POLYNESIA
LAPITA POTTERY

The easily identified style of pottery now called Lapita is a distinctive Oceanic cultural complex that eventually would prove to be ancestral to Polynesian culture in the western area of the Polynesian triangle. The initial discovery of this pottery was made by Father Otto Meyer in 1908-1909 at the village of Rakival on the small island of Waton some 6.5 kilometers off the northeastern end of New Britain in the Bismark Archipelago (see map locality 3).

The next discovery was made on a beach of the peninsula of Foue, on the central west coast of New Caledonia (see map locality 9), by the geologist Maurice Piroutet. It is a name of this locality - Lapita - that has subsequently served to designate both the pottery and the cultural complex. In this period, a third discovery was made being that of McKern in the Tonga group in 1921. The major part of McKern's discovery was 1,577 items of Lapita pottery on Tongatapu.

                   

In 1948, Lonormand reported on new finds of Lapita-style pottery on a beach on the Isle of Pines off the southeast coast of New Caledonia.

Oceanic archaeology moved into a modern phase during the 1950s and 1960s and it was not long before previously reported Lapita sites were systematically re-examined and new ones discovered, excavated and dated. For example, in 1957, Golson (confirmed McKern's findings for Tonga and reported the discovery of a similar though undecorated pottery from Samoa.  

Anthropomorphic face from a large shoulder jar found near
Nenumbo village, Main Reef Island, and dating to circa 1100 BC

At this time researchers began to postulate that there once had been continuity of culture straddling the boundary between Polynesia and Melanesia, which in West Polynesia had given rise to the historic Polynesian cultures of that region. In this period, the finding of a related pottery of similar antiquity in the Marquesas allowed Suggs (1960, 1961a) to lend his support to these views and amplify them from the perspective of East Polynesia.

Reconstruction of a type B vessel shape found at Paoancarai lagoon, Malo Island,
New Hebrides. The decoration has been dusted with talc for photographic purposes

The 1960s and 1970s were marked by a steady succession of reports on additional Lapita sites. However, a real appreciation of some of the more important aspects of this cultural complex have only been recently developed.

To be continued

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