The forum section of our journal provides an opportunity for multiple researchers to comment on current, topical research issues.  Usually it comprises an invited paper on a particular topic, and a series of guests are invited to comment on the paper in 1000 words or less. The Forum section in the December 2012 volume of Australian Archaeology is highly topical, but slightly unusual in that, instead of one, two papers provide the basis for the commentary, and relate to a debate that has been brewing over the past 18 months.

The two papers of interest comprise an article published in AA72 by Ian McNiven and colleagues on Lapita pottery sherds recovered from excavations along the south coast of Papua New Guinea, and a related article by Jim Specht which questions the nature of the finds described in the McNiven et al. paper, their actual location at the time of occupation and their relationship to sites elsewhere. Only the Specht paper is published in our December 2012 volume, but because it relates to a find that has generated significant interest and debate, both in formal and informal contexts, commentators for the December 2012 forum were invited to respond to either or both papers.

Map of New Guinea and Near Oceania area.

Map of New Guinea and Near Oceania area.

A group of highly respected scholars with extensive and wide ranging experience offered comments on a range of different aspects of each paper.

Stuart Bedford, an archaeologist with extensive experience of Lapita sites in Vanuatu, reminds us that the Pacific covers a massive area with relatively limited research going on–and as such our understanding of Lapita in the region is only just developing. Given this and other recent finds, he suggests concludes ‘that it is highly likely that pottery dating to the first millennium BC may well be found on the Australian mainland in the not-too-distant future’, giving the debate a definite local interest!

Lapita pottery sherd from Tanamu 1 discussed in AA75

Lapita pottery sherd from Tanamu 1 discussed in AA75.

Dave Burley is a highly experienced archaeologist from the other side of the Pacific, having worked for decades in Fiji and Tonga. From his position further afield, Dave considers the concerns about, and implications of, the Caution Bay finds in the broader, regional context.

Another senior Lapita scholar, Christophe Sand, follows Specht in raising questions about the nature of the Caution Bay finds, but at the same time congratulates the authors for the refreshing new geographical perspective they offer on the complex spread of Lapita peoples from Near to Remote Oceania.

Mathew Spriggs, of the ANU, presents a series of questions and concerns in his commentary which he challenges McNiven and colleagues to address–some of these are addressed in their subsequent response, while others will be answered in future publications.

Amongst the commentators, Geoff Irwin elected to submit a short report which was also refereed and published in this volume as part of the Forum, in which he considers four main issues: (1) The age and status of Lapita sites at Caution Bay; (2) Whether there is support for claims of a ‘South Papuan Lapita Province’; (3) Whether a developmental pottery sequence from Late Lapita to Early Papuan Pottery (EPP) exists at Caution Bay; and (4) The significance of obsidian from the Caution Bay and EPP sites?

Hopefully readers will all enjoy the rigours of the academic debate and, even if you’re still not really sure what Lapita pottery looks like, find value in the reading.

And if any of our blog post readers have ideas about debates they’d like covered in future Forums in Australian Archaeology we’d love to hear them, so drop us a line or leave a comment below!

Lynley Wallis and Heather Burke