1 Sep 2004

Archaelogical find in Vanuatu may shed light on earliest Pacific peoples

10:28 am on 1 September 2004

An Australian archaeologist says the discovery of 13 headless skeletons just outside Port Vila in Vanuatu may be the most significant site in the region.

Matthew Spriggs says it's believed the burial site dates back more than 3-thousand years and belongs to the Lapita people, thought to be the ancestors of the indigenous Pacific peoples.

He says they know how old the site is because pottery found in Solomon Islands has been carbon-dated to about 3-thousand, two hundred years old, and the newly-discovered pottery is the same.

Professor Spriggs says the way in which people are buried says much about their culture.

"A lot of these people were buried face down, which is a very rare burial practice. Some have their legs crossed, others have their legs pulled up behind them. So it's a whole different range of ways in which the bodies were treated. If we can undersatnd that - does that relate to what sex they were or what age they were - then we would understand a lot more about the culture of the people."

After research on the skeletons and the site, the bones will be returned to the ni-Vanuatu to decide what to do with them.