Presentation at the “School of Humanities and Social Sciences” Weekly Seminar, University of Papua New Guinea

Invited by Prof. Linus Digim’rina, Sébastien Plutniak presents an aspect of the sociological research made in the context of the Papuan Past Project at UPNG “School of Humanities and Social Sciences” Weekly Seminar.


What do locals know, think they know, and what it teaches us? The case of caves-related knowledge in a rural community in the East Sepik province

Since the 19th century and the development of scientific anthropology, rock art has been a continuous source of fascination and rumination about possible thoughts and cognitive capacities of past humans. Because in some regions of the world people still live around rock art locations –or create rock art– attempts at relating past and current practices and people were continuously reinvented in multiple forms. In this perspective, recent literature published in English called to “bridge the gap” between rock art studies and ethnoarchaeology. I propose a radical answer to this call from the case of a rural community in the Sepik region, northern New Guinea, where multiple caves (adorned or not) exist. If one hopes to relate current knowledge and past practices about caves, a precondition is to get a precise understanding of the contents and dynamics of this knowledge. The presented approach is “radical” in the sense that it focuses on what people say they know and who they consider as knowledgeable in the community, regardless of the exactitude of these beliefs. Using methods from kinship and social network analysis allows us to empirically study the distribution of knowledge about these caves in the social structure and to address issues relevant to the anthropology of archaeological knowledge, ownership, and the local consequences of anthropological research.


Dr Sébastien Plutniak is a researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), working at the CITERES laboratory (Tours, France). He is a member of the Papuan Past Project since 2018. Trained as a prehistoric archaeologist and a sociologist, his interests revolves around current and past uses of formal and computer-based methods in the humanities and social sciences, studied from both practical, socio-historical, and epistemological perspectives. As an archaeologist, he worked first in Borneo (2009-2016) and is currently part of a project in Papua New Guinea (2018-). Besides, he serves as a board member of the “French Prehistoric Society”, the “History of Archaeology” commission of the “International Union for Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences”, and the French Chapter of the “Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology” organisation.

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Papuan Past Project Editors (May 28, 2024). Presentation at the “School of Humanities and Social Sciences” Weekly Seminar, University of Papua New Guinea. Papuan Past Project. Retrieved July 13, 2024 from

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