exhibition organized

in partnership with the Vanuatu Cultural Centre and the New Caledonia and Pacific Institute of Archaeology.

With the support of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs Pacific Fund

Lapita

Oceanic Ancestors

  • East Mezzanine
  • exhibition ticket 8,5 € full tariff and 6 € reduced tariff

TUESDAY 9th NOVEMBER 2010 TO SUNDAY 9th JANUARY 2011

CURATORS: Christophe Sand and Stuart Bedford

The exhibition

Head © musée du quai Branly photo Thierry Ollivier, Michel Urtado

The LAPITA, Oceanic ancestors exhibition showcases a panorama of the Lapita ceramic tradition through an exceptional selection of objects and fragments of objects originating mainly from New Caledonia and Vanuatu.

 

Based on recent archaeological discoveries that have led us to reassess our knowledge of prehistoric Oceania, the exhibition repositions Lapita ceramics – which date back 3000 years - in its historical and archaeological context.

It displays the technical specificities and stylistic diversity of Lapita objects and analyzes the still prevalent heritage of these decorative pieces in contemporary Oceanic decorative traditions. 
The first international exhibition on the subject, LAPITA, Oceanic ancestors, is a testimony to the history of the settlement of Remote Oceania.

The Lapita ceramic tradition is historically linked to the first settlement of Austronesian language speakers in the Southwest Pacific, from the middle of the second millennium BC. These potteries, the first fragments of which were discovered at the beginning of the 20th century, remain the most identifiable archaeological markers of the spread of these populations.

Lapita ceramics

streamlined pottery with surmoulded decoration © Cultural Vanuatu Centre, Vanuatu, Vanuatu / Philippe Metois

The surprising consistency of stippled potteries dispersed along nearly 4500 km in less than 400 years has led archaeologists to identify a “Lapita cultural Complex” in the Pacific Southwest 3000 years ago.

 

More than 300 prehistoric sites containing Lapita fragments have been identified so far. But, within the last decade, the discovery of a New Caledonian pit and of a cemetery in Teouma (Vanuatu), have allowed researchers to begin studying an important series of well preserved Lapita recipients and to make an important contribution to the description of this ceramic tradition. One of its main characteristics is the complexity of the shapes. The reassembly of pottery fragments and the analysis of materials found during archaeological digs unveiled a rich artefact typology and evidence that Austronesian potters had developed a specific technique of pottery making. Pottery, mostly made of swamp clay, was mounted on plaques. Motifs printed on dry clay before kilning were fashioned with dented tools and symmetrically stippled. The decoration is characterized by one or two central bands with often complex motifs that are bordered by friezes composed of simple and repetitive patterns. Studies have revealed about 15 major decorative categories. In addition to these geometric motifs, further digs in the Melanesian Lapita sites have uncovered more or less sophisticated representations of human faces.

Exhibition path

fragment © musée du quai Branly photo Thierry Ollivier, Michel Urtado

SECTION 1 – LAPITA SETTLEMENT

The exhibition starts with an outline of the general context of the history of the Lapita. Visitors can discover the archaeological and human context linked to the Austronesian settlement of the Southwest Pacific about 3000 years ago. This general introduction contains area maps showing the movement of Austronesian populations and objects that display the characteristics and evolution of the traditions of this cultural complex (pottery from various regions of Southeast Asia and of the Lapita area, adzes, ornaments, fishhooks, etc.). This section also details the impact of human settlement on the local flora and fauna.

SECTION 2 – LAPITA DECORATIVE DESIGNS AND INTACT LAPITA POTTERY VESSELS

Large ceramic fragments are displayed next to drawn reconstructions of their design motifs. Around twenty graphic sets showcase the rich diversity of Lapita patterns and allow visitors to identify regional specificities. Around ten largely intact Lapita pottery vessels, the only ones known to date for the Pacific region, are located throughout the exhibition but mainly in this section to highlight their graphic diversity.

Paddle © musée du quai Branly photo Thierry Ollivier, Michel Urtado

SECTION 3 – THE LAPITA LEGACY: TRADITIONAL OCEANIAN GRAPHICS

This section focuses on relationships between the designs produced during the Lapita period and those present in several Oceanian decorative traditions. This heritage is illustrated by a set of traditional objects: tapa cloth, mats and carved wood from the collections of the musée du quai Branly.

SECTION 4 : PRESENT DAY LAPITA

Lastly, a link is made between Lapita patterns and current artistic productions from the Pacific region through contemporary objects from Vanuatu: mats, baskets, etc.