Site 13A – Lapita (WKO013A)

Geographical Information

Geographical Coordinate System
Longitude : 164° 47' 24.673" E
Latitude : 21° 2' 49.16" S
Height Above Sea Level: 1~1.6 meters (Sand 1998: 10)
Map Datum: WGS84
Country   New Caledonia
Region
Southern Lapita Province, North Province, Kerguelen Islands-North, Grande Terre-North
Brief Description

The “site” from which the Lapita Cultural Complex derived its name, “Lapita” is composed of three separate localities; site 13 (the “original” site 13, know known as WKO013), site 13A (WKO013A) and site 13B (WKO013B). The localities are situated on a narrow strip of land connecting the mainland to the peninsula of Foué in Koné, on the western coast of Grande Terre (Mainland) of New Caledonia (Sand 1998: 9). Site 13 is located on the western part of the strip of land. Unfortunately, the sites stratigraphy has been largely destroyed by erosion over the past 60 years (Sand 1998: 8; Chiu 2003b: 159). Site 13A, a long irregular triangular area about 400 meters east of Locality 13, is situated toward the center of the strip. Finally site 13B is located at the base of a small hill to the east of site 13A (Sand 1998: 8, 10; Sand et al. 1998: 37).

The center and northern portions of site 13A are on a slight gradient and decrease from 1.3 meters to 1 meter asl (above sea level) before abruptly dropping off into a dried mangrove zone, whereas the southern portion of the site, overlooking the main beach, is slightly raised at 1.6 meters asl (Sand 1998: 10).

Prior to the area being disturbed by a development project, it was largely covered in abandoned yam fields, which were primarily arranged in the form of parallel ridges or around house mounds (Sand 1998: 10).

During prehistory the three localities were situated on a narrow spit of land and were backed by a bay to the north (which has been subsequently in filled by a mangrove swamp) and the ocean to the south (Chiu 2003b: 159-160).

The area within which site 13A is situated has a long history of research, which began in the early 20th century with publications by Sarazin (1917) and Piroutet (1917) The first excavation of the site was conducted by E. Gifford and R. Shutler, Jr. in 1952, whilst the final excavations were conducted by the local Department of Archaeology and lead by C. Sand in 1996 (Gifford & Shutler 1956: 7; Sand 1998).

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Floor Plan



Stratigraphy


Site Information

Distribution of Remain(s)

Large scale excavations undertaken under the leadership of C. Sand in 1996 indicated that the eastern portion of the site (Zones 3 to 6) had a high concentration of features (such as postholes, possible storage pits and yam pits) but contained less artifacts than the western portion of the site (Zones 1 and 2), which yielded a large number of artifacts (e.g. pottery, stone tools, shell tools etc) (Chiu 2003b: 160).

Approximate Size 20,000 m2 (Sand 1998: 10).
Preservation Condition

The state of preservation of the artifacts excavated from Site 13A is largely dependent on the layer the artifacts were deposited within. Before undertaking a discussion of this point, a brief description of the stratigraphy at the site is provided.

The majority of the site has three-layer stratigraphic sequence. The upper layer (layer one) consists of a black sandy sediment, modified by horticultural activity, which contains “mixed” archaeological materials (including both Lapita and post-Lapita pottery), indicative of a wholly or partially destroyed occupation layer. The presence of yam pits at the base of the layer and post-Lapita pottery within the mixed materials indicates that the gardening activities were likely the result of post-Lapita populations (Sand 1998: 12, 16).

The second layer (layer two) is a grey fine-grained sand, which has been damaged by gardening activities in areas of the western portion of the site but is largely undisturbed elsewhere. This layer contains a number of differing types of Lapita material culture, including bone, shell, ceramic material and non-ceramic artifacts. Additionally, ash, charcoal, structural remains (a post-hole) and several earth ovens, are also present (Sand 1998: 12).

In the northern portion of the site, layer two is more complex and is divided into smaller sub-stratum. The first sub-stratum is composed of a combination of coarse humic sand, gravel, pumice and coral; it contains charcoal and various artifacts. It sits upon multiple clay lenses which, depending on the location within the site, can contain sherds, bones and ornaments, in addition to charcoal and plant remains. The second sub-stratum is composed of a gray-fine grained sand, containing ash and charcoal, which sits upon a layer of yellow pumice; structural remains in the form of a possible post-hole, oven features and undisturbed decorated Lapita pottery, are present (Sand 1998: 12-13).

The third layer (layer 3) is primarily composed of coarse sterile agglomerated sand (which in parts of the site is covered by a layer of yellow pumice) or sterile green clay (Sand 1998: 12-13, 14-18).

