A structural approach to Lapita ceramic design analysis: Investigation of the Eastern Lapita Province

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
Methodological approaches to archaeological ceramic design analysis often rely upon the subjective identification and comparison of decorative design elements and motifs. In an effort to develop more objective methods, I propose and evaluate the utility of a new structural approach that quantifies the complexity and organization of design, predominantly through the use of microscopy techniques. The approach is compared to element/motif analysis and applied to data sets of Lapita ceramics, the ceramic series that demarcates exploration and first settlement by Austronesian speaking peoples across Oceania. I am first concerned with the Eastern Lapita Province (Fiji, Lau, Tonga and Samoa), a region that is known to share motifs, but differs in motif application and layout. Applying both motif and structural analysis, I not only identify variation in results between the two methods but distinguish and isolate regional ceramic variation. This, then, leads me to question the cohesiveness of the Eastern Lapita Province as it is previously defined. Second, I extend my analysis to incorporate ceramic samples from the Western (Vanuatu) and Southern (New Caledonia) Lapita provinces. Ostensibly, I define ancestral relationships between these regions as Oceania was explored and settled by Lapita peoples. Finally, I apply this approach to Lapita ceramic assemblages across the Tongan archipelago. High precision dating of ceramic assemblages in Tonga, combined with motif and structural analysis, gives insight into the cohesiveness of a Lapita potting community and the rapid disappearance of decorative applications within a century and a half after colonization. Difference in results provided by structural versus element/motif analysis could be due to several factors, including cultural transmission mechanisms through which potters choose designs and then place them onto a pot. These mechanisms have yet to be identified through hypotheses tested with both structural and element/motif ceramic design data employing a single data set. This study presents an important step in this direction for Lapita archaeology. Elements and motifs are no doubt important for the analysis of design, but structural application can and should be used as a complementary approach in order to understand the degree to which both aspects of design signal potter interaction.
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Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Burley, David
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