The History of Talepakemalai
Talepakemalai is the largest site from the Lapita Cultural Complex and is one of our best sources for the understanding of the Austronesian settlement of Oceania and the people of the Lapita Culture.
The site itself measures 20 acres and excavated in 1985 – 1988 by archaeologist Patrick Kirch and his team. The site’s location is on the coral islet of Eloaua near the island of Mussau, in the Bismark Archipelago.
The team of archaeologists unearthed the remains of stilt houses, which radiocarbon dating indicates that it was occupied from 1600 BCE to 500 BCE. Shoreline progradation resulted in the burial of the house post bases and associated cultural materials. Because these materials were continuously inundated, the resulting anaerobic micro-environment led to the preservation of the wooden post bases. In addition, a variety of organic materials, including worked wood chips and a large amount of plant remains, especially seeds and fruit stones, were also preserved (Kirch, p.228).
A large amount of decorated pottery was found, indicating that the stilt-house inhabitants discarded much their pottery. In contrast, the houses constructed on the dry land nearby had almost none. This has been suggested by Kirch that either it signified the social status differences or that it was a specialised activity (Bellwood & Hiscock, p.291).
Anaerobically-preserved nuts and seeds from the Talepakemalai and Arawe sites reveal that Lapita gardeners were familiar with most of the key Melanesian tree crops, such as the coconut(Cocos nucifera), Canarium almond, Vi-apple(Spondias dulcis), Tahitian Chestnut (Inocarpus fagiferus) and other species (Kirch, p.60). Their abundance at Talepakemalai indicates confirms their dominance in the Lapita aboricultural complex.
The people who inhabited Talepakemalai ardently fished the surrounding reefs and lagoons. Thou-sands of fish bones and an assortment of sophisticated shell fishhooks were found at Talepakemalai. Animal bones at the site also provide evidence that domestic animals such as pigs and chickens were present in small quantities.
The site of Talepakemalai was the first site to indicate the stilt-village nature of Lapita settlements and the information it yields each year helps us to understand the history and culture of the people who lived there.
Bellwood, Peter & Hiscock, Peter (2005) The Human Past – Australia and The Austronesians, Thames & Hudson, London.
Kirch, Patrick V. (1996) Lapita and Its Aftermath: The Austronesian Settlement of Oceania, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, American Philosophical Society.
Kirch, Patrick V. (1989) Second Millennium B.C. Arboriculture in Melanesia: Archaeological Evidence from the Mussau Islands, Economic Botany, Springer on behalf of New York Botanical Garden Press.