23 April, 2008

Lapita Pottery Story

Read below an article on Lapita pottery in Fiji taken from the Fiji Times, Wednesday, 23 April 2008.

"More remnants of the Lapita unravelled, Wednesday, April 23, 2008

BOUREWA in Sigatoka believed to be the earliest human settlement in Fiji has produced stumbling results of Lapita people who resided there.

Bourewa settlement is significantly older than any other settlement excavated in Fiji and there seems little reason to doubt that it is the earliest.

Professor Patrick Nunn of the University of the South Pacific's School of Geography led a team of 70 excavators for the eight-week project which included researchers from universities in Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

To reach Fiji more than 3000 years ago, the Lapita people sailed across 1200 kilometres of open ocean.

Approaching Fiji, they encountered the huge coral reef that skirts the western part of the archipelago and probably followed it cautiously until it met land for the first time, at a place named Bourewa Beach, close to Natadola.

But with the sea level about 1.5 metres higher than it is today Bourewa was not part of large Viti Levu.

It occupied a bay on the southeast coast of a small offshore island.

Since this is where the broad reef meets the shore, Bourewa adjoins one of the largest fringing coral reefs in Fiji today, nearly three kilometres wide at one point.

To the Lapita people, perhaps close to starvation after weeks at sea, the sight of this reef meant food in abundance.

And so they came on shore.

Settlement remains one of the big mysteries as the settlers chose not to live on the land but on houses built on stilts that overlay a sand ridge which was underwater at high tide.

Recent excavations suggest there were two stilt platforms at Bourewa during the earliest period of its human occupation, positioned so that they adjoined the coral reef on one side and a brackish-water lagoon on the other.

Why the Lapita people favoured such complicated structures rather than simply living on one of the hills, 30 to 40 metres away, is a mystery. Excavations from November 2007 to February 2008, unveiled even more fascinating revelations such as the inference that Lapita people were so organised to the point where they did not just throw their rubbish anywhere. One of the main foods they consumed at Bourewa was shellfish, whose shells were discarded in shallow waters below their stilt platforms. The startling find was that the thickest part of the rubbish dump was along the edges of the stilt platforms.

It was carried to the edges of the stilt platforms and dropped there.

The Lapita people attracted interest for their voyaging feats unmatched anywhere in the world for another thousand years.

More proof of the evident complexity of their society was in the way they decorated pottery.

It hints at an almost direct colonisation from the Bismarck Archipelago of Papua New Guinea, 3250 kilometres away in a straight line.

A large quantity of shell jewellery was found suggesting the Lapita occupants of Bourewa spent considerable time manufacturing it.

For the first time, a clear connection existed between the grinding stones found throughout the site and the shell bracelets and rings. It is clear the people who lived at Bourewa more than 3000 years ago took large cone shells, sliced them into sections, ground and polished them to make bracelets and rings.

They made other types of jewellery from seeds. Many of the pieces found were finely drilled.

While digging down, the team found a series of six cone shells laid in two rows. This was clearly a deliberate burial and further on in the middle of these two rows was an upturned pot.

Turning this upside-down pot over, the excavators found it filled with shell jewellery.

Nine shell rings of different sizes, four shell bracelets, six straight units with drillholes.

This was a Lapita jewellery box, deliberately buried by someone 3000 years ago at Bourewa for reasons unknown.

Stone tools were used for a variety of purposes. Remnants of large adzes, used for hollowing out canoes, and of axes were found.

The discovery of some small stone chisels suggests the Lapita people were also fine woodcarvers.

Most stone tools found were made from a local greenstone that grows about 10 kilometres inland on Viti Levu today.

It is inferred the Lapita people travelled upriver to collect suitable greenstone river rocks which were manufactured as tone tools in Bourewa.

Bones of many of the animals that arrived in Fiji with the first humans were also found.

It seems dogs, rats and chicken arrived during the first 200 years of occupation at Bourewa.

A vertebra of a large pig was found in layers tentatively dated to 900 BC, so the conclusion that pigs arrived after the Lapita people era may change when the bone is dated.

At the coastal flat named Waikereira, excavators found a place where stone tools were manufactured from local greenstone.

The size of the stone tools suggests the place may have been one of the earliest used by the Lapita occupants of the area.

At Matelita Tree near Vusama Village which adjoins a large mangrove swamp two pieces of Lapita pottery indicate that the Lapita people of Bourewa had probably camped at Matelita Tree to gather clay with which they manufacture pots and containers."

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