The analysis of ceramic material excavated from test pit Section 18Y24 provides more information with regards to the preservation conditions of artifacts excavated from the layers described above. The analysis found that sherds present in layer one were on average 3 cm2 in size, whereas those present in layer two were on average 4.5 cm2 in size. This data indicates that those sherds present in layer one were more fragmented than those present in layer two, and therefore, that the preservation conditions in the latter were likely superior to those in the former (Sand 1998: 15-16). This point is supported by the presence of both Lapita and post-Lapita pottery in layer one, indicative of mixing between the two layers, and the presence of undisturbed Lapita pottery and anaerobically preserved plant remains in layer two, indicating the presence of highly favorable preservation conditions (Sand 1998: 13).

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

Conventional (uncalibrated) radiocarbon dates and sample provenance information:

WKO013

2800±350 BP (M-341), from a depth of 24-30 inches (Gifford & Shutler 1956: 89; Sand 1998: 28; Sand 2010a: 87).

2434±400 BP (M-336), from a depth of 30-36 inches (Gifford & Shutler 1956: 89; Sand 1998: 28; Sand 2010a: 87).

2660±40 BP (Beta-179501), grey level (Niveau gris) (Sand 2010a: 87).

2710±80 BP (Beta-125136), skeleton (1967) (Squelette – 1967) (Sand 2010a: 87).

WKO013A

6260±70 BP (Beta-136945), turf-section (Coupe-tourbes) (Sand 2010a: 87).

5980±60 BP (Beta-136944), section 6 (level 6)(Coupe 6-niveau 6) (Sand 2010a: 87).

3442±105 BP (Gif-1981), on beach rock (Coudray & Delibrias 1972: 2623; Sand 1998: 28; Sand 2010a: 87).

3120±170 BP (Beta-75586), from sterile clay layers at the base of test pit Section 11 K22 (90-95cm)(Sand 1996b: 32; Sand 1998: 28; Sand 2010a: 87).

3050±60 BP (Beta-75585), from the Lapita cultural layer in test pit Section 10 Y22 (115cm)(Sand 1996b: 32; Sand 1998: 28; Sand 2010a: 87).

2930±90 BP (Beta-92753), from the Lapita cultural layer in test pit Section 12 R6 (Sand 1996b: 32; Sand 1998: 28; Sand 2010a: 87).

2930±50 BP (Beta-136947), from pit underneath pot 2 (Fosse – sous pot 2) (Sand 2010a: 87).

2900±120 BP (Beta-75584), from the Lapita cultural layer in Section 17 U25 (80cm)(Sand 1996b: 32; Sand 1998: 28; Sand 2010a: 87).

2860±40 BP (Beta-136953), from Zone 2 G3 (45 cm) (Sand 2010a: 87).

2820±50 BP (Beta-92752, AMS Oxford), from the Lapita pottery pit (Sand 1996b: 32; Sand 1998: 28).

2810±50 BP (Beta-136950), from Zone 1 D3 (40-50cm) (Sand 2010a: 87).

2800±60 BP (Beta-74603/CAMS 15332), from the Lapita cultural layer in Section 11 K22(55-60cm) (Sand 1996b: 32; Sand 1998: 28; Sand 2010a: 87).

2780±60 BP (Beta-74600/CAMS 15331), from the Lapita cultural layer in Section 34 J22 (50-55cm) (Sand 1996b: 32; Sand 1998: 28; Sand 2010a: 87).

2780±50 BP (Beta-136954), from Zone 2 G3 (64cm) (Sand 2010a: 87).

2780±50 BP (Beta-136948), from the Lapita cultural layer in Section 11 K22 (95-100cm) (Sand 2010a: 87).

2750±40 BP (Beta-136956), from Zone 1 D3 (50-60cm) (Sand 2010a: 87).

2730±60 BP (Beta-100296), from the Lapita cultural layer in Section 10 Y22 (115-120cm) (Sand 2010a: 87).

2730±40 BP (Beta-136957), from Zone 4 F10 (base)(Sand 2010a: 87).

2662±100 BP (Gif-1983), from archaeological level (Coudray & Delibrias 1972: 2623; Sand 1998: 28; Sand 2010a: 87).

2610±40 BP (Beta-136955), from Zone 4 F6 (f. 1, 30-50cm) (Sand 2010a: 87).

2610±40 BP (Beta-136949), from Zone 1 D3 (30-40cm) (Sand 2010a: 87).

2590±60 BP (Beta-55998), from the Lapita cultural layer in test pit Section 18 Y24 (Sand 1996b: 32; Sand 1998: 28; Sand 2010a: 87).

2550±50 BP (Beta-136951), from Zone 1 (base) (Sand 2010a: 87).

2470±40 BP (Beta-136952), from Zone 2 G3 (30-35cm) (Sand 2010a: 87).

