Roger Curtis Green 1932 - 2009
BA, BSc, PhD, ONZM, FRSNZ, member Nat. Acad. Sci.(USA), Hon. Fellow Soc. Antiquaries (Lon.) and Emeritus Professor of Prehistory at the University of Auckland. His research interests were oceanic prehistory and ethnohistory with emphasis on integrative culture history employing various disciplines within anthropology.
Roger was born in Ridgewood New Jersey in 1932. He later moved to Albuquerque with his family.
His early tertiary training was at the University of New Mexico where he had commenced an introductory course in archaeology before leaving high school. At that university he later took undergraduate courses in anthropology, air science, history, linguistics, geology and evolution. His first degree was a BS in geology and his second in anthropology.
He commenced an anthropology masters degree at New Mexico but left it to commence a post-graduate degree at Harvard. Here he came under the influence of Douglas Oliver who steered his research interests to Oceania.
Roger won a Fulbright Fellowship which brought him to this part of the world for the first time. He was based at Auckland University in the period 1958-59, with excavations in New Zealand followed by fieldwork in Mo'orea and Mangareva in French Polynesia, undertaking the first archaeology by excavation on those islands. It was during this time that his interest in the Pacific was sparked.
In 1961 he returned to Auckland as a lecturer in archaeology and recommenced research in New Zealand, which was to culminate in his “Prehistoric Sequence of the Auckland Province”, which became his Harvard doctoral dissertation. He supervised the first post graduate students in archaeology in New Zealand in this period.
More fundamental was a major research programme carried out in Western Samoa, setting the basis for the understanding of the archaeology of that nation. Many people contributed to that programme under his leadership.
He was also Dean of the School of Arts in this period.
He left Auckland in 1967 joining the staff of the Bishop Museum in Hawaii. He taught at the University of Hawaii and carried out contract archaeology for the Museum on sites threatened with destruction, principally at Makaha. In 1970 Professor Green returned to New Zealand as a James Cook Research Fellowbased at Auckland Museum from there he undertook a major piece of research in the Solomon Islands seeking to expand the knowledge of the Lapita settlement of the central Pacific that is believed to be ancestral to all Polynesian cultures. This project involved a number of co-workers and proceeded over several years, and in 1973 he was appointed to a Personal Chair at Auckland University.
His work went on to revolutionise the study of archaeology in this country where his contributions to the study of prehistory, the training of archaeologists and anthropologists and the expansion of the knowledge base on Pacific prehistory has been enormous.
He became a fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand (FRSNZ) in 1975 and is a member of the American Numismatic and Archaeological Society (MANAS). He was became a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences in 1984, and in 1992 he was awarded the Hector Memorial Medal for his contribution to human sciences in New Zealand. He was awarded the Marsden Medal by the New Zealand Association of Scientists in 2003, for his work in Pacific archaeology and cultural history, which has had a profound influence in determining the course of New Zealand archaeology. He was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) in the New Years Honours 2007 for "services to New Zealand history".
He was awarded the first Royal Society of New Zealand Cook Fellowship. He served on the Board of FORST and on the Council of the Royal Society of New Zealand.
He was President of the New Zealand Archaeological Association and a long term editor in respect of anthropological papers in the Auckland Institute and Museum Records. Roger was on the Board of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust for many years.
In the field of heritage management he has been active. From his time in Hawaii doing rescue archaeology he has been a strong advocate of this work being an opportunity for more than data recovery but for addressing research questions, provided those questions are asked.
The first heritage legislation in New Zealand to protect archaeological sites was passed into law with a substantial input from Roger who was President of the New Zealand Archaeological Association at the time and organised the lobbying effort to get the matter the attention it needed.
He was instrumental in conservation of heritage materials receiving greater attention in New Zealand. The world class wood conservation laboratory at University of Auckland was strengthened by this. This facility since its inception has conserved many hundreds of wooden artefacts from swamp depositories including some outstanding examples of pre-historic Maori wood carving.
Some measure of Roger’s status can be judged by his inclusion in the Encyclopaedia of Archaeology. The first two volumes of this five volume work – The Great Archaeologists – (T. Murray 1999 ABC-CLIO) include biographic sketches of only 58 archaeologists from the world, from all of the history of the subject. Roger is among the 58 (Vol 2:835-852).
Roger was active in seeking to present the results of research to the general public. Examples are his chapter in Jim Siers’ Taratai: A Pacific Adventure, articles in Historic Places in New Zealand and the New Zealand Archaeological Association Newsletter. He has been a consistent supporter of the Association’s egalitarian character involving everyone from professional archaeologists, to students and amateurs
Roger supervised the theses of the first two post-graduate students in New Zealand to research New Zealand archaeology. Since then he has supervised many other post-graduate students. Introducing post-graduate students to the disciplines of research excavation has always been a passion of Roger’s. The Auckland Anthropology Department has long held field schools with this as a primary aim. Roger has been a participant in these to an extent far beyond his share of the responsibility on the archaeologists in the department. Most of those he participated in have progressed to theses or publication by the students involved.
The Green Foundation for Polynesian Research was an initiative of Roger and Valerie Green supports research by post-graduate students.
Roger greatly enjoyed scholarship, fine food, wine, music and conversation. His friends knew to enter into debates cautiously with Roger, for to assume he might have slight knowledge of some subject risked entrapment by his broad general knowledge and well thought through opinions on many issues. Not that this is ever used to put anyone down. Rather entering debate, in what to a New Zealand ear was still a strong western drawl, was part of his enjoyment of life.
Roger has undertaken fundamental research in many parts of the Pacific. His work in Mangareva, The Society Islands, Samoa and the Solomons counts as the pioneering efforts in excavation in those places.
In New Zealand and Hawaii others were active before him but his contributions were still material in setting new directions.
He also had the capacity to organise the information produced by others. He has made substantial contributions to organising the state of knowledge of the prehistory of New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands. The monograph resulting from his 1960’s work in New Zealand fundamentally changed the way archaeologists here organised their evidence, giving much greater prominence to economic, ecological and settlement pattern considerations of how people lived here.
A particular theme of Roger’s work was settlement archaeology, looking at the patterning of sites in a landscape and of features within sites for information on the economy and social organisation of the people that built them.
Roger collaborated with other scientists in finding new ways of writing culture history. He had long associaitons with linguists, geologists and with Doug Yen in ethnobotany.
His research has never been narrowly archaeological. He has a substantial publication list in historical linguistics. Where he found historical issues at the edge of his prehistoric research he has entered into these, dealing with the Spanish and British explorers of the Pacific. The natural background to human settlement, of the plants and animals which set the environment of the islands of the Pacific and the opportunities and limits to human life, has been a sustained interest and one on which he published extensively.
The third area of interest has been comparative ethnology, looking particularly at the aspects of culture which do not get preserved archaeologically, but when studied contain clues as to the relationships between the many peoples of the Pacific. It is bringing together the threads of archaeology, with the evidence of language and the cultures as they were first recorded that Roger has made a his characteristic contribution.
Roger has been a prodigous producer of papers and monographs.
For a poetic celebration see Ode to the Real Oceanic Archaeologist.
Roger died peacefully at his home in Auckland in October 2009.