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Ancient pottery maps route to South Pacific

New dating of New Guinea artifacts is first hard evidence of 3,000-year-old cultural connection between islanders and seafarers

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2:00pm, September 2, 2015
New Guinea pottery

HIGHLAND MIX  Pottery fragments (far right) found in New Guinea are more than 3,000 years old, suggesting to researchers that island natives — who also made various stone implements (center and left) — influenced an Asian seafaring culture that spread eastward.

Ceramic shards unearthed in highland New Guinea more than 40 years ago have now been pegged as the oldest known pottery on the island, by a lot. That discovery offers a first glimpse of encounters between island residents and seafarers that influenced the rise of modern South Pacific societies.

Eleven of 20 pottery pieces excavated in 1972 and 1973 at Wañelek, a site in New Guinea’s highlands, date to between about 2,800 and 4,000 years ago. These new radiocarbon dates provide the first solid evidence that pottery-making sea voyagers with Asian roots engaged in a cultural give-and-take with New Guinea natives before colonizing a string of South Pacific islands. Archaeologist Dylan Gaffney of the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, and colleagues report the findings September 2 in PLOS ONE.

Until now, New Guinea pottery dated to within only the last thousand years.

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