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P. Bion Griffin

MyP17 0248Bion Griffin is Professor Emeritus at the University of Hawai`i at Manoa. During his senior (undergraduate) year at the University of Maine (1963), he viewed the Marshalls’ film The Hunters while enrolled in Introductory Anthropology. It was then that he decided that living with hunters was his future. At the University of Arizona he was introduced to ethnoarchaeology and Turnbull’s Mbuti, and realised that he wanted to explore forests not deserts (where he had done early field training with Apache). His initial interest in ethnoarchaeology and hunters-gatherers was inspired by 1960s archaeology’s drive to find a theoretical and methodological way to learn about the socio-cultural and evolutionary aspects of hominid development. Gaining his Ph.D. in 1969, he joined the anthropology faculty at the University of Hawai`i because they agreed that he could pursue hunters in Asia. In 1972 he began ethnoarchaeology among Agta hunters-gatherers in northeastern Luzon, the Philippines, launching what was to become his major work. 

In the 1980s, Griffin and his wife Agnes Estioko Griffin focused research on Agta women hunters. Their data convincingly demonstrated (as increasingly accepted by specialists since the Man the Hunter symposium) that women can be hunters of large game during their peak reproductive years—that women’s capacity to hunt is less about physical constraints than about the social organisation of work. Various papers have been published, including those of the Griffins and their collaborators collected in The Agta: Recent Studies (University of San Carlos Press, Cebu City, 1985). A joint paper in the edited volume Woman the Gatherer (ed. Frances Dahlberg, Yale University Press, 1981)—which has a second life in textbooks on gender—has possibly had the widest influence in archaeology. The best-known writings on Agta research are Agnes Estioko Griffin’s often reprinted article “Daughters of the forest” (originally published in Natural History 95(5), 1986) and subsequently the work of Bion’s students, Tom Headland, Navin Rai and Marcus Griffin. 

Griffin has never lost his interest in Paleolithic hunter-gatherers and is a throughly well-rounded Southeast Asianist. He retains interests in the prehistory, archaeology, and anthropology of both the mainland and insular parts of the region. Apart from the Agta work, he has launched interdisciplinary team projects on (among other topics) Maluku subsistence and early state formations in the Mekong River Basin. He continues short-term research among Agta (most recently in 2015) and on elephant husbandry among Southeast Asian hill peoples, including Bunong elephant hunters and capturers in Cambodia.


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