The question of Early Lapita settlements in Remote Oceania and reliance on horticulture revisited: new evidence from plant microfossil studies at Reef/Santa Cruz, south-east Solomon Islands
Lentfer, C. J., Alison Cowther, and Roger C. Green. 2021. The question of Early Lapita settlements in Remote Oceania and reliance on horticulture revisited: new evidence from plant microfossil studies at Reef/Santa Cruz, south-east Solomon Islands. In From Field to Museum—Studies from Melanesia in Honour of Robin Torrence, ed. Jim Specht, Val Attenbrow, and Jim Allen.
Since the earliest discoveries of Lapita sites in Remote Oceania there has been ongoing debate about the nature of Pacific island colonisation. In the 1970s, based on the archaeological material from the SE-RF-2 and SE-RF-6 sites on the Reef Islands in the SE Solomons, Roger Green proposed that early Lapita communities there must have relied on horticulture as the mainstay of subsistence. Our analyses of phytoliths and starch in sediments and on pottery has found evidence for burning, food preparation and cooking in conjunction with a suite of wild and domesticated plants indicative of horticulture. Starch and phytoliths from seeded Australimusa (syn: Callimusa) bananas as well as domesticated Eumusa (syn: Musa) bananas were recovered, as well as Colocasia esculenta (taro) starch, and Metroxylon sp. (sago palm) phytoliths. Hence, Green’s early hypothesis finds support, but more analyses, together with more precise dating are needed to clarify the time taken to establish sustainable horticulture. The importation of selected plants is confirmed, with potential sources being the Bismarck region or stop-over islands along the way. This was followed by ongoing on-site breeding and/or new introductions from further human migrations into the region and establishment of trade and exchange networks.