Geographical Information

Geographical Coordinate System
Longitude : 168° 23' 0.286" E
Latitude : 17° 48' 32.071" S
Height Above Sea Level: 8 meters (Bedford et al. 2006: 812)
Map Datum: WGS84
Country   Vanuatu
Western Lapita Province, Shefa Province, South Efate
Brief Description

The site of Teouma is located on the northeastern side of Teouma Bay, on the south coast of Efate Island, Central Vanuatu. It is located 800 meters inland upon an upraised reef / upper beach terrace, that is directly adjacent to a tributary of the Teouma River, and is situated within a current cattle farm that was formerly a coconut plantation (Bedford et al. 2006: 812; Bedford et al. 2009: 215; Bedford et al. 2010: 143; Valentin et al. 2010a: 213).

The site was first discovered after a chance pottery find by C. Nati on the eastern side of Teouma Bay in October 2003. The pottery, a large dentate-stamped sherd, was subsequently given to S. Yona, a Vanuatu Cultural Centre (VCC) fieldworker, who submitted it to the VCC two months later (Bedford et al. 2006: 812). The site was formally identified in January 2004 with the first excavations of the site beginning in July of the same year under a joint Australian National University (ANU) – Vanuatu National Museum project; as of 2010 five field seasons have been completed (Bedford et al. 2010: 141). Principal researchers include: S, Bedford, M. Spriggs, H. Buckley, F. Valentin, R. Regenvanu and M. Abong.

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Floor Plan


Site Information

Distribution of Remain(s)

The site of Teouma has a complex occupational history with Lapita and post-Lapita (Arapus and Early Erueti phases) deposits having been discovered (Bedford et al. 2010: 143).

Initial usage of the site is associated with a Lapita cemetery complex that covers an area of 400 m2 and is located upon the northern portion of the upraised reef. The cemetery is concentrated in a 10-15 meter wide zone (within excavation Area’s 2 and 3) that is orientated on a northeast-southwest axis running adjacent and parallel to the former beach (Bedford et al. 2009: 219; Bedford et al. 2010: 143). Mortuary contexts are abundant in this area, as of 2010, 60 have been excavated, representing a maximum of 80 individuals (Bedford et al. 2010: 143). Evidence for initial habitation of the site, in the form of concentrated midden deposits, was discovered adjacent to and east of the cemetery (extending as far as Area 6B). It is believed this habitation area could be contemporary with the cemetery complex (Bedford et al. 2010: 143-145).

Later habitation at the site, during the Arapus and Early Erueti phases is evidenced by the discovery of midden deposits overlying the earlier Lapita deposits (including the cemetery complex). The area over which these deposits extend is far greater than those associated with the Lapita period. Excluding the post-Lapita deposits in the south of the site, which share the same aerial extent as the earlier Lapita deposits, those in the north, east and west, extend for a further 20 meters in each direction, reaching as far as Area 1, 4.1 and 4.2 in the north, Area 4.3 in the east and Area 6b in the west (Bedford et al. 2010: 145).

Regarding specific artifact distribution patterns: pottery is present, in varying quantities, in the majority of the areas excavated. It is found in large quantities in the cemetery complex and initial habitation area but is only in minimal quantities to the south of Area 5 (excluding Area 4B) and to the east of Area 6A (Bedford et al. 2006: 813-817; Bedford et al. 2009: 217-221).

Approximate Size 10,000 m2 (Bedford et al. 2010: 143).
Preservation Condition

Preservation conditions vary greatly across the site, due largely to the earthmoving equipment used before the site was identified (Bedford et al. 2009: 215).

Approximately 1000m2 of the site, primarily situated to the north of Areas 2, 3 and 6B and east of Areas 4.1 and 4.2, had been modified by earth-moving, whereby black tephra-rich soil had been removed and a smaller area had been deeply mined (exposing the entirety of the sites stratigraphy) (Bedford et al. 2006: 813-815). Excavation of Area 2, within the modified zone, revealed a thin lens of rolled Lapita pottery and crushed human bone distributed over the north-western half of the area, indicating that earthmoving had removed the vast majority of the archaeological deposits and compacted the remainder However, deposits in the southeastern half (part of the cemetery complex), where largely untouched (Bedford et al. 2006: 815).

Preservation conditions in the cemetery complex are excellent, with a large number of intact human burials (see Distribution of Remain(s) above) in association with an extremely well preserved ceramic assemblage that includes, as of 2010, five whole pots and a decorated sherd assemblage yielding 73 identifiable vessels (Bedford et al. 2010: 147, 157).

Finally, preservation conditions in the Lapita midden deposit and in the deposits located on the periphery of the site are less favorable than those in the cemetery complex, as evidenced by the excavation of fragmented ceramics from the former and heavily weathered ceramics from the latter (Bedford et al. 2009: 217-221; Bedford et al. 2010: 147).

Culture Type(s) Lapita, post-Lapita

Conventional (uncalibrated) radiocarbon dates and sample provenance information:

4227±38 BP (WK-17766), embedded in the crevices of the old reef – shell (Bedford et al. 2009: 221).

3139±36 BP (WK-16831), Burial 4 – Conus sp. Shell ring (Bedford et al. 2009: 221).

3162±34 BP (WK-15729), Burial 11 – Conus sp. Shell ring (Bedford et al. 2009: 221).

2848±35 BP (WK-15728), sample collected from just above the lowest levels of the midden deposit in Trench 3A – charcoal (Bedford et al. 2009: 221).

2961±36 BP (WK-16830), sample collected from Erueti deposits in Trench 3A – charcoal (Bedford et al. 2009: 221).

Summary of calibrated radiocarbon dates:

The oldest calibrated radiocarbon date for the site of Teouma, WK-17766 dating to 4410-4160 cal BP at two standard deviations (95.4% probability), provides an estimate as to when the old reef upon which the site sits, was upraised above sea level (Bedford et al. 2009: 221).

The remaining calibrated dates were all upon material from the Lapita cemetery. Three of these calibrated dates (WK-16831, WK-15729 and WK-15728) provide largely similar calibrated date ranges (2980-2755 cal BP, 3016-2774 cal BP and 3070-2867 cal BP, respectively, at two standard deviations – 95.4% probability) whilst WK-16830 provides a slightly later date (3254-3001 cal BP, 95.4% probability) than those above (Bedford et al. 2009: 221). However, while WK-16830 is technically the oldest calibrated date from the cemetery, it is argued to be erroneous, as it is associated with ceramics of the Erueti tradition, with an expected date of between 2800-2500 BP (Bedford et al. 2009: 221). Finally, the material dated for both WK-16830 and WK-15728 was unidentified charcoal (which has not been identified to species) and thus could potentially be affected by in-built age (Bedford et al. 2009: 221). A Delta R value of 45±19 was applied to WK-17766, WK-16831 and WK-15729 (Bedford et al. 2009: 221).

Based upon the calibrated dates above in combination with previously established and dated tephrostratigraphy, the ceramic chronology of Efate and regional Lapita ceramic sequences, a chronology for the site of Teouma has been established (Bedford et al. 2010: 145). Bedford et al. (2010: 145) argue that Teouma was occupied between 3200-3100 BP, the date of initial occupation of the Reef-Santa Cruz Group to the north and for the site of Makué on Aore, northern Vanuatu, and 3000 BP. The presence of Arapus and Erueti phase ceramics and the absence of Late Erueti-style ceramics (which appear across Efate after 2500 BP) suggest that the later occupation dates to approximately 2900-2500 BP (Bedford et al. 2010: 145).

Finally, direct dating of human bone from over 30 individuals interred in the cemetery complex (Spriggs et al. in prep) suggests that the cemetery was in use during approximately 3000 BP and had a duration of use of about 100 years (Bedford et al. 2010: 145).

Artifact Type(s)

Pottery, worked shell (shell rings, shell bracelets), lithics (flakes, cores, gravers) and faunal remains (Bedford et al. 2006: 815; Bedford et al. 2010: 157; Reepmeyer et al. 2010: 213-217).

Ceramic Type(s)

Cultural information


The site of Teouma is highly significant for a number of reasons:

Firstly, Teouma is one of only eight Lapita cemeteries identified to date and is only one of two large cemeteries (the other being the site of Reber-Rakival on Watom Island, New Britain), which contains a large number of burials. Between these two sites Teouma is by far the largest of the two with a current total of 60 funerary structures representing as many as 80 individuals compared to Reber-Rakival with 10 burials currently identified (Valentin 2010: 163,165). The large number of burials in the cemetery has for the first time provided a statistically robust sample of Lapita individuals from which it is possible to undertake detailed analyses on food consumption patterns and subsistence strategies (see Valentin et al. 2010b), disease, mortality rates (see Kinaston et al. 2009) and Lapita mortuary and ritual practices (see Valentin 2010; Valentin et al. 2010a).

Secondly, the cemetery complex contains burial goods in the form of ceramics and shell valuables which are directly associated with the burials and are well preserved (Bedford et al. 2010: 157). This provides a unique opportunity to study the association between differing forms of material culture (especially decorated ceramics) and mortuary practices. Additionally, the excavation of a number of complete pots and a large number of sherds identifiable to vessel form has allowed the further study of Lapita vessel forms and decorative techniques.

Brief Research History

2003 – Site of Teouma was first discovered by C. Nati in October 2003 after he discovered a large dentate-stamped Lapita sherd whilst quarrying for soil on the east side of Teouma Bay. The sherd was passed on to S. Yona, a Vanuatu Cultural Centre (VCC) fieldworker, who presented it to the VCC in December 2003 (Bedford et al. 2006: 812).

2004 – The site of Teouma was formally identified in January 2004; initial excavations were undertaken in July and August of the same year, an aerial excavation and nine test pits / test trenches were completed, totaling 57m2 (Bedford et al. 2009: 215). The excavation program was under a joint ANU – Vanuatu National Museum project (Bedford et al. 2006: 812; Bedford et al. 2009: 215).

2005– Second field season in June / July 2005, a large-scale aerial excavation totaling of 100m2 was completed (Bedford et al. 2006: 817).

2006– Third field season undertaken at the site. Excavations targeted an area believed to contain further burials (and thus an extension of the cemetery complex) that had been damaged by earlier earthmoving; including areas within the cemetery complex which had been excavated in 2004 and 2005, a contiguous area of 53m2 was completed by the end of the field season (Bedford et al. 2009: 218). Nine further test trenches, totaling 65m2, were excavated during the 2006 field season (Bedford et al. 2009: 218).

2008-09– Fourth and fifth field seasons undertaken at the site of Teouma, funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) (Bedford et al. 2009: 231; Bedford et al. 2010: 141). Unfortunately details of these excavations are yet to be fully published, however, as of 2010, a total of 351m2 has been excavated at the site of Teouma (Bedford et al. 2010: 141).



Bedford, S. 2006. Pieces of the Vanuatu Puzzle: Archaeology of the North, South and Centre. Terra Australis 23. ANU E Press, Australian National University.

Bedford, S., Hoffman, A., Kaltal, M., Regenvanu, R. and R. Shing. 2004. Dentate-stamped Lapita reappears on Efate, Central Vanuatu: a four decade long drought is broken. Archaeology in New Zealand 47(1): 39-49.

Bedford, S., Spriggs, M. and Regenvanu, R. 2006. The Teouma Lapita site and the early human settlement of the Pacific Islands. Antiquity 80(310): 812-828.

Bedford, S. and M. Spriggs. 2007a. Birds on the rim: a unique Lapita carinated vessel in its wider context. Archaeology in Oceania 42: 21-21.

Bedford, S., Spriggs, M. and Regenvanu, R., Macgregor, C., Kuautonga, T. and M. Sietz. 2007b. The excavation, conservation and reconstruction of Lapita burial pots from the Teouma sit, Efate, Central Vanuatu. In S. Bedford, C. Sand and P. Connaughton (eds.), Oceanic Explorations: Lapita and Western Pacific Settlement, pp. 223–240. Terra Australis 26. ANU E Press, Australian National University.

Bedford, S. and M. Spriggs. 2008. Northern Vanuatu as a Pacific Crossroads: The Archaeology of Discovery, Interaction, and the Emergence of the “Ethnographic Present.” Asian Perspectives 47(1): 95-120.

Bedford, S., Spriggs, M., Buckley, H., Valentin, F., and Regenvanu, R. 2009. The Teouma Lapita site, South Efate, Vanuatu: A Summary of Three Field Seasons (2004-2006). In P.J. Sheppard, T. Thomas and Glenn R. Summerhayes (eds.), Lapita: Ancestors and descendants, pp. 215-234. New Zealand Archaeological Association Monograph 28. Auckland; New Zealand: New Zealand Archaeological Association.

Bedford, S., Spriggs, M., Buckley, H., Valentin, F., Regenvanu, R. and Abong, M. 2010. A Cemetery of First Settlement: the Site of Teouma, South Efate, Vanuatu. In C. Sand and S. Bedford (eds.), LAPITA: ANCÊTRES OCÉANIENS, OCEANIC ANCESTORS, pp. 141-161. Paris; France: Somogy Éditions d’Art & Musée du Quai Branly.

Bentley, R.A., Buckley, H.R., Spriggs, M., Bedford, S., Ottley, C.J., Nowell, G.M., Macpherson, C.G. and D.G. Pearson. 2007. Lapita migrants in the Pacific’s oldest cemetery: Isotopic analysis at Teouma, Vanuatu. Antiquity 72(4): 645-656.

Buckley, H.R. 2007. Possible Gouty Arthritis in Lapita-Associated Skeletons from Teouma, Efate Island, Central Vanuatu. Current Anthropology 48(5): 741-749.

Buckley, H.R., Tayles, N.G., Spriggs, M.J.T. and S. Bedford. 2008. A Preliminary Report on Health and Disease in Early Lapita Skeletons, Vanuatu: Possible Biological Costs of Island Colonization. Journal of Island & Coastal Archaeology 3: 87-114.

Dickinson, W.R., Bedford, S. and M. Spriggs. 2013. Petrography of Temper Sands in 112 Reconstructed Lapita Pottery Vessels from Teouma (Efate): Archaeological implications and relations to other Vanuatu tempers. Journal of Pacific Archaeology 4(2): 1-20.

Hayes, S., Valentin, F., Buckley, H., Spriggs, M. and S. Bedford. 2009. Faces of the Teouma Lapita People: Art, Accuracy and Facial Approximation. LEONARDO 42(3): 284-285.

Kinaston, R.L., Buckley, H.R., Halcrow, S.E., Spriggs, M.J.T., Bedford, S., Neal, K. and A. Gray. 2009. Investigating foetal and perinatal mortality in prehistoric skeletal samples: a case study from a 3000-year-old Pacific Island cemetery site. Journal of Archaeological Science 36: 2780-2787.

Reepmeyer, C., Spriggs, M., Bedford, S. and W. Ambrose. 2010. Provenance and Technology of Lithic Arifacts from the Teouma Lapita Site, Vanuatu. Asian Perspectives 49(1): 205-225.

Sand, C. 2013. Ritually breaking Lapita pots: or, can we get into the minds of Oceanic first settlers? A discussion. Archaeology in Oceania 48: 2-12.

Scott, R.M., Buckley, H.R., Spriggs, M., Valentin, F. and S. Bedford. 2010. Identification of the first reported Lapita cremation in the Pacific Islands using archaeological, forensic and contemporary burning evidence. Journal of Archaeological Science 37: 901-909.

Spriggs, M., Petchey, F., Leach, F., Bedford, S., Buckley, H. and F. Valentin. in prep. Direct dating of Lapita Skeletons from the Teouma Cemetery Site.

Storey, A.A., Spriggs, M., Bedford, S., Hawkins, S.C., Robins, J.H., Huynen, L. and E. Matisoo-Smith. 2010. Mitochondrial DNA from 3000-year old chickens at the Teouma site, Vanuatu. Journal of Archaeological Science 37: 2459-2468.

Valentin, F., Spriggs, M., Bedford, S. and H.R. Buckley. 2009. Une analyse diachronique des pratiques funéraires préhistoriques du centre du Vanuatu. Journal de la Société des Océanistes 128: 39-52.

Valentin, F. 2010. Burials and Funerary Practices of the 1st Millennium BC in Melanesia and Western Polynesia. In C. Sand and S. Bedford (eds.), LAPITA: ANCÊTRES OCÉANIENS, OCEANIC ANCESTORS, pp. 162-175. Paris; France: Somogy Éditions d’Art & Musée du Quai Branly.

Valentin, F., Bedford, S., Buckley, H. and M. Spriggs. 2010a. Lapita Burial Practices: Evidence for Complex Body and Bone Treatment at the Teouma Cemetery, Vanuatu, Southwest Pacific. Journal of Island & Coastal Archaeology 5: 212-235.

Valentin, F., Buckley, H., Herrscher, E., Kinaston, R., Bedford, S., Spriggs, M., Hawkins, S. and K. Neal. 2010b. Lapita subsistence strategies and food consumption patterns in the community of Teouma (Efate, Vanuatu). Journal of Archaeological Science 37: 1820-1829.

White, A.W., Worthy, T.H., Hawkins, S., Bedford, S. and M. Spriggs. 2010. Megafaunal meiolaniid horned turtles survived until early human settlement in Vanuatu, Southwest Pacific. PNAS 107(35): 15512-15516.