Summary of calibrated radiocarbon dates:

The earliest dates, which mark the beginning of the occupation at Site 13A, come from a clay layer (containing cultural material) at the base of test pit Section 10Y22 (Beta-75585) and test pit Section 12R6 (Beta-92753) and date to 1405 (1260) 1030 cal BC and 1315 (1030) 830 cal BC, respectively, at two standard deviations (95.4% probability) (Sand 1998: 14; Sand 2010a: 87). Material from the same stratigraphic context as those discussed above, from a culturally sterile clay layer in test pit Section 11Y22 (Beta-75586), was dated to 1750 (1400) 910 cal BC at two standard deviations; indicating that the site was probably as yet unoccupied by the middle of the second millennium BC (Sand 1998: 14; Sand 2010a: 87). Sand (1998: 14) argues that the main occupation at Site 13A (represented by Layer 2) ended between 1020 (900) 810 cal BC (Beta-74603) and 1010 (850) 800 cal BC (Beta-74600) (Sand 1998: 14; Sand 2010a: 87).

The youngest dates for Site 13A are 810 (785) 525 cal BC (Beta-136951), from the base of Zone 1 and 785 (695) 410 cal BC (Beta-136952) from Zone 2 G3, at two standard deviations (Sand 2010a: 87).

Artifact Type(s)

Pottery, lithics (flakes, adzes, ground stones, pitted stones, oven stones), shell ornaments (shell armbands, shell beads) and faunal remains (Sand 1998: 14,19).

Ceramic Type(s)

Cultural information

Significance

Site 13A (WKO013A) is a highly significant site for both Lapita archaeology as a research area and for the prehistory of New Caledonia and the wider Pacific.

Site 13A is one of three localities (the other two localities being Site 13 – WKO013 and Site 13B – WKO013B) which composes the site of “Lapita” (a miss-spelling of a Kanak name of a beach on the west coast of Grande Terre) (Sand 2003: 1; Kirch 1997: 8). Excavations undertaken on Site 13 and Site 13A by Gifford and Shutler in 1952 produced a large collection of finely decorated pottery and, crucially, utilized the new method of radiocarbon dating, to discover that the site was far older than predicted by scholars of the time (Gifford & Shutler 1956: 89-92; Kirch 1997: 8). Research later undertaken upon pottery assemblages from the site found similarities with pottery excavated from other New Caledonian sites, as well as pottery from sites on Watom (Papua New Guinea), Fiji and Tonga (Gifford & Shutler 1956: 94). This early research marked the first time ceramic assemblages from Lapita sites were compared and contrasted, thus representing the first stages of a process which would eventually see the definition of the “Lapita Cultural Complex” (Kirch 1997: 8). The 1952 excavation and dating of Site 13 and Site 13A is now considered to be the beginning of modern archaeological research in the South-western Pacific (Sand 2003: 1).

Site 13A, specifically, is important as it not only contained a wide array of non-ceramic artifacts (see “Artifact type(s)” above) but also contained a very rich ceramic assemblage (Sand 1998: 19). In particular, a “pottery pit” found on the beachfront, contained over 20 large pieces of pottery and over one hundred smaller pieces, from which the shape and decoration of more than 15 pots could be completely reconstructed (Sand et al. 1998: 41). In addition, the pit contained two large intact pots, one of which is nearly complete, a situation which is extremely rare within Lapita sites (Sand et al. 2010: 211). The Site 13A “pottery pit” has provided a wealth of information and has greatly increased Lapita archaeologies understanding with regards to the decoration, form and construction of Lapita pottery (Sand et al. 1998).

Brief Research History

1917 – The area containing Site 13 (including Site 13, 13A and 13B) was first reported by Sarazin (1917) and Piroutet (1917); the reports detailed the distinctive decorated ceramic located in the area.

1952 – The first systematic archaeological excavations of Site 13 and Site 13A were undertaken by E. Gifford and R. Shutler, Jr.; A total of fifty-five 15.2 cm (6 in.) blocks were excavated across the two sites (Gifford & Shutler 1956:7).

1967– Further excavations undertaken by R. Shutler, Jr. in the site area, unfortunately the results of these excavations were never fully published (Sand 1998: 9).

1992– Salvage excavations were undertaken by the local Department of Archaeology and lead by C. Sand at Site 13B. The location of Site 13A, previously excavated by Gifford and Shutler, was identified during this period (Sand and Ouetcho 1992; Sand 1998: 10).

1994– Further salvage excavations, necessitated by local development planned for the area, concentrating on Site 13A, were completed by the local Department of Archaeology and C. Sand. A total of 11 one-meter square test pits were excavated (Sand 1998: 10).

1995– Destruction of a portion of Site 13A necessitated further salvage excavations by the local Department of Archaeology. Material disturbed by a bulldozer, totaling 60 cubic meters was screened for archaeological material (Sand 1998: 10). The salvage work also lead to the discovery of a “pottery-pit” (discussed in “significance” above) (Sand et al. 1998).

1996– Due to the abundant material culture collected during the 1994 and 1995 salvage operations, a large-scale areal excavation was organized in a bid to expose habitation structures at the site. A total of 54m2 was excavated (Sand 1998: 10).

Notes


Reference(s)

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