West Polynesia, Tonga Island, Lapita Culture, ca. 1000 to 600 BCE. An oblong shaped white shell object - most likely Giant Clam (Tridacna gigas) - that is finely carved with abstract imagery - perhaps representing fish or other marine creatures on the front face - and was likely used during ritual rites. The verso presents beautiful natural shell patterns. According to "Lapita Oceanic Ancestors, "Rather than shell being a simple equivalent for stone in an area generally poor in good lithic resources, it is apparent that artefacts in shell have a distinct importance to Lapita peoples in their own right." Size: 6.5" H (16.5 cm); 7.5" H (19 cm) on included custom stand.
The Lapita peoples originated in Taiwan and other regions of East Asia. As seafaring explorers and colonists, they settled on the Bismarck Archipelago (northeast of New Guinea) by 2000 BCE, and by 1600 BCE they also ventured to the Solomon Islands, reaching Fiji, Tonga, and other parts of western Polynesia by 1000 BCE. By 500 BCE they migrated to Micronesia.
For a comprehensive source about Lapita visual culture, see the catalogue "Lapita Oceanic Ancestors" (2010) by the Musee du Quai Branly, included with this piece. "Lapita Oceanic Ancestors" was a landmark exhibition that took place in France to focus on this ancient Oceanic civilization. According to Veronique Mortaigne's review of this exhibition, "The term "Lapita" was coined in 1952: an American, Edwin Gifford, was digging on the Foue peninsula. He asked a Kanak for the name of the site, but mistook the response, xapeta'a, for 'Lapita'. In the Haveka language spoken by the Kanaks xapeta'a means 'the place where one digs'. It was assumed initially that this referred to the work of the archaeologists. But it finally emerged that the Kanaks had understood that the land had been settled before their arrival."
Provenance: private Hawaii, USA collection; ex-private Hurst collection, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
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Minute nicks to the peripheries that have smoothed over the ages. Normal surface wear commensurate with age, but the imagery is still strong.