Ceramics from Site 13, Lapita
by Patrick V. Kirch
dissertation research involves the analysis of pottery from the "Lapita"
site on the island of New Caledonia.
Scarlett was introduced to the study of Lapita Cultural Complex during
her first year at
U.C. Berkeley when she took a course with Professor P.V. Kirch. In that
course she was assigned to record and study pottery remains from Boliu
Island, Mussau Islands, Papua New Guinea. Since then she has become more
and more interested in the stylistic and technological changes that occur
in pottery remains and what can be learned from them.
Encouraged by Professor Kirch, she applied for and received a Robert H.
Lowie Graduate Fellowship which funded her initial participation in the
excavation of Site WKO013A (Lapita, New Caledonia) in the summer of 1996.
She was then urged by project director Dr. Christophe Sand (Museum of
New Caledonia) to undertake the analysis of Lapita pottery collected during
1992-6 from this site for her doctoral dissertation research. With support
from the Stahl Endowment Fund and a Social Science Research Grant that
she received in 1997, she was able to start the recording process for
the sherds excavated in 1996. She just ended her second three-months field
work in Nouméa this summer (June-September 1999), and hopefully
will finishing up the recording by the end of this year. She is planning
to conduct chemical analysis (both XRF and Microprobe analysis) here in
the Department of Geology of U.C. Berkeley by the beginning of next year.
Once a full database of this site has been established, it will be available
for further data generation and model testing of the prehistoric production
and exchange systems of the Lapita cultural complex of the southwestern
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Excavations carried out by Dr. Christophe Sand and his research assistants
during 1992-1996 and the discovery of two almost complete ceramic vessels
(so far unique in the Pacific) in Site WKO013A in 1994, have made the
ceramic collection from this site one of the largest, best-controlled
assemblages of Lapita ceramics yet excavated to date in the Pacific. It
is now possible for archaeologists to conduct a representative study of
the local Lapita decorative motif inventory, and to test the hypothesis
of the validity of a "Southern Lapita Province" recently proposed
by P. V. Kirch. Thus, it will be a major contribution to the characterization
of the founding cultural horizon of Southern Melanesia. Furthermore, it
provides archaeologists with a valuable database to examine the various
exchange models proposed by different scholars.
In her project, she plans to employ a methodology that examines Lapita
pottery in three different aspects: a) physico-chemical analysis of paste
to source the origin(s) of clay and non-plastic inclusions (temper) used;
b) stylistic analysis of design motifs to investigate the structural rules
of design combinations; and c) morphological and technical analysis that
emphasizes on the identification of both vessel forms and different techniques
employed to produce ceramics in the Lapita tradition. Each one of these
analytical methods has its advantages and limitations. By examining the
significant co-variations among these three aspects of ceramic materials,
she expects to overcome some of the major shortcomings of each of these
methods if used separately, and to demonstrate the usefulness of interdisciplinary
studies of ceramics in the study of prehistoric ceramic production and
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Lapita Pottery Project
by Scarlett Chiu
This project aims to address the importance and possible social meanings
of decorated Lapita pottery in the prehistory of New Caledonia. To accomplish
this goal, it is exploring various social and economic reasons for the
high complexity and diversity of ceramic decorations during the initial
period of colonization, and the probable rapid disappearance and progressive
replacement of dentate-stamped pottery. In particular, the three major
foci of research include: (1) Identification of specialization and standardization
of Lapita pottery production; (2) Identification of the extent of local
exchange network(s); and (3) Assessment of the progress of localization.
out potsherds of exotic origins and local origins through chemical analysis,
with the aid of stylistic analysis, this project is expected to provide
indications of local innovation and the incorporation of borrowed stylistic
and technological traits into the local Lapita inventory through time.
Special attention will be given to identify shifts in terms of technology
and decorative style in their contextual settings through time and space.
A total number of 19,680 sherds have been recorded into a Paradox database.
x-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyses of major elements and 148 analyses of
trace elements have been completed. Motifs from almost 7,000 decorated
sherds have been recorded and analyzed.
Correlation between general temper types and decorative motifs has been
conducted. There is no clear one-to-one relation between the clay-mixture
used and the motif decorative technique applied. There is also an indication
of a shift in clay-mixture used through time, from calcite-rich materials
to non-calcite materials.
Petrographic analyses for each major type identified by XRF tests will
be conducted with the help of Dr. Bill Dickinson of the University of
Arizona. Cross-examination of petrography studies and XRF analyses are
also being carried out. Reconstruction of vessel forms and their relation
to decorative motifs and possible functions is the next step of investigation.
Cooperative efforts to establish a new general classification system for
motif categories is underway with Dr. Glenn Summerhayes of The Australian
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