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24 October 2004
Pottery shows true face of first Pacific settlers

Staring out from an ancient piece of pottery, the mysterious face of a bearded man has given scientists a unique glimpse of what the first settlers of Fiji may have looked like. Researchers say the 'extraordinary discovery' - found near Natadola Beach, west of the Fijian capital Suva, in the tourist area of Viti Levu island - is a vital clue in mapping out how the South Pacific came to be inhabited some 3,000 years ago, suggesting the first direct link to islands some thousands of kilometres away. Thought to be the work of the Lapita people - a long-lost race which originated near modern-day Taiwan then migrated to Polynesia - the fragment is also at least 200 years older than any other piece found in Fiji.
     "This is the first time that a clearly recognisable face design made in three dimensions on a piece of Lapita pottery has been found in Fiji," said a statement from the University of the South Pacific, based in the archipelago. Preliminary analysis shows that the eerie-looking face consists of a prominent raised nose, the left eye and what might be eyelashes, said Roselyn Kumar of the University of the South Pacific's Institute of Applied Sciences. There are also designs that suggest what might be head-hair, and crescent shapes on the base which were possibly intended to represent beard-hair.
     The find therefore gives researchers an opportunity to gaze on the countenance of Fiji's first inhabitants, from whom modern Polynesians are believed to be descended. But equally significant is that it is the first time that a facial design has been found on Lapita pottery outside a group of islands north of Papua New Guinea - which are some 3,400 kilometres away from Fiji. The find made it possible to conclude that the early people of Fiji had at some stage come from the far-off island chain, named the Bismarck Archipelago, Geography Professor Patrick Nunn said. It could go some way towards settling the long archaeological debate on settling of Polynesia - a vast triangle of islands from Hawaii in the north, to New Zealand in the south-east and Rapanui or Easter Island in the east.

Source: AFP, ABC News Online (23 October 2004)

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