Guns, Germs, and Steel | Study Guide

Jared Diamond

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Guns, Germs, and Steel | Part 4, Chapter 17 : Around the World in Five Chapters (Speedboat to Polynesia) | Summary



Chapter 17 is about the spread of speakers of Austronesian languages throughout the Polynesian islands. Diamond's argument here, as elsewhere, is that access to agriculture and technology allowed the spread to take place. In particular the doubled-outrigger canoe facilitated ocean travel and island hopping. Much of this conquest happened in prehistory; in the modern era when Europeans with improved agriculture and technology entered Polynesia, they too benefited from this same process and came to dominate the region.

As in Chapter 16 Diamond explores the record of linguistic expansion for evidence of population migrations before moving on to discuss the archaeological record. Both of these records, in the case of Polynesia, show peoples of the Ta-p'en-k'eng culture of Taiwan moving through the Philippines into Indonesia, New Zealand, and smaller Polynesian islands. This expansion can be traced in the linguistic record and in the expansion of the distinctive Lapita pottery.


This chapter provides in greater detail the basic framework of expansion in the Polynesian islands introduced in Chapter 2. Here, as with other chapters in Part 4, Diamond relies heavily on linguistic patterns to argue for reasonable explanations of human migration in prehistory. To supplement these arguments, Diamond draws on the archaeological record, looking at refuse piles for types of food consumed as well as considering evidence of pottery and other types of culturally specific material production. In all of this Diamond is largely synthesizing material from other sources, and he provides a reasonable interpretation.

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