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28 August 2004
3000-year-old bodies unearthed in Vanuatu

Headless bodies buried 3000 years ago at the oldest cemetery found in the Pacific Islands were set to reveal the secrets of the first humans to colonise Vanuatu, Fiji and Polynesia, an Australian research team said. The Australian National University (ANU) team said traces of the Lapita people, who are the ancestors of all Pacific Islanders beyond the Solomons, had been found in more than 100 other archaeological digs across the region. But few human remains had been found until the latest dig in Vanuatu.
     The work has been co-ordinated by ANU archaeologist Professor Matthew Spriggs and the Vanuatu National Museum. "Pottery found at the site dates back to 1200 BCE - 200 years earlier than it was previously thought the Lapita people had arrived in Vanuatu, and the discovery of 13 skeletons has suddenly opened a rich vein of information about these ancestors of all Polynesians. It is the oldest cemetery and contains the earliest group of human remains ever discovered in the region," Prof Spriggs said in a statement.
     Prof Spriggs said finding remains of Lapita people was rare. In fact, so few remains had been found at other sites that it was thought they must have been buried at sea. "The cemetery also revealed a great deal about their culture through the way the bodies were buried." He said all the adult skeletons were missing their heads. The archaeological team found the heads had been removed some time after the bodies had been first buried, with shell bracelets put in their place.

Sources: Associated Press, Yahoo! News, The New Zealand Herald (27 August 2004)

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