:"For the fly genus, see "Lapita (fly). Lapita is the common name of an ancient Pacific Ocean archaeological culture which is believed by many archaeologists to be the common ancestor of several cultures in Polynesia, Micronesia, and some areas of Melanesia. The type site in New Caledonia was discovered in 1952. The word "Lapita" itself is not a place name. A word in a local New Caledonian language, "xaapeta", meaning 'dig a hole', was misheard as, and became, "lapita".


Classic Lapita pottery was produced between 1350 and 750 BC in the Bismarck Archipelago. A late variety might have been produced there up to 250 BC. Local styles of Lapita pottery are found in Vanuatu and New Caledonia. Pottery persisted in Fiji, whereas it disappeared completely in other areas of Melanesia and in Siassi.

In Western Polynesia, Lapita pottery is found from 800 BC onwards in the Fiji-Samoa-Tonga area. From Tonga and Samoa, Polynesian culture spread to Eastern Polynesia areas including the Marquesas and the Society Islands, and then later to Hawaii, Easter Island, and New Zealand. However, pottery making did not persist in most of Polynesia, mainly due to the lack of suitable clay on small islands.

Material culture

The low-fired earthenware pottery, often tempered with shell or sand, is typically decorated with a dentate (toothed) stamp, and it has been theorised that these decorations may have been transferred to or from less hardy mediums like tapa (bark cloth), mats or tattoos. Undecorated "plainware" pottery is an important part of the Lapita cultural complex, which also includes ground stone adzes and shell artefacts, and flaked stone tools of obsidian, chert and other available rock.


Domesticates consisted of pigs, dogs and chickens. Horticulture was based on root and tree crops, most importantly taro and yam, coconuts, bananas and breadfruit varieties. This was supplemented by fishing and mollusc gathering.Long distance trade of obsidian, adzes and favourable adze source rock and shells was practiced.

Burial customs

Excavation of a large cemetery at Teouma on Efate Island in Vanuatu discovered in 2003, found 36 bodies in 25 graves, as well as burial jars. All skeletons were headless with the heads removed after burial and replaced with rings made from cone shell. The heads were reburied. One burial of an elderly man had three skulls lined up on his chest. One burial jar featured four birds looking into the jar. Carbon dating of the shells placed this cemetery at about 1000 B.C."Graves of the Pacific's First Seafarers Revealed", Richard Stone, Science Magazine, 21 April 2006:Vol. 312. no. 5772, p. 360 [] ]


In the west, villages were located on small offshore islands or the beaches of larger islands. This may have been to avoid areas already settled in coastal New Guinea, or malaria-carrying mosquitoes for which Lapita people had no immune defence. Some houses were built on stilts over larger lagoons. In New Britain, settlements are found inland as well, near the obsidian sources. In the eastern archipelago, all settlements are located on land, sometimes some distance inland.


Lapita pottery is known from the Bismarck archipelago to Samoa and Tonga. The domesticates spread into further Oceania as well. Humans, their domesticates, and species that were introduced involuntarily (perhaps as the Polynesian Rat was) led to extinctions of endemic species on many islands, especially of flightless birds.


The 'Lapita people' are supposed to have spoken proto-Oceanic, a precursor of the Oceanic branch of Austronesian. It is, however, difficult to link non-literate material culture to languages, and it cannot be verified by independent sources.


An ultimate Southeast Asian origin of the Lapita complex is assumed by most scholars, perhaps originating from the Austronesians in Taiwan or southern China some 5,000-6,000 years ago. This Neolithic dispersal was driven by a rapid population growth in east and southeast Asia (Formosa), and has often been called 'the express-train to Polynesia'. Burial pottery similar to "red slip" pottery of Taiwan, as well as detailed linguistic evidenceBlust, R. (1999). Subgrouping, circularity and extinction: some issues in Austronesian comparative linguistics. Selected Papers from the Eighth International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics. E. Zeitoun and P. J.-K. Li. Taipei, Taiwan, Symposium Series of the Institute of Linguistics, Academia Sinica.] seems to lend support to this theory..

