Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Lapita Find Considered Pompeii of the Pacific

The Pacific's Pompeii: "For decades, researchers have tried to explain the cultural and physical differences of people across the Pacific. Some argue the Lapita people were ancestral Polynesians from Southeast Asia who migrated east, some groups settling long term on islands, while others carried on. They believe Lapita people were the ancestors of the inhabitants of eastern Melanesia who now look different because of later waves of migration.

So, when New Zealand archaeologist Dr Stuart Bedford was handed a large piece of ancient broken pottery in Vanuatu this year he thought it was a joke. It had been accidentally unearthed by a bulldozer driver who was working an area last year about 10 minutes' drive southeast of Port Vila. He also noticed a lot of shellfish, cooking stones, some human bones and other broken pottery.

Most excitingly, the site contained a burial area which held the skeletal remains of the Lapita people, the first inhabitants of Vanuatu, who subsequently went on to settle New Caledonia, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa.

The remains were well-preserved because of the island uplift and later volcanic eruptions, which buried the site with ash up to one metre in some places. It represented the oldest and most intact burial site discovered in the Pacific. "It is the first time group burials of this age have been associated with Lapita."