Patterns of Mortuary Practice over Millennia in Southern Vanuatu, South Melanesia

Frederique Valentin, Wanda Zinger, Alison Fenwick, Stuart Bedford, James Flexner, Edson Willie, Takaronga Kuautonga

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    Burial practices provide a window into cultural practices, beliefs, and cross-cultural contacts through time. Southern Vanuatuâ's history begins with an initial Lapita colonization 3000 B.P., followed by Polynesian contacts after roughly 1000 years ago, and European encounters starting almost 250 years ago. Using a combination of re-analyzed legacy data from archaeological excavations in the 1960s and recent excavations, this article provides a synthesis of southern Vanuatu mortuary practices using an anthropologie de terrain (field anthropology) approach and new14 C dates. The earliest preserved burials from the region date to 1270 B.P., with subsequent transformations and continuities through the nineteenth century. Burials are present in sub-surface and surface contexts, in flexed and extended positions, with some showing evidence of having been wrapped in perishable flexible containers and others of post-depositional manipulation. Many of the burials feature ornaments of shell and stone. Transformations and continuities of burial practice in southern Vanuatu reflect complex histories of interaction within and beyond the region. KEYWORDS: mortuary practices, human burial, funerary archaeology, change over time, Oceania, Melanesia.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)112-142
    JournalAsian Perspectives
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2022

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