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Oceanic Explorations

Oceanic Explorations: Lapita and Western Pacific Settlement

Stuart Bedford
Christophe Sand
Sean P. Connaughton
Series: Terra Australis
Volume: Terra Australis 26
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Oceanic Explorations
    Book Description:

    Lapita comprises an archaeological horizon that is fundamental to the understanding of human colonisation and settlement of the Pacific as it is associated with the arrival of the common ancestors of the Polynesians and many Austronesian-speaking Melanesians more than 3000 years ago. While Lapita archaeology has captured the imagination and sustained the focus of archaeologists for more than 50 years, more recent discoveries have inspired renewed interpretations and assessments. Oceanic Explorations reports on a number of these latest discoveries and includes papers which reassess the Lapita phenomenon in light of this new data. They reflect on a broad range of interrelated themes including Lapita chronology, patterns of settlement, migration, interaction and exchange, ritual behaviour, sampling strategies and ceramic analyses, all of which relate to aspects highlighting both advances and continuing impediments associated with Lapita research.

    eISBN: 978-1-921313-33-2
    Subjects: Archaeology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Introduction

    • 1 Lapita and Western Pacific Settlement: Progress, prospects and persistent problems
      (pp. 1-16)
      Stuart Bedford and Christophe Sand

      Lapita pottery and its associated antiquity and significance first began to be revealed in stratigraphically controlled archaeological excavations some 55 years ago (Gifford and Shutler 1956). Since that time it has remained a central focus for Pacific archaeologists (Clark et al. 2001; Kirch 1997; Sand 2003; Spriggs 1990a) and has subsequently led to the definition of a cultural complex that is associated with an archaeological horizon that can be identified from Island New Guinea to Samoa (Golson 1971:75). Reading through earlier general summary articles (Golson 1971; Green 1979; Kirch 1988) one is struck by both the increased progress but also...

  4. Lapita Origins

    • 2 The origins of Early Lapita culture: the testimony of historical linguistics
      (pp. 17-50)
      Andrew Pawley

      Debate on the nature and origins of the culture known as Early (Western) Lapita has been clouded by the limited range of the available archaeological evidence defining this culture¹. Although 50 years of archaeological research in the southwest Pacific have yielded more than 200 sites distributed from the Bismarck Archipelago to western Polynesia where Lapita pottery has been found (see Bedford and Sand this volume), and archaeologists have gained a detailed understanding of regional and temporal variations in decorative styles and vessel forms, sampling problems have prevented them from recovering anything like the full range of material culture associated with...

    • 3 Small islands in the big picture: the formative period of Lapita in the Bismarck Archipelago
      (pp. 51-70)
      Jim Specht

      Locations with dentate-stamped Lapita pottery are widely viewed as expressions of activities associated with ‘settlements,’ ‘hamlets’ or ‘villages.’ Such terms run the danger of concealing spatial diversity of function and differentiation of activities, with the obvious exception of burial grounds such as Teouma in Vanuatu (Bedford et al. 2006). Often this situation is the inevitable outcome of the small scale examination of sites, as commonly such small areas are sampled that it is impossible to discuss issues of site structure and spatial differentiation. The few exceptions to this approach include the RF-2 site in the SE Solomons (Green 1976; Green...

  5. Lapita Dispersal and Archaeological Signatures

    • 4 Lapita all over: Land-use on the Willaumez Peninsula, Papua New Guinea
      (pp. 71-96)
      Jim Specht and Robin Torrence

      The remarkable achievements of the first colonisers of the Remote Pacific have long captured the interest of archaeologists and the wider public alike. Perhaps for this reason the character of the archaeological evidence in that particular region has been implicitly used as the exemplar for all areas where Lapita pottery is found (cf. Green 1992:16). For example, one of the long held tenets of Lapita archaeology is that settlement was mainly restricted to small, offshore islands or, where it occurred on larger islands, it was almost exclusively limited to the coastal margins and to beaches in particular (e.g., Frimigacci 1980;...

    • 5 Lapita Writ Small? Revisiting the Austronesian Colonisation of the Papuan South Coast
      (pp. 97-122)
      Glenn R. Summerhayes and Jim Allen

      By the late 1970s the prehistoric sequence of the Papuan coast was perhaps the best known in Melanesia. This was a product of the establishment in 1969 of archaeology at the University of Papua New Guinea and a succession of doctoral theses from the Australian National University (ANU). By this time data informing this sequence were known from excavations right along the south Papuan coast and Massim area (see Figure 1 and Table 1).

