Fiji dig yields fine jewelry from early Lapitas
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By PITA LIGAIULA
Associated Press Writer
SUVA, Fiji (AP) — Excavators of the earliest human settlement in Fiji have found a cache of jewelry and high quality pottery dating back some 3,000 years and made by the Stone Age colonizers of the South Pacific.
Patrick Nunn, professor of Oceanic Geoscience at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji, announced the find Tuesday. He said the two-month excavation he led at Bourewa Beach on the southwest coast of Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu, revealed stilt houses built above the sea, quantities of Lapita-decorated pottery, stone tools and jewelry.
"These people were artists," Nunn told The Associated Press.
The Lapita people are believed to have migrated eastward from the Bismarck Archipelago of Papua New Guinea to Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Solomon Islands and other Pacific islands.
The Bourewa Beach settlement was the earliest yet uncovered in Fiji by about 200 years, said Nunn, who directed the project supported by Fiji Museum and researchers from universities in Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the United States and Britain.
Fiji Museum staffer Sepeti Matararaba found the jewelry, made from shells, under an upturned clay pot, put there by someone about 3,000 years ago. When Matararaba turned 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.
Peter Shepphard, an associate professor of anthropology at Auckland University in New Zealand who works on early Lapita and other settlements in the Solomon Islands, described the finds as "extraordinary" and from "a very important site."
The site was likely a manufacturing center for shell jewelry and the cache a "deliberate burial of a shell jewelry collection" by the Lapita inhabitants, Nunn said.
"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 ... they were producing intricately decorated pottery."
Nunn said the Lapitas disappeared by about 550 B.C. as a distinctive cultural group: "After that, you don’t see anyone in Fiji making shell jewelry like that, or pottery like that."
He said that fact is interesting because it is opposite of what would be expected — the production of crude pottery and crude jewelry at the start of the settlement 3,000 years ago getting more sophisticated toward the present.
"We’re still a long way off knowing why this is," he said.
Shepphard, who was not involved in the Fiji project, said the decorations of the early settlers reveal an effort to retain their ties to their homeland area in the Bismarck Archipelago.