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  • Lapita is the name given to ancestors of the Polynesians, including Māori, who were the first people to explore and settle the remote parts of Oceania. Their settlements have been identified and tracked by their distinctive pottery.

    Rights: ANU Press, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

    Detente stamping on Lapita pottery

    Close-up of two pot rims from pots reassembled from sherds. The left-hand image is a close-up of Teouma Pot 2.

    Lapita pottery is earthenware pottery with unique patterns and designs from dentate stamping – where a pattern is applied by a tool (for example, a shell with small grooves cut in it), tapa cloth or woven materials. Design elements evolved but retained commonalities and can be traced from the earliest Lapita settlements through to later settlements in Vanuatu, Fiji and Samoa.

    In this activity, students combine scientific observation with drawing and/or design to explore Lapita pottery.

    By the end of this activity, students should be able to:

    • discuss aspects of the Lapita cultural complex
    • offer explanations on how experts use Lapita pottery as evidence of Pacific migration
    • observe Lapita motifs
    • use art skills of their choosing to replicate Lapita motifs on paper or in clay.

    Download the Word file (see link below).

    Cross-curricular opportunities

    This activity covers aspects of science – using evidence and interpreting representations; social sciences – migration patterns; technological design and practice; and visual arts.

    Related content

    Learn more about Lapita pottery with the article Lapita cultural complex. We know about Lapita people thanks to radiocarbon dating. Our knowledge of migration dates and patterns is becoming more defined due to more accurate radiocarbon calibration curves.

    The Connected article The long pause explores Pacific migration and offers scientific and technological explanations for a thousand year gap between settlements in West Polynesia and East Polynesia. Puzzling out Pacific migrations is a ready-to-use cross-curricular teaching resource that uses this Connected article as the starting point.

    Learn more about scientific observation with these articles:

    Activity ideas

    The Science Learning Hub has a number of activities to help students develop their observational skills:

    Professional learning development

    Take a look at our professional learning development webinar recordings to learn more about Developing an eagle eye and Making sense of what we see.

    Content curation

    Use our Pinterest board Visual arts and science for further inspiration on ways to include both art and science in your teaching.

    Useful links

    The Fiji Museum website has information about Lapita pottery and photos of Lapita sherd and pot reconstructions.

    Te Ara looks at Lapita people as part of its Pacific migration story.

      Published 2 February 2023 Referencing Hub articles
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