Preceramic shell-working, Caution Bay and the Circum-New Guinea Archipelago
The ‘Circum-New Guinea Archipelago’ has become a very useful term and tool for thinking in regional zoogeography. Data-driven in its essence, it obscures the traditional division between ‘Asian’ and ‘New Guinea’ faunas by zooming in on the complex web of human-mediated animal translocations that have occurred through time. This long, multi-directional history of the human movement of animals also, by extension, tells us of ancient peoples’ knowledge of other landscapes, places, habitats and peoples. In an effort to approach the enduring question of the relative contributions of ‘Asian’ and ‘Near Oceanic’ peoples to the earliest ceramic culture of the Bismarck Archipelago (i.e. Lapita) differently, we here present the analysis of a securely dated preceramic worked shell assemblage from the site of Tanamu 1, Caution Bay, southeastern Papua New Guinea. We consider the spatio-temporal relationships of each artefact across the Circum-New Guinea Archipelago, and discover that the Tanamu 1 worked shell assemblage is a complex composite of influences and traditions and, despite being preceramic, also shares strong affinities with early ceramic assemblages of the Bismarck Archipelago. These results imply either a direct or indirect relationship between southeastern New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago in preceramic times, but also hint at a web of connections around and between the main island of New Guinea and the islands and island groups off its shores.