Identifying Lapita Culture In Papua New Guinea
Ancient Lapita pottery on Booker Island in Papua New Guinea demonstrates the impact of this culture on the peopling of the Pacific
One of my favorite aspects of anthropology is the peopling of the world. And within this subject, I personally consider “out of Africa,” and the colonization of the Pacific the two greatest migration events in humanity. A new paper in Nature Ecology & Evolution1 outlines a fascinating finding in the latter migration event.
A tiny pottery sherd demonstrates how the Lapita culture, who launched themselves far and wide in the Pacific, as far as Vanuatu… also landed in Papua New Guinea. Prior to this discovery, it was believed that Lapita avoided Papua New Guinea because it was already inhabited for 50,000 years.
See, five years ago, on Brooker island, this tiny pottery sherd was found with distinct markings along with stone tools to make obsidian blades. Within this strata, from 3,000 years ago, were also animal bones such as domesticated pigs and dogs. These pottery markings, the stone tool technology, as well as animal husbandry, are unique to Lapita culture. Earlier strata in this site and others in PNG did not contain these artifacts. These findings indicate that Lapita introduced pottery as well as animal domestication to Papua New Guinea. In exchange, later Lapita dispersal events profoundly influenced cultural and linguistic diversity.
The following 26-minute video showcases the lead author of this study and how they identified the earliest traces of Lapita culture in Papua New Guinea.
Shaw, B., Hawkins, S., Becerra-Valdivia, L. et al. Frontier Lapita interaction with resident Papuan populations set the stage for initial peopling of the Pacific. Nat Ecol Evol (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-022-01735-w