Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Field Museum scientists solve riddle of mysterious faces on South Pacific artifacts
What archaeologists working in the Pacific call prehistoric "Lapita" pottery has been found at more than 180 different places on tropical islands located in a broad arc of the southwestern Pacific from Papua New Guinea to Samoa.

Experts have long viewed the faces sometimes sketched by ancient potters on this pottery ware as almost certainly human in appearance, and they have considered them to be a sign that Pacific Islanders long ago may have worshiped their ancestors.

John Terrell, Regenstein Curator of Pacific Anthropology at The Field Museum, and Esther M. Schechter, a Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology at The Field Museum, have pieced together evidence of several kinds leading to a radically different understanding of the religious life of people in the South Pacific 3,000 years ago. Most of these mysterious faces, they report, may represent sea turtles. Furthermore, these ceramic portraits may be showing us ideas held by early Pacific Islanders about the origins of humankind.