Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

Decay Characteristics of the Eastern Lapita Design System

Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

Decay Characteristics of the Eastern Lapita Design System

Article excerpt


We examine the Lapita colonization of east Fiji from the frequency of pottery designs. The design frequency analysis suggests that east Fiji was settled by Lapita groups emanating from west Fiji and Tonga, and long-distance interaction with archipelagos to the west of Fiji was inconsequential during the terminal Lapita phase when east Fiji, Tonga and Samoa were colonized. The results have important implications for understanding Lapita colonization elsewhere, particularly the extent to which migrant communities interacted and expressed identity in the varied physical and social environments encountered during dispersal.

Keywords: Lapita, decorative system, design decay, Pacific


A fundamental issue in colonization research is the timing of prehistoric human arrival and the rate and direction of expansion in new landscapes, because these parameters anchor environmental and cultural sequences and elucidate the colonization pattern. The two popular ways of visualizing the form of colonization are the wave-of-advance/demic diffusion model and the linear point-and-arrow/streaming model (Rockman 2003). The importance of deducing the colonization pattern is the frequent linkage made between a model and a particular subsistence mode thought to underpin human expansion. In the demic wave-of-advance model, population growth fuelled by agriculture caused related human groups--and their language(s)--to incrementally establish themselves over substantial areas of oceanic and continental territory (Ammerman and Cavalli-Sforza 1984; Diamond and Bellwood 2003; Fort 2003). Rapid 'point-and-arrow' movements, in comparison, tend to be associated with human dispersal by hunting and foraging wild foods in pristine environments (Beaton 1991; Keegan 1995; Anderson 2003).

There is no necessary connection, though, between subsistence mode and colonization pattern (e.g. Cavalli-Sforza 2002: 80). Wave of advance has been used to model the colonization of Australia (Birdsell in Rockman 2003) and is implicit in the overkill hypothesis of megafaunal extinction by hunter-gathers in the Americas and elsewhere (Whittington and Dyke 1984; Surovell et al. 2005). The spread of Neolithic agriculturalists across Europe has been characterized as a series of punctuated events (Fiedel and Anthony 2003), and in the Pacific, some archipelagoes colonized in Lapita times were believed to be point-and-arrow movements made by putative agriculturalists (Burley and Dickinson 2001; Anderson 2003).

Once the subsistence mode is decoupled from an overarching dispersal pattern, we can put the question of economic stimulus to one side and consider the colonization process at a closer geographic scale. For instance, what are the regional origins of specific colonizing groups. How was local identity expressed in new environments? And what was the frequency and extent of prehistoric interaction among migrants given the unique socio-demographic conditions at destination? While the general outline of a colonization event can be drawn from the dispersal pattern and, controversially, the subsistence mode, archaeological approaches to discriminate the history of specific migrant groups are required to understand the complexity of prehistoric population movements. Stylistic information from ceramics is an excellent source of information to examine the social dimensions of colonization (e.g. Best 2002; Chiu 2005), but methods are required to distinguish between designs brought by migrants to a destination and those representing interaction and local innovation in the course of occupation.

In this paper, we examine change in the eastern Lapita ceramic design system to understand the Lapita colonization of east Fiji. Previous studies comparing the presence/ absence of pottery designs have posited an inter-archipelago divide between west Fiji and east Fiji during the colonization phase, with east Fiji grouping with Tonga and Samoa (Best 1984; Clark and Anderson 2001 a; Burley et al. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.