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Archaeologist says Lapita evidence everywhere

By Bob Makin PORT VILA (Vanuatu Daily Post, June 30, 2010) - The leader of the archaeological excavations (the "dig") at Teouma is in no doubt that Lapita is the "stampa" culture of everyone in this country.

"Lapita is the primary unifying characteristic of Vanuatu," says Professor Matthew Spriggs. " It is found in every province, from Motalava down to Tafea. It is the foundation of the custom and culture of everyone in Vanuatu. I don’t think people have realized this, or properly thought it through."

As a unifying concept for the fourth decade of Vanuatu’s existence as a nation, the notion is a good one.

It comes as the Lapita excavations for 2010 resume at Teouma. Professor Spriggs thought their work there had possibly taken the archaeologists to the edge of the burial ground. However, there is considerable excitement that the dig may have come to a place where people actually lived and carried on their daily lives.

A midden has been unearthed in which the throw-away objects of 3,000 years ago are being discovered. There are bones and pieces of shell - food remains - all of which will be carbon dated. What was probably an obsidian tool has also been discovered, the obsidian of the kind found in West New Britain, not that of the Banks. Dr Frederique Valentin, the specialist in anthropological biology, is very pleased with what they are finding.

There has been much recent geological activity in the Teouma Valley. Had it not been for excavation for the prawn farm there, the original Lapita burial site would never have been noticed. "We would naver have thought to look here," says Matthew Spriggs.

Persons who have not attended any of the arranged visits to the site are amazed at the manner in which the reef has been uplifted, exposing the ash which fortunately preserved the burials.

The Teouma Valley could have been the ‘valley of the dead’, says Spriggs. Maybe it was replaced by a village. But then the sea was moving away, and by 2,500 years ago, so did the Lapita people of the Teouma Valley, possibly because the estuary of the river was further away and fishing more difficult.

A dig is planned for Erromango in the near future.

Lapita pottery has been found at Dillon’s Bay. However, it is likely that the Lapita culture died out there 2,000 years ago. On Efate it was present until at least 1,200 years ago.

Richard Shutler found evidence of Lapita on Tanna some 60 years ago. It will, however, be harder to find anything of the Lapita people’s existence there, compared with other islands, owing to the frequent and mostly unrecorded emissions of the Yasur volcano over the millennia. Professor Spriggs and Dr Stuart Bedford of the Australian National University, leading the Lapita excavations in Vanuatu, are planning a trip to Tanna to make people more aware of the nature of Lapita findings and to emphasize its importance in Vanuatu’s cultural heritage.

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