The orthodox view argued for by people like Roger Green and Peter Bellwood argues for a "Triple-I model" where Lapita arose from this Austronesian expansion through a process for "intrusion" into new territories, "innovation" of new technologies (such as the Outrigger Canoe), and "integration" with the existing populationsGreenhill, S. J. & Gray, R.D. (2005). [|Testing Population Dispersal Hypotheses: Pacific Settlement, Phylogenetic Trees, and Austronesian Languages] . In: The Evolution of Cultural Diversity: Phylogenetic Approaches. Editors: R. Mace, C. Holden, & S. Shennan. Publisher: UCL Press.] .

Direct links between Lapita and mainland Southeast Asia are still missing, due to a lack of data in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Other scholars like J. Allen located the origin of the Lapita complex in the Bismarck Archipelago that was first colonised 30,000-35,000 BC. Others see obsidian trade as the motor of the spread of Lapita-elements in the western distribution area.

Lapita/Polynesian conundrum

Many scientists believe Lapita pottery in Melanesia to be proof that Polynesians passed through this area on their way into the central Pacific, despite only circumstantial evidence connecting Lapita with Polynesia.

The following information from three reputable scientists brings into question whether there is any connection at all. When looking at the Lapita skeletons of Teouma, geneticist Lisa Matisoo-Smith said; "We were able to look to see whether the individuals possessed a particular mutation that we see at a very high frequency in Polynesians. It is a 9 based pair mutation of Mitichondrial DNA (9bp mtDNA deletion) and we found that the Teouma material - the first samples that we analysed did not have that mutation, so they did not look like 98% of the people we see living in Polynesia today""interview on TV NZ, Tagata Pasifika 'Lapita Special 3, see 'archives'at: [] ] .

Furthermore, Anita Smith,(An Archaeology of West Polynesian Prehistory, 2002) - when comparing Lapita with plainware ceramics in Polynesia: - “There do not appear to be new or different kinds of evidence associated with plainware ceramics (& lapita), only the disappearance of a minor component of material culture and faunal assemblages is apparent. There is continuity in most aspects of the archaeological record that appears to mimic post Lapita sequences of Fiji and island Melanesia (Mangaasi and Naviti pottery).”

Therefore plainware appears to be a simplification of the Lapita cultural complex caused by isolation. Plainware pottery is found on many Polynesian islands and was thought to be a significant player in the transformation of Lapita society into a Polynesian cultural complex. Unfortunately no classical Polynesian artifacts have been found within this plainware assemblage. Archaeological evidence indicates that plainware pottery ceases abruptly in Samoa around 0BC, being replaced by classic Polynesian cultural complex. This clearly indicates a change in the control of the islands, from the waning Lapita settlers to a culture that used gourds, two-piece fishhooks, trolling lures, harpoon heads, tanged adzes, stone pounders and tattooing needles - none of which are found amongst Lapita artifacts.(See Anita Smith, An Archaeology of West Polynesian Prehistory, 2002).

A quote from Anita Smith (An Archaeology of West Polynesian Prehistory, 2002). “Although ceramics have been used as the primary material culture correlate for cultural change in West Polynesia, they are perhaps least suited to identifying Ancestral Polynesians in the archaeological record. Ceramics were not manufactured by Polynesian societies at any time in East Polynesian prehistory. Therefore trying to connect Lapita and plainware pottery with Polynesians is illogical.”

Matthew Spriggs (The Lapita Cultural Complex, 1985) stated; "The possibility of cultural continuity between Lapita Potters and Melanesians has not been given the consideration it deserves. In most sites there was an overlap of styles with no stratigraphic separation discernible. Continuity is found in pottery temper, importation of obsidian and in non ceramic artifacts".

