific archaeology. It has remained known as the “(Edward) Gifford and (Richard) Shutler” expedition – from the original 1956 monograph to the 2002 volumes celebrating the 50th anniversary of the expedition. However, even in the acknowledgements and photographs presented in these publications appear other important contributors to the work: the Kanak fieldworkers and informants providing essential labour and cultural information; but also Mary Elizabeth Shutler who was the only member of the team speaking French, discussing directly with her Kanak co-workers while recording traditions, actively excavating and collecting archaeological information (also accompanied by Delila Gifford who seemed to have played a different role in the expedition). Here, we want to present preliminary results from an investigation of the role played by these crucial but under-recognised members of the 1952 fieldwork, based on archival and oral history sources. We will also reflect on how the particular story of this collaborative work between Elizabeth Shutler and the Kanak fieldworkers illuminates a hidden history at the cross-roads of two marginalised groups in the history of science: women and indigenous collaborators.