      A subsequent shift of interest at the ANU to island Melanesia and the parallel growth of Lapita studies has seen the archaeology of mainland Papua languish,...

    • 6 Leap-frogging or Limping? Recent Evidence from the Lapita Littoral Fringe, New Georgia, Solomon Islands
      (pp. 123-140)
      Matthew Felgate

      Lapita pottery is a component of an archaeological horizon-style found from the Bismarck Archipelago to Samoa, dating to approximately 3300-2700 BP. Lapita pottery marks the first human colonisation of Remote Oceania (Figure 1), that part of the Pacific that cannot be reached other than by making lengthy ocean crossings (Green 1991b) indicating that this pottery style was correlated in Remote Oceania with a maritime colonising cultural adaptation and a period of rapid expansion (Green 1991a). Near Oceania has by contrast been occupied for about 30000 years, at least as far to the southeast as Buka, to the north of Bougainville...

    • 7 Sample Size and the Reef/Santa Cruz Lapita Sequence
      (pp. 141-150)
      Peter Sheppard and Roger C. Green

      A fundamental problem in archaeology is the nature of our samples and sampling (Orton 2000). Although this encompasses issues ranging from the transformation of dynamic behavioural systems into static archaeological records, to the subsequent taphonomic effects which over time alter that record, at the most basic level we can ask the question: All else being equal, what is the effect of where and how much we dig in a site? Ultimately this reflects the specific question we wish to ask of the site and the structure of the particular data type under investigation. If we are interested in a behaviour...

    • 8 Makué (Aore Island, Santo, Vanuatu): A new Lapita site in the ambit of New Britain obsidian distribution
      (pp. 151-162)
      Jean-Christophe Galipaud and Mary Clare Swete Kelly

      The emergence of Lapita in the New Britain area is closely associated with the use of flaked obsidian artefacts. Sources of raw material include, among others, the Willaumez Peninsula in New Britain and later the Lou and Pam Islands, both of which are situated in the Bismarck Archipelago (Ambrose 1976). Obsidian is particularly important for the interpretation of long-distance movement of artefacts because it is possible to determine its source with a high level of accuracy. Obsidian from both of the aforementioned sources found in Lapita sites has also been used to infer the chronology of occupation as well as...

    • 9 Echoes from a distance: research into the Lapita occupation of the Rove Peninsula, southwest Viti Levu, Fiji
      (pp. 163-176)
      Patrick D. Nunn

      There is much remaining to be discovered about the first people in the western tropical Pacific Islands, particularly where and when they settled particular island groups, how they lived and interacted. The period of interest, constrained by the manufacture of distinctively decorated Lapita ceramics, is approximately 3050-2500 BP in Fiji. The Fiji Islands are a mixed group of islands, dominated by the two largest – Viti Levu and Vanua Levu - which are surrounded by subgroups of volcanic islands in the west (Yasawa), centre (Lomaiviti), and south (Kadavu and Yasayasamoala). The scattered Lau group of eastern Fiji comprises mostly smaller limestone...

    • 10 Paleoenvironment of Lapita sites on Fanga ‘Uta Lagoon, Tongatapu, Kingdom of Tonga
      (pp. 177-186)
      William R. Dickinson

      The density of Lapita archaeological sites surrounding Fanga ‘Uta Lagoon indenting the north coast of Tongatapu is the greatest in Tonga. On average, at least one site is known per 2.5 km of reconstructed curvilinear paleoshoreline and many additional sites probably remain to be discovered. All the sites give the archaeological impression of having been coastal habitations, but most lie now at the seaward edge of the flat tephra-covered surface of interior Tongatapu along a slope declivity marking the position of an emergent mid-Holocene paleoshoreline that stands varying distances inland from beaches and mangrove thickets along the present lagoonal shoreline....

    • 11 In Search of Lapita and Polynesian Plainware Settlements in Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga
      (pp. 187-198)
      David V. Burley

      The Vava’u group in the Kingdom of Tonga includes 71 islands with a total land area of 143 km² (Crane 1992:86) (Figure 1). These consist of a mixture of raised coral limestone formations and sand cays, with the largest and most dominating being ‘Uta Vava’u (89 km²). ‘Uta Vava’u is a hilly and relatively high-island formation rising to cliffed shorelines on the north and west with respective heights of 179 m and 213 m. A friable tephra-based clay loam dominates Vava’u soils and supports a productive agricultural base. The majority of reefs and shoals with substantive biogenic productivity occur to...

