The Lapita Occupation at Naitabale, Moturiki Island, Central Fiji

Article excerpt


In 2003 the authors discovered and excavated a Lapita site at Naitabale close to the southern end of Moturiki Island (central Fiji). Today the site is 350 m inland from the coast, but in Lapita times it was located behind the active beach ridge. A large collection of potsherds (including 92 dentate-stamped or incised Lapita sherds), shell, and animal bones was recovered, together with a human burial. Sherd decorations show affinities with the Western Lapita Province rather than the Eastern Lapita Province (which includes Fiji). Temper analyses of 45 Lapita sherds do not show any unmistakably exotic (to Fiji) pottery, but 29 percent are nonlocal to Moturiki and nearby islands. Fish bones are mostly from inshore species (dominated by Scaridae), while nonfish vertebrates are dominated by turtle and include dog and chicken. Shellfish remains are dominated by gastropods, mostly Strombus spp. (43 percent of gastropod MNI). The surf clam (Atactodea striata) accounts for 38 percent of bivalve MNI, with Anadara antiquata and Gafrarium pectinatum each representing 14 percent of the bivalve MNI. The skeleton is that of a woman (Mana) 161-164 cm tall who died at 40-60 years of age. Six radiocarbon dates from bones overlap 2740-2739 cal. years b.p. (790-789 b.c.). The mandible lacks antegonial notches but is not a proper rocker jaw. The cranium was better preserved than any Lapita-associated skeleton hitherto described, which allowed the head to be reconstructed. Stable-isotope analyses show that her diet contained significant amounts of reef foods but was probably dominated by terrestrial plants. The Lapita occupation of Naitabale is likely to have begun by 2850 cal. years b.p. (900 b.c.). Radiocarbon dates and pottery decorative styles both suggest Naitabale was first occupied within the early part of the Lapita history of Fiji. Keywords: Fiji, Lapita, pottery, pottery temper, fish, turtle, shellfish, human, dating.

Despite more than 50 years of fieldwork targeting the earliest (Lapitaera) occupation of southwest Pacific Island archipelagoes and a number of authoritative statements (Kirch 1997; Kirch and Green 2001), many questions remain unanswered regarding this conspicuous and intriguing period of Pacific prehistory. At a regional scale, it is uncertain what precise migratory pathways the Lapita people followed and how rapidly the discovery and colonization of islands took place (Green 2003). Little is known for certain about the watercraft the Lapita people used. In addition, there has been much debate surrounding the lifestyles of the earliest colonists and those who followed them, particularly whether they were "strandloopers" with "a restricted maritime/lagoonal economy" (Groube 1971 : 312; see also Anderson 2003 : 76-78) or horticulturalists who selected settlement sites for their potential for growing crops like taro and breadfruit (Green 1979; Kirch 1997).

At a subregional (archipelagic) scale, other questions remain, largely because field research has not yet been able to capture the geographic spread and density of Lapita-era settlements. There is a debate about whether Lapita people preferred smaller islands or whether the apparent observed preference is a function of site visibility; that is, ancient settlements along the coasts of larger, higher islands are more likely to have been obscured by later geomorphological changes (Spriggs 1984; Lepofsky 1988). For some southwest Pacific Island groups, large areas have Asian Perspectives, Vol. 46, No. 1 (2007 by the University of Hawai'i Press. not been examined for traces of Lapita occupation, so conclusions regarding its antiquity and diffusion are tentative (e.g., Vanuatu; Bedford 2003).

For the Fiji Islands (Fig. 1), while there are still areas that have not been investigated, notably Kadavu and Vanua Levu islands, the existence of some 40 Lapita sites, 11 of which have been securely dated, has allowed some cogent statements to be made regarding the time of colonization and the subsequent dispersion of Lapita people through the archipelago (Anderson and Clark 1999; Clark and Anderson 2001; Kumar et al. …


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