Caution Bay Lapita handed to PNG museum

Since its discovery on Watom Island in East New Britain Province, PNG is now being associated with the origins of Lapita and the subsequent inhabitation of the islands of the greater Pacific.

“Lapita is a story about the prehistory of the Pacific Islands,” Director of the PNG National Museum and Art Gallery, Dr Andrew Moutu, said.

Scientists believe the Lapita people originally came from Taiwan and other regions of East Asia about 3,000-4,000 years ago.

They were highly mobile seaborne explorers and colonists who had established themselves on the Bismarck Archipelago, which is northeast of New Guinea.

The most recent find of their existence was at the Caution Bay of Central Province in 2010, where PhD student and Senior Objects Conservator from Monash University, Holly Jones-Amin, was asked to conserve two highly fragmented, very low-fired Lapita vessels.

Described as one of the ‘weakest pottery’ she has ever worked with, Amin-Jones handed over the Caution Bay find to Dr Moutu this week.

“Some of the archaeologists who were involved in this project are here,” Dr Moutu said. “They uncovered some very precious Lapita dating back 2000-3000 years ago. They were salvaged and secured properly and taken to Melbourne University and been kept there, studied and restored to some degree of structural integrity.”

Dr Moutu further thanked Amin-Jones for the extreme care and diligence that has been put into restoring and returning the Lapita home.

He said the artefact will be on exhibit for two months and may be extended based on interest.

Meantime, researcher Amin-Jones outlined that literature on the conservation of low-fired archaeological ceramics is scarce as these pottery are fragile and are difficult to conserve and lift in the field and often do not make it to the laboratory.

“Furthermore, poor endurance has meant that low-fired pottery has not been conserved, creating a knowledge gap for research that informs archaeologists, conservators and source communities,” said Amin-Jones.

“I felt that I could contribute to bridging this gap by undertaking a PhD that conserves and analyses the Caution Bay ceramics.”

Lapita pottery has been found in PNG, New Caledonia, in parts of Micronesia and in Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Wallis and Futuna.

(Director of the PNG National Museum and Art Gallery, Dr Andrew Moutu, and researcher Holly Jones-Amin standing behind the low-fired pottery that she was working on)

Carmella Gware