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26 April 2008
Early Pacific settlement dig yields fine jewelry, pottery

Excavation of the earliest human settlement in Fiji has yielded fine jewelry and high quality pottery made by ancient Lapita people some 3,000 years ago and never produced in the area since, a South Pacific geographer said. "These people were artists," Prof. Patrick Nunn said, announcing archaeological finds including the first-ever discovery of a Lapita jewelry cache, found at Bourewa Beach on the southwest coast of Fiji's main island, Viti Levu.
     Lapita people, the original colonizers of the South Pacific, are believed to have migrated eastward from the Bismarck Archipelago of Papua New Guinea to Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Solomon Islands and other Pacific islands. Nunn said the two-month excavation he led at Bourewa Beach found stilt houses built above the sea, quantities of Lapita-decorated pottery and stone tools and the "big mystery" of the high quality jewelry.
     Fiji Museum staffer Sepeti Matararaba found the jewelry, made from shells, under an upturned clay pot that Nunn said was "a deliberate burial" by someone 3,000 years ago. When Matararaba turned over the pot over, he uncovered a cache of nine shell rings of different sizes, four shell bracelets and six necklace pieces complete with drill holes. "These are the first people in the South Pacific, they are a Stone Age people," he said. "Within a decade or so of arriving in Fiji they were producing exquisite shell jewelry (and) they were producing intricately decorated pottery. Yet about 550 BCE they disappeared as a distinctive cultural group. After that you don't see anyone in Fiji making shell jewelry like that, or pottery like that."
     Peter Shepphard, associate professor of Anthropolgy at Auckland University in New Zealand, who works on early Lapita and other settlement in Solomon Islands, described the finds as an "extraordinary set of materials" from "a very important site." The "elaborate decorative systems" of the early settlers were "indicative" of efforts to "retain their ties back into their homeland area" in the Bismarck Archipeligo, he said.

Sources: Fijilive (22 April 2008), Associated Press, International Herald Tribune (23 April 2008)

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