News Archive

Grants in Aid of Research Recipient Update: Matt Napolitano

December 19, 2019

Matt Napolitano Grants: $991 in spring 2018 and $1,000 in spring 2019

Education level at the time of the grants: PhD student

Research Discipline: Anthropology

Project: Human dispersals across Remote Oceania were some of the most remarkable long-distance voyages in history. Recent collaborative and interdisciplinary research has focused on the timing, drivers, and complexity of these voyages and has enhanced our understanding of these movements. Many questions about the homelands of the island colonizers, however, as well as the environmental conditions during initial settlement remain unanswered. This is especially true for Yap, a group of four small islands between Palau and the Mariana Islands in western Micronesia. Multiple conflicting lines of evidence have resulted in major discrepancies that place the colonization of Yap between 3,300 and 2,000 years ago. We understand even less about the original homeland of the first Yapese.

This study attempts to trace evidence for Yap’s early settlement by conducting an archaeological survey and excavation as well as reconstructing sea-level position and local ecological conditions 3,000 years ago and how they changed over time. In doing so, this study will expand our understanding of early Yapese settlement patterns and may identify or rule out a point of origin for Yap’s colonization. These data will allow the research team to test models of the dispersal and dynamics of human colonization in the western Pacific.

How the project influenced Napolitano as a scientist: “Prior to this project, I did not have much experience with science communication,” Napolitano said. “I helped develop a comic book, Footprints of the Ancestors: Looking for Archaeological Evidence of Early Settlement on the Islands of Yap, with archaeological illustrator John Swogger that shares the results of my fieldwork with general audiences at home and on Yap. This project has taught me invaluable ways of involving the general public who want to know more about this type of research.”

Where is he now? In November 2019, Napolitano traveled to Yap, where he shared the comic during talks in schools and participated in workshops about how to draw comics. After the trip, he planned to return to the University of Oregon to analyze his data and write his dissertation.

How to get a grant: Undergraduate and graduate students may apply by March 15 and October 1 annually from the Grants in Aid of Research program