    • 12 Can We Dig It? Archaeology of Ancestral Polynesian Society in Tonga: A First Look from Falevai
      (pp. 199-212)
      Sean P. Connaughton

      Polynesian culture has long captivated the attention of both academic researchers and the wider public. A primary interest for archaeologists has been the explanation and understanding of the development of Polynesian cultures, which it has been proposed, have their roots in an ancestral homeland situated in western Polynesia and more specifically Tonga and Samoa (Burley 1998; Groube 1971; Kirch 1984, 1997; Kirch and Green 2001). However, an ongoing debate in Pacific anthropology is whether archaeologists can convincingly identify and explain the historical trajectory of an Ancestral Polynesian Society (APS) (Kirch and Green 2001; Smith 2002). Kirch and Green (2001) argue...

  6. Lapita Ceramics

    • 13 The implements of Lapita ceramic stamped ornamentation
      (pp. 213-222)
      Wallace Ambrose

      Observers of early Lapita ceramic technology generally concede that the elaborately ornamented vessels were low-fired and made with un-standardised raw materials (Clough 1992:189; Intoh 1982:169), often including calcareous sand tempering from the prevalent use of beach sands in accord with the coastal setting of sites in the Bismarck Archipelago (Dickinson 2006:113). Both Clough and Intoh see the wide variation in pottery fabric and firing temperature as evidence of technological experimentation by potters faced with unfamiliar raw materials. Although the clay body was un-standardized in the sense that it used locally found raw materials, in contrast the decorated pottery is often...

    • 14 The excavation, conservation and reconstruction of Lapita burial pots from the Teouma site, Efate, Central Vanuatu
      (pp. 223-240)
      Stuart Bedford, Matthew Spriggs, Ralph Regenvanu, Colin Macgregor, Takaronga Kuautonga and Michael Sietz

      The recovery of complete Lapita pots is an extreme rarity. Of the over two hundred sites so far identified across the Lapita spectrum and particularly those sites associated with the earlier phase of the pottery sequence, discoveries have to date largely been restricted to the eponymous site of Lapita in New Caledonia (Coote and Sand 1999; Sand 1996, 1999, 2000; Sand et al. 1998). At that site, within a pit feature, two whole pots had been buried on top of and beneath large sherds of other pots. Their excavation and conservation ultimately led to detailed reconstruction of eleven pots, providing...

    • 15 Detailed analysis of Lapita Face Motifs: Case Studies from Reef/Santa Cruz Lapita Sites and New Caledonia Lapita Site 13A
      (pp. 241-264)
      Scarlett Chiu

      The complex, often elaborate and very distinctive dentate-stamped Lapita designs were first identified at a site on Watom Island, in the northern coastal islands of Papua New Guinea, almost 100 years ago (Meyer 1909, 1910). It was not recognised until much later that this particular way of decorating pots was associated with a cultural complex that occurred throughout the Southwest Pacific (Golson 1961, 1971). Encompassing such a large region (Figure 1), from Island New Guinea across to Samoa, both temporal and spatial variation in terms of decorative style was to be expected. Lapita pottery was mostly manufactured by a uniform...

    • 16 Looking at the big motifs: a typology of the central band decorations of the Lapita ceramic tradition of New Caledonia (Southern Melanesia) and preliminary regional comparisons
      (pp. 265-288)
      Christophe Sand

      For decades, the study of Lapita pottery has been limited by the often small size of the ceramic remains that archaeologists recovered in their test-pit excavations. Although the very first Lapita sherds published at the turn of the twentieth century by Father Meyer comprised some half pots (Meyer 1909, 1910; Green 2000), successive generations of researchers were mostly unlucky in their search for well-preserved Lapita remains. Consequently, up until the last few decades, most studies that focused on Lapita designs and the related ceramic forms on which the decorations were applied, were largely constructed on often very fragmented sherds. The...

    • 17 Specialisation, standardisation and Lapita ceramics
      (pp. 289-300)
      Geoffrey Clark

      In anthropological theory, craft specialisation is a defining feature of complex societies, and is viewed as a key factor in the development of the political economy (Costin and Hagstrum 1995; Longacre 1999). Specialisation is the investment of labour and capital in the production of a particular good or service beyond what is required for domestic consumption, with surpluses providing the capital required for economic exchanges (Benco 1988). Craft specialisation is closely linked to the standardisation of material culture because the production of goods in large quantities is facilitated when artisans reduce the amount of artefact variability (Costin and Hagstrum 1995;...