February Fieldwork: on the top of highest mountain of Papua New Guinea

Team and community member at the front of the health center at Womatne (Simbu valley), following project presentation and anthropological sampling.

The Papuan Past project team has just returned from fieldwork in Mount Wilhelm area in the Highlands region (Simbu province). Dr Leavesley, Dr Ricaut, Dr Brucato and Mr Kariwiga participated to this fieldwork on one of the highest mountain (Mount Wilhelm culminated at 4500m asl) of the ancient Sahul landmass (New Guinea, Australia and Tasmania). Our last 2 weeks in Papua New Guinea included two periods of research.

Gardens around a house in Gembogl and including the mountain slope (Simbu valley).

The first one in the Simbu river valley, on the slopes of Mount Wilhelm focusing on biological anthropology sampling (genetic and phenotypic data collection) related to altitude adaptation in populations dispersed along the valley from Womatne, and Gembogl (2400m asl) to Kegsegul (2800m asl). We used our time in Simbu valley to return some of preliminary results from 2018 visit, which were openly discussed at length during visits to the Mt Wilhelm Secondary School at St Therese’s School at Denglagu mission, and various communities across the valley. Some meetings included more than 300 participants! All the presentations included explanations in English, Tok pisin and Kuman (the language spoken by most people in Simbu Province north of the Highlands Highway) and to a lesser extent, Kuma, a language more prevalent in Jiwaka. This allows for all community members to participate in the discussions. We were warmly welcomed in all occasions, and the different stop along the valley allow us to visit several gardens and noticed the diversity of plants (fruits and vegetables) cultivated in this valley.

Dr Ricaut with a participant from St Therese’s School at Denglagu mission, recording lung capacity for exploring adaptation to altitude.

The second period of research took place in Port Moresby focusing on (1) the return of preliminary results through a series of presentations at the University of Papua New Guinea, the National Museum and Art Gallery, and at the National Research Institute to present the current achievements of the research project about the biological history of Papua New Guinean populations, and (2) the collection of additional biological anthropology samples. Dr Leavesley, Dr Ricaut, Dr Brucato and students (K. Suseki, R. Tsang) and staff (T. Beni) from the Archaeology Lab Group (Humanities, UPNG) wereactively involved. The UPNG Archaeology Laboratory staff and students played an integral role in both data collection and information dispersal thereby enhancing the educational experience brought by participation in this project.

This fieldwork, which last over two weeks, was successful in all of its different components. We have strengthened our relationships with the communities along the Simbu valley which will allow us both enhanced opportunities to return future results and wider access to the archaeological and anthropological potential of this area in the coming years.

Dr Leavesley with a participant from St Therese’s School at Denglagu mission recording the participant genealogy.

Redaction: Ricaut & Leavesley.
Publishing: Plutniak.