Pioneers of Island Melanesia

Project leader

Funding source

Swedish Research Council - Vetenskapsrådet (VR)

Project Details

Start date: 01/01/2002
End date: 31/12/2005
Funding: 1641000 SEK


This collaborative project combines the insights of linguistics, archaeology, genetics and biological anthropology to investigate the early human prehistory of Island Melanesia.

The big islands to the east and south of New Guinea, in the southwest Pacific, were inhabited by modern humans by 40000 years ago, and remained the easternmost boundary of human dispersal for tens of millennia, until the arrival of speakers of Austronesian languages some 3200 years ago. They quickly spread through the territory and into the Pacific, as far as Hawai’i, Easter Island and New Zealand, and today their descendant languages, the Oceanic subfamily of Austronesian, dominate in the area. But there is still a scattering of ‘Papuan’ languages in the Bismarck archipelago, Bougainville and Solomon Islands, understood to be the descendants of languages spoken there before the arrival of Oceanic speakers.

In the archaeological record, the Oceanic speakers are strongly associated with the cultural complex known as Lapita, featuring, among other things, distinctive pottery traditions. A starting point for this project is that in an area like this, at the end of a migration route, the combined expertise of the participating teams will be able to untangle past layers of settlement and contact to advance well-founded hypotheses abotu the life of the earliest inhabitants, the structure of their relations to each other and beyond.

The cross-disciplinary setup also promises fruitful methodological development.

External Partners

Last updated on 2017-24-03 at 12:37