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Assessment of the technological variability in decorated Lapita pottery from Teouma, Vanuatu, by petrography and LA-ICP-MS: implications for Lapita social organisation

  • Mathieu LeclercEmail author
  • Elle Grono
  • Stuart Bedford
  • Matthew Spriggs
Original Paper

Abstract

This paper examines the social implications of the results from the petrographic and chemical analysis by laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry of dentate-stamped pottery sherds from the colonising-phase Lapita site of Teouma, Vanuatu, in the South Pacific (2940 to 2710 cal BP). Data from Dickinson et al.’s (2013) petrographic provenance are combined with the chemical analysis of 26 of these sherds to contextualise the provenance work and temper types identified at the Teouma site within the social context and with reference to the cultural practices of the Lapita community. Results show that the Lapita assemblage is characterised by significant variability in terms of fabric types, which is aligned with other Lapita pottery assemblages in the region. The variability of fabrics at Teouma reveals that there were no clear cultural guidelines regarding the raw materials used for Lapita pottery production. The absence of rules or at the very least the existence of rules allowing a wide range of raw materials indicates that the raw materials did not have any real significance or impact on the perception of the final product. This behaviour appears logical considering the high mobility of Lapita groups and the fact that Lapita settlers, beyond the main Solomon’s chain, were the first inhabitants on a wide array of different insular environments with diverse geological origins. From a political economy perspective, the wide range of fabrics at Teouma is a sign that there was no apparent political control or imposed limitations over access to the raw materials.

Keywords

Vanuatu Pottery Lapita LA-ICP-MS Petrography Fabric analysis 

Notes

Acknowledgements

The Teouma Archaeological Project was a joint initiative of the Vanuatu National Museum and the Australian National University (ANU) directed by Dr. Stuart Bedford and Professor Matthew Spriggs of the ANU and Mr. Ralph Regenvanu and Mr. Marcellin Abong, the former directors of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre (VVC). We thank Ethan Cochrane, Mark Golitko and Les Kinsley for their advice on the analytical methodology. We also thank Charmaine Wong, Krickette Pacubas and Mara Mulrooney from the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu, USA, for allowing us to examine Dickinson’s thin sections for Teouma on loan. Thanks to Ben Shaw for valuable comments on the paper. Tim Denham and Justyna Miszkiewicz from the School of Archaeology and Anthropology, College of Arts and Social Sciences of the ANU are thanked for the laboratory access.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia & the PacificThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.School of Archaeology and Anthropology, College of Arts & Social SciencesThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  3. 3.Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human HistoryJenaGermany
  4. 4.Collective Biography of Archaeology in the Pacific, School of Archaeology and Anthropology, College of Arts & Social SciencesThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  5. 5.Vanuatu Cultural CentrePort VilaVanuatu

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