USC prof conducts pioneering research in Micronesia

Dr. John A. Peterson, part-time faculty in the Department of Anthropology, Sociology and History, received a USD150,000 grant to conduct pioneering research in Micronesia. The U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities Archaeological and Ethnographic Field Research awarded the grant. 

Titled “A Pattern of Islands: Ethnography, Remote Sensing, and Community Archaeology in Kosrae and Pohnpei, Micronesia,” the research project investigates the settlement pattern in Pohnpei and Kosrae in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) using modern technology (i.e., drones). These findings are then compared with oral tales collected from the community.

Nan Madol World Heritage site in Pohnpei, Micronesia.

The project is funded for two years but, due to COVID-19 restrictions, it will not begin its field work until travel to FSM is unrestricted, which is expected in early 2022. Dr. Peterson will share his experiences in the project with Carolinians to promote similar research proposals and projects in the Visayas.

Citizen scientists

Communities are often left out of research into cultural and archaeological knowledge. Their voice, however, is essential to learning about the sense of place and traditional space in their homes. This project seeks to involve people as citizen scientists by gathering aerial drone imagery and then comparing this data with local lore and perceptions of community space. The outcome will be directed toward looking at migration among islands and throughout the region to gain an insider’s perspective in contrast to published interpretations by scholars.

“Islanders from Kosrae and Pohnpei will work with archaeologists on coastal and drone Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) surveys to contrast that kind of data with their own traditional knowledge about their origins and migration in the region,” said Peterson. “The goal is co-production of knowledge using the two different optics in ethnographic sessions.” This signifies an exciting partnership with traditional community leaders and young people, including four student interns from the College of Micronesia.


Peterson is the Principal Investigator and Project Director, and is collaborating with Dr. James Bayman, co-Project Director, in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Dr. Andrea Jalandoni (Griffith University, Australia) and Maria Kottermair (University of Queensland, Australia) will conduct aerial UAS (drone) imagery using LiDAR technology. 

Dr. John A. Peterson

Local communities will participate in the technical research and the findings will discuss how any new observations fit into their oral traditions of migration throughout the region. Dr. Peterson’s collaborators have previously worked with him in Micronesia and the Western Pacific on several projects, and all serve as co-project directors in this research.

Anthropologist Ashley Meredith and Augustine Kohler, Historical Preservation Coordinator for the National Archives, Culture and Historical Preservation in the Federated States of Micronesia, will conduct the ethnographic group sessions as a collaborative research project and as co-directors of the community ethnography component. Dr. Peterson has partnered with Meredith and Kohler on research into the World Heritage site of Nan Madol in Pohnpei and efforts to develop heritage preservation practices for the monument. This project is part of their on-going collaboration in the region.

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