Patrick V. Kirch, a UC Berkeley professor of anthropology and integrative biology and an authority on the archaeology of the Pacific Islands, has been awarded the 2011 Herbert E. Gregory Medal for Distinguished Service to Science in the Pacific Region.
The Gregory Medal is awarded every four years by the Bernice P. Bishop Museum in Honolulu and is based on the recipient’s distinguished research contributions, leadership and vision in the Pacific region that promote understanding.
In presenting the award to Kirch at the 22nd Pacific Science Congress in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on June 17, officials cited the Hawaii native’s 22 years of interdisciplinary research on the evolution in the Pacific of complex sociopolitical formations such as chiefdoms, prehistoric as well as ethnographic subsistence systems, and the reciprocal interactions between indigenous peoples and the Pacific Islands’ ecosystems.
Kirch, director of UC Berkeley’s Oceanic Archaeology Laboratory, has noted that the Pacific is a complex region that comprises about a third of the planet’s surface, and that although most of that region is ocean, it contains approximately 7,500 islands ranging from near continental size to atolls barely peaking through the waves.
He has written more than 230 published articles, papers and books on the origins and diversification of the cultures and peoples who began populating the region at least 40,000 years ago.
His most recent book is “How Chiefs Became Kings: Divine Kingship and the Rise of Archaic States in Ancient Hawai’i” (2011). In 2009, Kirch and co-author Marshall Sahlins won the J.I. Staley Prize, considered the Pulitzer Prize of anthropology, for their two-volume “Anahulu, The Anthropology of History in the Kingdom of Hawaii.”
Over the years, Kirch has led expeditions to the Solomon Islands and Tonga, and conducted field work in the Hawaiian Islands, Papua New Guinea, Palau and Yap, the Marshall Islands, the Solomon Islands, American Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Rapanui.
He is currently conducting research in Mo’orea, where UC Berkeley maintains the Richard B. Gump South Pacific Research Station. His ongoing research includes an archaeological study of the remote Mangareva Archipelago in French Polynesia.
Kirch has served as the director of the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle, and as the director of UC Berkeley’s Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology.