Epakapaka Rockshelter (EKQ)

Geographical Information

Geographical Coordinate System
Longitude :  149° 32' 39.77" E
Latitude    :  1° 20' 1.70" S
Height Above Sea Level  :   Unknown
Map Datum: WGS84
Country Papua New Guinea
Region
Far Western Lapita Province, Bismarck Archipelago, New Ireland Islands, Saint Matthias Group
Brief Description

The Epakapaka Rockshelter is located 200 meters inland from the coast at the base of a roughly 30 meter high limestone block on the northwestern tip of Mussau Island, two kilometers to the north of Pomanai Village (Kirch 2001c: 59; Kirch et al. 1991: 150; Weisler 2001: 154). Mussau, a “high island” with a volcanic core and an outer fringe consisting of elevated limestone terraces, is the largest of 12 islands and islets that make up the Mussau Group (Kirch & Catterall 2001: 28 – 33).

The rockshelter is 24 meters wide, when measured at the east-west aligned entrance, 7.4 meters deep, with an internal “relatively level protected area” measuring 88 m2. The shelters ceiling ranges from 2.1 meters at the dripline to 1.4 meters at the rear of the shelter (Weisler 2001: 154; Kirch et al. 1991: 150).

Vegetation cover, upon the area directly outside the entrance of the shelter, consists of shrubs and grasses (Weisler 2001: 154).

Epakapaka Rockshelter was excavated in November 1986 by M.I. Weisler as part of a research program organized by P.V. Kirch, under the auspices of the Lapita Homeland Project (Kirch et al. 1991: 144, 150).

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Floor Plan

 


Stratigraphy


Site Information

Distribution of Remain(s)

Cultural material was found to be distributed over the surface of both the 88 m2 internal floor area of the shelter, and over an area of 100 m2 outside the shelters entrance (Weisler 2001: 154; Kirch et al. 1991: 150).

    Two 1 x 1 meter units, positioned on either side of the dripline, were excavated (Weisler 2001: 154).

    Stratigraphically the site is composed of nine layers, five of which are cultural and four of which are natural (Weisler 2001: 156).

    Layer I is a “relatively sterile” layer, it consists of black silt that was likely deposited after the sites occupation (post 1945) had ended (Weisler 2001: 154).

    Layer II is a heavily re-worked cultural layer consisting of very dark grey sandy-silt. The layer contains pieces of charcoal, ash pockets, and limestone pebbles / cobbles that are believed to be the result of the ceiling partially collapsing (Weisler 2001: 154-156).

    Layer III is a cultural layer consisting of very dark grey sandy-silt. The layer contains a few hearths, ash, pieces of charcoal, and fire-altered limestone (Weisler 2001: 156).

    Layer IV is a cultural layer consisting of black sandy silt. The layer contains dense hearths, ash lenses and fire-altered limestone (Weisler 2001: 156).

    Layer V is a cultural layer consisting of black sandy gravel. The layer contains pieces of charcoal and a large amount of water-rounded coral pebbles and cobbles (Weisler 2001: 156).

    Layers VI and VIII are sterile layers consisting of very pale brown beach sand (Weisler 2001: 156).

    Finally, layers VII and IX are sterile layers consisting of very pale brown beach sand, containing water-rounded coral gravel, pebbles and cobbles (Weisler 2001: 156).

    Regarding specific artifact distribution patterns:

    Firstly, pottery is primarily confined to layers III-V, whilst dentate stamped pottery is more abundant in the lower layers and decreases in frequency when moving upwards (Weisler 2001: 158, 160).

    Secondly, obsidian flakes are present upon both the surface of the site and throughout the deposits of both units, however, reference to flake counts from Unit 1 indicates that 90% of this material (by weight) is present in Layers III and IV (Weisler 2001: 158).

    Thirdly, shellfish and bone are both primarily concentrated in layers III – V, with a small amount of material present in the upper layers (Weisler 2001: Figure 5.11).

    Finally, a human burial was discovered in Unit 1 layer III (49-55 cm bs). However, only the lower half of the individual was exposed, from the pelvis to the feet, whilst the remainder extended east into an unexcavated portion of the site (Weisler 2001: 157).

    In sum, cultural material is found in layers II through to V but is found in the highest concentrations in layers III and IV (Weisler 2001: 160).

    Approximate Size Rockshelter internal floor size: 88m2. Extent of surface cultural material located outside the shelter: 100 m2. Total: 188 m2 (Weisler 2001: 154; Kirch et al. 1991: 150).
    Preservation Condition

    Information concerning preservation conditions at the site is very limited, however a number of points can still be made:

    Firstly, the first two layers in both of the units excavated are thoroughly disturbed by crab burrowing and the excavation of earth ovens and post-holes, likely by people occupying the shelter during World War II (Weisler 2001: 154; Kirch et al. 1991: 150).

    Secondly, layer III within both of the excavated units is slightly disturbed, but as evidenced by the presence of a “well-preserved” human burial in Layer III of Unit 1, this disturbance is not uniform across the site. Finally, layers IV and V are largely undisturbed (Weisler 2001: 154-157; Kirch et al. 1991: 150).

    Culture Type(s) Lapita, Post-Lapita
    C14Date(s)

    Conventional (uncalibrated) radiocarbon dates and sample provenance information:

    3280±70 BP (Beta-20454), Unit 1, Level 11, Cultural Layer IV (1986 – Shell fragments (species not identified) (Kirch 2001b: 232).

    3030±80 BP (Beta-21789), Unit 2, Level 17, Cultural Layer V (1986) – Shell & Shell fragments (Strombus sp., Turbo spp. operculae, Quidnipagus sp., miscellaneous fragments) (Kirch 2001b: 232).

    740±70 BP (Beta-25036), Unit 2, Level 3, Cultural Layer II (1986) – Shell (Turbo setosus) (Kirch 2001b: 232).

    3270±80 BP (Beta-25670), Unit 2, Level 9, Cultural Layer III (1986) – Shell (artificially fractured shell fragments, Turbo marmoratus and Tridacna maxima) (Kirch 2001b: 233).

    3190±90 BP (Beta-25671), Unit 2, Level 13, Cultural Layer IV (1986) – Shell (three entire shells and four apical fragments of Strombus luhuanus) (Kirch 2001b: 233).

    Summary of calibrated radiocarbon dates:

    The two oldest calibrated1 dates for EKQ are Beta-25670 dating to 1350 (1.00) 920 cal BC2 and Beta-20454 dating to 1340 (1.00) 950 cal BC, at two standard deviations (95.4% probability). This is followed by Beta-25671 dating to 1260 (1.00) 810 cal BC and Beta 21789 dating to 1060 (1.00) 690 cal BC, at two standard deviations. Finally, the youngest calibrated date is Beta-25036 dating to 1050 (.013) 1080, 1150 (.941) 1400 cal AD, at two standard deviations (Kirch 2001b: 232-233).

    When viewed together the calibrated dates indicate two prehistoric phases of occupation within the rockshelter. The first upper phase of occupation (Layer II) is argued to date to 1510-1650 cal AD. The second phase of occupation (Layers III-V) is argued to date to approximately 1200-900 cal BC (Weisler 2001: 156-157; Kirch 2001b: 214-216).

    Artifact Type(s)

    Pottery, worked shell artifacts (shell rings, peeler, bead, flake, shell fish & trolling hooks, hook manufacturing debris), lithics (flakes), human burial, and faunal remains (Weisler 2001: 157-160).

    Ceramic Type(s)

    Cultural information

    Significance

    Epakapaka Rockshelter is significant for two primary reasons:

    Firstly, EKQ is one of a relatively limited number of Lapita sites designated as a “rockshelter” (see Anderson et al. 2001:4-9; Bedford & Sand 2007: 8-10).

    Secondly, EKQ is part of a complex archaeological landscape containing a large number of Lapita sites that vary in age and configuration, including: the Eloaua sites of EKO rockshelter, Etakosarai (ECB), and Talepakemalai (ECA), the site of Etapakengaroasa (EHB) located upon the island of Emananus, and finally Tamuarawai (EQS), located on the nearby island of Emirau (Kirch 2001c: 68-145; Weisler 2001: 148-150; Summerhayes et al. 2010).

    Brief Research History

    1986– Excavation of Epakapaka Rockshelter 16-22 November, under the direction of M.I. Weisler. The excavation consisted of two 1 x 1 meter units located on either side of the dripline (Weisler 2001: 154).

    Notes

    1 – The calibrated dates being quoted here are the OXCAL Calibrated Ages, which generally have a ΔR value of -320 applied to the calibration curve. However, the ΔR value applied with regards to the calibrated EKQ dates is 0 rather than -320. See Kirch (2001b: 204) for a discussion regarding the differences between the OXCAL and CALIB Calibrated Ages and Kirch (2001b: 214-216) for a discussion regarding the use of a ΔR value of 0.

    2 – Respective probabilities in parentheses.

    Reference(s)

    Anderson, A., Bedford, S., Clark, G., Lilley, I., Sand, C., Summerhayes, G., and Torrence, R. 2001. An Inventory of Lapita Sites containing dentate-stamped pottery. In G.R. Clark, A.J. Anderson and T. Vunidilo (eds.), The Archaeology of Lapita Dispersal in Oceania. Papers from the Fourth Lapita Conference, June 2000, Canberra, Australia, pp. 1-14. Terra Australis 17. Canberra; Australia: Pandanus Books, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University.

    Bedford, S., and Sand, C. 2007. Lapita and Western Pacific Settlement: Progress, prospects and persistent problems. In S. Bedford, C. Sand, and P. Connaughton (eds.), Oceanic Explorations: Lapita and Western Pacific Settlement, pp. 1 – 15. Terra Australis 26. Canberra; Australia: ANU E Press, Australian National University.

    Butler, V.L. 1994. Fish feeding behaviour and fish capture: the case for variation in Lapita fishing strategies. Archaeology in Oceania 29(2): 81-90.

    Hunt, T.L. 1989. Lapita Ceramic Exchange in the Mussau Islands, Papua New Guinea. Unpublished PhD thesis. Seattle; Washington; U.S.A: University of Washington.

    Kirch, P.V. 1990. Specialization and Exchange in the Lapita Complex of Oceania (1600-500 B.C.). Asian Perspectives 29(2): 117-133.

    Kirch, P.V. 2001a. Excavating the Mussau Archaeological Record: An Introduction. In P.V. Kirch (ed.), Lapita and its Transformations in Near Oceania: Archaeological Investigations in the Mussau Islands, Papua New Guinea, 1985-88, volume 1. Introduction, Excavations, Chronology, pp. 57-67. Contribution 59. Berkeley; U.S.A: Archaeological Research Facility, University of California at Berkeley.

    Kirch, P.V. 2001b. A Radiocarbon Chronology for the Mussau Islands. In P.V. Kirch (ed.), Lapita and its Transformations in Near Oceania: Archaeological Investigations in the Mussau Islands, Papua New Guinea, 1985-88, volume 1. Introduction, Excavations, Chronology, pp. 196-236. Contribution 59. Berkeley; U.S.A: Archaeological Research Facility, University of California at Berkeley.

    Kirch, P.V. 2001c. Three Lapita Villages: Excavations at Talepakemalai (ECA), Etakosarai (ECB), and Etapakengaroasa (EHB), Eloaua and Emananus Islands. In P.V. Kirch (ed.), Lapita and its Transformations in Near Oceania: Archaeological Investigations in the Mussau Islands, Papua New Guinea, 1985-88, volume 1. Introduction, Excavations, Chronology, pp. 68-145. Contribution 59. Berkeley; U.S.A: Archaeological Research Facility, University of California at Berkeley.

    Kirch P.V. and T. Hunt. 1988. Radiocarbon Dates from the Mussau Islands and the Lapita Colonization of the Southwestern Pacific. Radiocarbon 30(2): 161-169.

    Kirch, P.V., Swindler, D.R. and C.G. Turner II, 1989. Human skeletal and dental remains from the Lapita sites (1600-500 B.C.) in the Mussau Islands, Melanesia. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 79: 63-76.

    Kirch, P. V., Hunt, T.L., Weisler, M., Butler, V. and M.S. Allen. 1991. Mussau Islands prehistory: results of the 1985-86 excavations. In J. Allen and C. Gosden (eds.), Report of the Lapita Homeland Project, pp. 144-163. Occasional Papers in Prehistory 20. Canberra; Australia: Department of Prehistory, Australian National University.

    Kirch, P.V. and C. Catterall. 2001. The Mussau Islands: Natural and Cultural Environments. In P.V. Kirch (ed.), Lapita and its Transformations in Near Oceania: Archaeological Investigations in the Mussau Islands, Papua New Guinea, 1985-88, volume 1. Introduction, Excavations, Chronology, pp. 28-56. Contribution 59. Berkeley; U.S.A: Archaeological Research Facility, University of California at Berkeley.

    Steadman, D.W. and P. V. Kirch. 1998. Biogeography and prehistoric exploitation of birds in the Mussau Islands, Bismarck Archipelago, Papua New Guinea. Emu 98:13-22.

    Summerhayes, G.R., Matisoo-Smith, E., Mandui, H., Allen, J., Specht, J., Hogg, N. and S. McPherson. 2010. Tamuarawai (EQS): An Early Lapita Site on Emirau, New Ireland, PNG. Journal of Pacific Archaeology 1(1): 62-75.

    Weisler, M.I. 2001. Lapita Rockshelters of Eloaua and Mussau Islands (Sites EHM, EHN, EKO, EKP, and EKQ). In P.V. Kirch (ed.), Lapita and its Transformations in Near Oceania: Archaeological Investigations in the Mussau Islands, Papua New Guinea, 1985-88, volume 1. Introduction, Excavations, Chronology, pp. 146-161. Contribution 59. Berkeley; U.S.A: Archaeological Research Facility, University of California at Berkeley.