Cemetery in Vanuatu sheds light on the Polynesians in the Pacific

Bones from a 3,000-year-old cemetery in Vanuatu suggest that the earliest humans in the pacific were more similar to that of Polynesian and Asian populations rather than the Melanesian observed today.

Skeletons from Teouma cemetery. Source: ABC News 20151229
Skeletons from Teouma cemetery. Source: ABC News 20151229

Early Lapita skeletons from Vanuatu show Polynesian craniofacial shape: Implications for Remote Oceanic settlement and Lapita origins
PNAS, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1516186113

Study of ancient skulls from Vanuatu cemetery sheds light on Polynesian migration, scientists say
ABC News, 29 December 2015

New insights on origin of Polynesians
Popular Archaeology, 28 December 2015

3,000-year-old burial ground may reveal secrets of Polynesian migration
The Guardian, 28 December 2015

With a cultural and linguistic origin in Island Southeast Asia the Lapita expansion is thought to have led ultimately to the Polynesian settlement of the east Polynesian region after a time of mixing/integration in north Melanesia and a nearly 2,000-y pause in West Polynesia. One of the major achievements of recent Lapita research in Vanuatu has been the discovery of the oldest cemetery found so far in the Pacific at Teouma on the south coast of Efate Island, opening up new prospects for the biological definition of the early settlers of the archipelago and of Remote Oceania in general. Using craniometric evidence from the skeletons in conjunction with archaeological data, we discuss here four debated issues: the Lapita–Asian connection, the degree of admixture, the Lapita–Polynesian connection, and the question of secondary population movement into Remote Oceania.

Full paper here.

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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