Lapita Caledonien: Archeologie D'un Premier Peuplement Insulaire Oceanien

By Kirch, Patrick V. | Archaeology in Oceania, April 2012 | Go to article overview

Lapita Caledonien: Archeologie D'un Premier Peuplement Insulaire Oceanien


Kirch, Patrick V., Archaeology in Oceania


Lapita Caledonien: Archeologie d'un Premier Peuplement Insulaire Oceanien By Christophe Sand Travaux & Documents Oceanistes 2. Societe des Oceanistes, Paris. ISBN 978-2-85430-025-3 Pp. 295. Price 38 [euro]

New Caledonia, which includes La Grand Terre as well as the Loyalty Islands, Ile des Pins, and other smaller offshore islets, holds a special place in the annals of Lapita archaeology. It was at Kone on La Grand Terre that Edward Gifford and Richard Shutler Jr. in 1952 uncovered distinctive dentate-stamped ceramic sherds at a place whose toponym Gifford incorrectly transcribed as Lapita. Within a few years, this name would be applied to similar pottery distributed geographically from the Bismarck Archipelago in the west to Samoa in the east. Research on Lapita sites in New Caledonia continued with work by Jack Golson and his students, and later by the French archaeologists Daniel Frimigacci and Jean-Christophe Galipaud. all made important contributions to our knowledge of Lapita sites and ceramics in this southernmost Melanesian archipelago. However, the formation of a local Department of Archaeology within the Service des Mus6es et du Patrimoine de Nouvelle-Caledonie in 1991, under the direction of Christophe Sand and aided by Jacques Bole and Jean-Andre Ouetcho launched a new era in New Caledonian archaeology. A series of survey and excavation campaigns throughout the archipelago led to the discovery of many new Lapita sites (including the first ones on the Loyalty Islands of Mar6, Lifou, and Ouvea). In addition, the eponymous site of Lapita itself was thoroughly reinvestigated, leading among other things to the spectacular discovery of the first entire Lapita ceramic vessels. Much of this intensive research has been reported over the years in journal articles and reports by Sand and his colleagues, but until now a thorough synthesis of Lapita in New Caledonia has been lacking.

In Lapita Caledonien Sand remedies this deficiency, offering a thoughtful and detailed compilation of all of the work that his team has accomplished on Lapita within the New Caledonian archipelago. It is regrettable that many Anglophone archaeologists of the Pacific will be unable to read the French text, but even they will benefit from the 130 photos, plans, sections, and illustrations of pottery and artifacts, a large number of them in color. (It is sad that many of the artifact photos were evidently produced from low resolution images which are blurry and fail to show important details of decoration or other features.)

Sand begin the volume with a short Preamble titled "Return of the Canoes" in which he relates the emotional ceremony held at Lapita itself on August i, 2002 when the representatives of various Pacific nations acknowledged the importance of Lapita to their cultural identity. This is followed by a brief Prologue which further discusses Lapita as an icon in contemporary Oceania, and an Introduction which situates Lapita within the larger theme of the Austronesian peopling of Remote Oceania.

After these preliminaries, Lapita Caledonien proceeds systematically through a series of eight data-rich chapters. Chapter 1 considers the fundamental definition of Lapita as a "cultural complex", reviewing the history of research beginning with Otto Meyer in 1909 and on through the contributions of others, especially Roger Green and the Lapita Homeland Project of the 1980s. Chapter 2 provides additional relevant background, including such geographical considerations as the distances between islands and archipelagoes, meteorological conditions relevant to voyaging, and the range of island environments encountered by the first Austronesian explorers into the southwest Pacific. Sand also reviews some of the key elements of Lapita "social dynamics" including long-distance exchange and demographic trends.

In Chapter 3 Sand turns to the corpus of new field data accumulated by his research team, with a detailed analysis of the "eco-geography" of the various Lapita sites distributed throughout the Loyalty Islands and La Grande Terre. …

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