Pacific Archaeology: Assessments and Prospects

Archaeology in Oceania, April 2002 | Go to article overview

Pacific Archaeology: Assessments and Prospects


International Conference for the 50th anniversary of the first Lapita excavation (July 1952). Kont, Noumta, New Caledonia

31 July-7 August 2002

Organizers

Departement Archeologie, Service des Musees et du Patrimoine, Gouvernement de la Nouvelle-Caledonie. (Coordination Christophe SAND) Department of Archeology, New Caledonia Museum, BP: 2393, 98846 Noumea, New Caledonia. e.mail: sand.smp@gouv.nc

Between February and September 1952, American Professor E. Gifford from Berkeley University, with the assistance of R. Shutler jr., conduced on the Grande Terre the first modern archaeological program recorded for New Caledonia. In all, 53 prehistoric sites were surveyed and 11 excavated. The work of Gifford and Shutler on the southernmost archipelago of Melanesia, published in 1956, had a considerable regional scientific impact, and was regularly re-used by scientists during the following decades.

During the survey of the West Coast, site Number 13 was given to a beach-site located near the Fou6 peninsula, where from the beginning of the 20th century, pottery sherds bearing particular dentate stamped motifs had been described. An excavation was conduced between July 26 and August 2 on Site 13, called "Lapita" by the American archaeologists after a rewriting of the indigenous name heard in the local Haveke language. The importance of this site appeared as soon as the Carbon 14 dates came back, showing the settlement of Lapita and the manufacture of dentate stamped pots as early as 800 years BC, a period far older than the then-supposed date of first human colonisation of the Pacific.

During the succeeding decades, interest in the type of pottery discovered at Site 13 expanded. Dentate stamped sherds have today been discovered in more than one hundred sea-shore sites throughout a region extending from New Guinea in the northwest to Western Polynesia in the east, covering a maritime area of over 4000 km. During the 1960s, Pacific archaeologists started labelling this type of pottery by the name of Site 13, "Lapita", associating it with the first human settlement of Remote Oceania. During the 1990s, renewed excavations on different localities of the Lapita beach and the exceptional discovery of a collection of well preserved decorated pots, have confirmed that this site warranted its fame.

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