As we can see from the above information, Lapita culture appears to have more to do with the genesis of Melanesian society than with Polynesian society. Therefore we must look elsewhere for the origins of Polynesian society.

ee also

Teouma - a major archaeological site in Vanuatu



* J. Allen, In Search of the Lapita Homeland: Reconstructing the Prehistory of the Bismarck Archipelago, Journal of Pacific History 19/4, 1984, 186-187.
* P. Bellwood, Man's conquest of the Pacific (London, Collis 1978).
* G. Clark/A. Anderson/T. Vunidilo, The archaeology of Lapita dispersal in Oceania: papers from the 4th Lapita conference, June 2000 (Canberra, Pandanus Books), 15-23.
* Glenn R Summerhayes, Far Western, Western and Eastern Lapita: A re-evaluation. Asian Perspectives 39/1-2, 2000, 109-138.
* K. Chino, Lapita Pottery — Ties in the South Pacific: Wave Of Pacifika Vol. 8 2002, Sasakawa Pacific Island Nations Fund (SPINF), Tokyo, Japan (
* A. Noury, Le reflet de l'ame Lapita, Noury Ed., Paris, ISBN 2-9524455-0-8
* Kirch, Patrick Vinton (1997). "The Lapita Peoples: Ancestors of the Oceanic World." Oxford; Blackwell.

External links

* [ Lapita cultural complex – brief description with picture of pottery] (Central Queensland University School of Humanities)
* [ Extinctions connected with the spread of Lapita] (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)
* [ Lapita cultural complex, Lapita designs, texts about Lapita, LapitaDraw ("software to aid in studying archaelogical ceramic artefacts")] (Archéologie et Informatique, in French)
* [ 'Heads found in pots in Vanuatu dig'] , ANU media release, 14 July 2005, on discovery of Lapita skulls following 2004 find of headless Lapita skeletons
* [ Hundreds of Lapita photographs from the University of Auckland Anthropology Photographic Archive database]
* [ Felgate, Matthew (2003) Reading Lapita in near Oceania : intertidal and shallow-water pottery scatters, Roviana Lagoon, New Georgia, Solomon Islands.] University of Auckland PhD Thesis

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Lapita — (del lat. «Lapĭtha») m. Mit. Individuo de un pueblo legendario griego que habitaba en Tesalia y luchó en las bodas de Piritoo con los centauros que, habiéndose emborrachado, insultaron a las mujeres. ⊚ (pl.) Mit. Ese pueblo. * * * lapita. (Del… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • lapita — (Del lat. Lapĭtha). m. Individuo de un pueblo de los tiempos heroicos de Grecia, que habitaba en Tesalia, cerca del monte Olimpo, y se hizo famoso por su lucha contra los centauros en las bodas de Pirítoo …   Diccionario de la lengua española

  • Lapita — Para otros usos de este término, véase Lapita (desambiguación). Mapa de expansión de la alfarería lapita Lapita es el nombre de una cultura neolítica que se extendió desde puntos de la costa norte de Nueva Guinea y el archipiélago Bismarck hasta… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Lapita — 21° 06′ 10″ S 164° 47′ 56″ E / 21.10277778, 164.79888889 …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Lapita — 21.102777777778164.79888888889 Koordinaten: 21° 6′ 10″ S, 164° 47′ 56″ O …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Lápita — Se denomina lápita o lapita, en la mitología griega, a la persona perteneciente a una región situada en Tesalia, denominada Perrabia, junto a los montes Olimpo y Osa y a ambos lados del río Peneo. Diodoro Sículo considera a Lápites (hijo de Apolo …   Wikipedia Español

  • lapita — लपित …   Indonesian dictionary

  • Lapita — …   Useful english dictionary

  • Lapita-Kultur — Lapita bezeichnet die erste ackerbautreibende und keramikführende Kultur (ab 1500 v. Chr.) Melanesiens und der polynesischen Inseln Samoa und Tonga. Die Kultur ist nach der eponymen Fundstelle von Lapita 13 auf der Foué Halbinsel in Neukaledonien …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Lapita culture — Cultural complex of what were presumably the original human settlers of Melanesia, much of Polynesia, and parts of Micronesia. The Lapita people were originally from New Guinea or some other region of Austronesia. Seaborne explorers, they spread… …   Universalium

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.