World authority on Polynesia is appointed director of UC Berkeley's Hearst Museum of Anthropology

By Patricia McBroom, Public Affairs

BERKELEY-- Patrick V. Kirch, a leading authority on the archaeology of the Pacific Islands, has been appointed director of the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Museum of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Widely known for his pioneering work on early Polynesian immigration, Kirch has been a UC Berkeley professor of anthropology and curator of oceanic archaeology at the Hearst Museum since 1989.

He took his position as director on July 1, replacing Rosemary Joyce, who will resume teaching and research as a professor of anthropology at UC Berkeley after her five-year appointment as museum director.

Prior to his arrival at UC Berkeley, Kirch was director of the Burke Museum at the University of Washington. He has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. In 1997, he won the prestigious John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science, given by the National Academy of Sciences for contributions in anthropology. Kirch received his PhD at Yale University.

As director, Kirch will lead the Hearst Museum into the 21st century, celebrating its centennial in 2001. He will focus strongly on using the Internet to make the museum's intellectual riches available to schools and the public, as well as continuing the museum's exhibit program.

With 3.8 million artifacts, the Hearst Museum is one of the three largest anthropological museums in the country, but, due to limited exhibit space, most of its holdings are in storage. Beginning with Egyptian and Native American material, Kirch plans to produce online programs of images and text keyed to different artifacts.

"It's a challenge," said Kirch. "We have one of the largest museums in the world and one of the earth's smallest exhibit spaces. The great benefit of the Internet to us is that we can open more doors to the public without putting up a new building."

Born in Honolulu, Kirch has conducted archeological field trips throughout the Pacific during his career, learning of the impact of prehistoric settlers on island ecology.

In the Cook Islands, Kirch and his colleague, David Steadman of the University of Florida, discovered the bones of extinct creatures unknown to science - flightless birds. They found extinct parrots, pigeons, fruit doves and rails, most of which had lost the ability to fly, not only on the Cook Islands, but on Hawaii and other islands as well.

The birds had gone extinct in late prehistoric times as a result of human hunting and habitat changes, Kirch and Steadman discovered.

From studies on many islands, Kirch put together a complex picture of the interplay between human culture and ecology. He found, for instance, that Polynesian settlers carried the crops and tools of agriculture with them as they moved from island to island.

"We tend to think of Polynesia as a paradise. Food drops off the trees, that kind of thing. Well, these people brought the trees with them," said Kirch.

On the island of Mussau, Kirch found the oldest known ancestral home for the Polynesian settlers who set out from Southeast Asia some 3,500 years ago to populate the Pacific.

He also was able, in the closed island environment, to arrive at new insights about the rise of warfare in human society. He discovered, for example, that war tended to appear when human groups reached a threshold population of 2,000 or more, and not before that.

Kirch has authored some 20 books and monographs, among them the widely-cited "Evolution of the Polynesian Chiefdoms," in 1984. His new book slated for publication by UC Press in the spring, "On the Road of the Winds," will provide a synthesis of Polynesian anthropology and archaeology.


For further information, Patrick Kirch can be reached at UC Berkeley at (510) 642-3683.

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