Agila and the reanimation of seafaring on the south coast of Papua New Guinea after 770 cal BP

Robert J. Skelly, Bruno David, Fiona Petchey, Matthew Leavesley, Jerome Mialanes, Teppsy Beni, Chris Urwin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Seafaring ceramicists connected widely spaced communities along the expanse of PNG’s south coast for more than 1,500 years following the arrival of people using pots with Lapita decoration c.2,900 cal BP. Archaeological investigations at locations from the Gulf of Papua in the west to Mailu Island in the east suggest a major change occurred to seafaring and social relations after 1,200 cal BP. The following five centuries often referred to as the ‘Ceramic Hiccup’ were characterised by a contraction in the scale of formerly long-distance voyaging. Here we present results of recent archaeological excavations at the ancestral village site of Agila in Hood Bay east of Port Moresby. The decorations on older pot sherds at Agila are akin to those on ancestral Motu pottery known from Motupore Island to the west. The decoration changes on more recent sherds which have more in common with ancestral Mailu pottery from Mailu Island to the east. Details of changing seafaring relations–from west to east–at Agila were published in 2018 after our first field season. However, results from the first field season left questions about site antiquity unresolved. We returned to Agila in 2022 and continued excavations to address those questions. Our excavations revealed that initial settlement at Agila coincided with a reanimation of coastal seafaring after 770 cal BP. Results also show that the major pottery manufacturing and seafaring community of Motupore maintained relations with communities to both the east and west. An analysis of the ceramic assemblage allows us to historicise the emergence of social strategies which entrenched Hood Bay at a nexus between Motu and Mailu specialised trading and seafaring communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-114
Number of pages18
JournalAustralian Archaeology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Ceramic Hiccup
  • Motupore
  • pottery
  • Seafaring
  • trade

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