ANU Archaeological Field School in Vanuatu July 2012

Text and images by Dr Matiu Prebble, Archaeology and Natural History, CHL, CAP.

Archaeological Field School team including Dr Jack Fenner in the foreground, overlooking Matantas Village, Big Bay, Espiritu Santo.

The 2012 ANU Master’s of Archaeological Science Advanced Field School was run at Matantas Village in Big Bay on the north coast of Espiritu Santo (Northern Vanuatu) this July. Dr Stuart Bedford (recent recipient of an ARC Future Fellowship) and Dr Matiu Prebble both of the Department of Archaeology and Natural History ran the school with the aim of providing students with the experience of doing archaeological research among a remote Ni-Vanuatu community in an archaeologically rich and biologically diverse landscape.

Area A Excavation at Matantas (left)

The site was found during a test-pit program in 2006 and is located within the village, situated on the banks the Matantas River on the highest of a series of extensive uplifted terraces. Lapita pottery associated with the initial colonisation of Vanuatu were previously located on this highest terrace and this sequence is one of only two on Santo, the largest island in Vanuatu. The aim of this school was to expand the excavations in order to locate more evidence of both initial human colonisation, but also later phases of settlement interrupted by large-scale volcanic ash deposited periodically over the last 2300 years and probable site abandonment due to disease epidemics after initial contact with Europeans after AD 1606.

400thAnniversary Memorial to Pedro Fernández de Quirós, captain of the fateful Spanish expedition to Vanuatu in 1606 (the memorial was funded by the EU Commission in 2006 and erected at a small hamlet located 2 km south of Matantas).

Eight students were accompanied by three field workers from the Vanuatu Kaljarol Senta during the two-week field school which also employed numerous local people in the excavations, surveying and coring activities. During the school, students and locals were exposed to various methods of archaeological science, including swamp and lake coring, flotation, metal detection and differential GPS to extend the archaeological and ecological knowledge of this important area and to contribute to future management strategies.

Adele Zubryzkca and Michael Healey heading out with Dan Nelson (Post-Doc, University of Washington) coring Alekā lake on Thion Island, near Port Olry, Espiritu Santo. Note the two outrigger canoes lashed together to provide a coring platform.

The main findings of the project include extensive Lapita-ware and associated lithics, but also evidence of local pottery manufacturing over the last 2000 years. The apparent extent of human occupation prior to European arrival was evident from the excavations but also ground surveys across the eastern side of Big Bay revealing abundant surface scatters of red slip pottery.

This entry was posted in ANU PI, Courses, Reports and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.