VANUATU DIG YIELDS MAJOR LAPITA FIND

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By Tony Ligo and Bob Makin

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Port Villa Presse, July 11) - A Lapita pot containing a human skull was unearthed at an excavation site in Teouma Valley, Vanuatu, in a find that archeologists say will change our understanding of the first inhabitants of the region.

The groundbreaking discovery sheds light on the burial rituals of Vanuatu's early settlers, according to the team that uncovered a Lapita pot of early design containing a human skull and sealed by a dish.

"In terms of Lapita, it blows everything away," said Stuart Bedford, one of the archaeologists working on the dig. "We're getting a major insight into a clear pattern of burial practice."

According to professor Matthew Spriggs, this is new evidence revealing burial rituals of the Lapita people. When digging began last year, around 20 bodies were discovered and most were headless. This new discovery may explain why the heads were missing from bodies.

Furthermore, on each body uncovered, the team found shell ornaments or rings placed on bodies in the same manner, again a revelation of Lapita people's burial rites. The pot containing the skull was decorated with uniquely human facial designs and engraved on the bottom with what is believed to be the potter's signature.

The find was made by a team of archeologists from Australia, New Zealand, France and New Caledonia and led by professor Spriggs, the foremost specialist on Lapita people, a race believed to be the ancestors of the Pacific people of today.

The painstaking process of excavation could take more than five years, according to Spriggs, who said this might be the biggest Lapita site discovered to date anywhere in the region.

In 2004, five skeletons were dug up in Fiji but doubt was cast on the excavation as it was conducted by amateurs.

The bones of the Lapita people found at Teouma have started revealing glimpses of how people lived between 3,200 and 3,000 years ago, when studied by biological anthropologists. The teeth also have stories to tell and the DNA has proved much more useful than from other tropical locations.

The Lapita skeletons at Teouma will in time show how the Lapita lived and what they did, and tell how they managed to survive childhood. About a third of the skeletons indicated some kind of trauma.

July 12, 2005

Port Vila Presse: www.news.vu/en/

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