Earliest Pottery on New Guinea Mainland Reveals Austronesian Influences in Highland Environments 3000 Years Ago

Archaeologists and other scientists from University of Otago, Australian National University, The University of New South Wales and University of Arizona have teamed up to identify the earliest well-dated pottery from mainland New Guinea. The earthenware sherds are over 3,000 years old, and their chemical composition can be traced to the north coast at a time when the first Polynesians were beginning to explore the remote Pacific islands.  The research was based at the University of Otago, in the Department of Anthropology & Archaeology. http://www.otago.ac.nz/anthropology/index.html

 

Earliest Pottery on New Guinea Mainland Reveals Austronesian Influences in Highland Environments 3000 Years Ago

  • Dylan Gaffney, University of Otago, New Zealand
  • Glenn R. Summerhayes, University of Otago, New Zealand
  • Anne Ford, University of Otago, New Zealand
  • James M. Scott, University of Otago, New Zealand
  • Tim Denham, Australian National University, Australia
  • Judith Field, The University of New South Wales, Australia
  • William R. Dickinson, University of Arizona, USA

 

Abstract

Austronesian speaking peoples left Southeast Asia and entered the Western Pacific c.4000-3000 years ago, continuing on to colonise Remote Oceania for the first time, where they became the ancestral populations of Polynesians. Understanding the impact of these peoples on the mainland of New Guinea before they entered Remote Oceania has eluded archaeologists. New research from the archaeological site of Wañelek in the New Guinea Highlands has broken this silence. Petrographic and geochemical data from pottery and new radiocarbon dating demonstrates that Austronesian influences penetrated into the highland interior by 3000 years ago. One potsherd was manufactured along the northeast coast of New Guinea, whereas others were manufactured from inland materials. These findings represent the oldest securely dated pottery from an archaeological context on the island of New Guinea. Additionally, the pottery comes from the interior, suggesting the movements of people and technological practices, as well as objects at this time. The antiquity of the Wañelek pottery is coincident with the expansion of Lapita pottery in the Western Pacific. Such occupation also occurs at the same time that changes have been identified in subsistence strategies in the archaeological record at Kuk Swamp suggesting a possible link between the two.

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0134497

 

Fig 3. Examples of Wañelek pottery. W52: paddle and anvil made body sherd with red slip and incised decoraton; W50: body sherd with fingernail incision; W45: plain body sherd with red burnish or slip; W14: plain body sherd; W54: possible broken coil or weathered rim sherd.

Fig 3. Examples of Wañelek pottery. W52: paddle and anvil made body sherd with red slip and incised decoraton; W50: body sherd with fingernail incision; W45: plain body sherd with red burnish or slip; W14: plain body sherd; W54: possible broken coil or weathered rim sherd.

Professor Glenn Summerhayes (front left) is a leader of archaeological research in the Pacific, in particular Melanesia; origins of the Austronesians; Lapita; the archaeology of trade and exchange; the development of social complexity. His contributions to archaeological science range from remote fieldwork to elemental analyses of obsidian and chemical composition to source pottery. Glenn was born in Australia and has a PhD from La Trobe University. He moved from the ANU to Otago in 2005, and has worked in PNG and the Pacific for more than 30 years.

Professor Glenn Summerhayes (front left) is a leader of archaeological research in the Pacific, in particular Melanesia; origins of the Austronesians; Lapita; the archaeology of trade and exchange; the development of social complexity. His contributions to archaeological science range from remote fieldwork to elemental analyses of obsidian and chemical composition to source pottery. Glenn was born in Australia and has a PhD from La Trobe University. He moved from the ANU to Otago in 2005, and has worked in PNG and the Pacific for more than 30 years.