Lapita before Lapita: The Early Story of the Meyer/ O'Reilly Watom Island Archaeological Collection

Emilie Dotte, Hilary Howes

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7 Citations (Web of Science)


Seventeen years before the first excavation at the archaeological site of Lapita (New Caledonia) in 1952, two men of the cloth met and exchanged artefacts, notes and ideas to produce some of the earliest analyses of what later became known as Lapita pottery. Otto Meyer (1877-1937), a Sacred Heart Missionary stationed on Watom Island, described chance finds of 'prehistoric pottery' in 1909, following these with more systematic excavations. Patrick O'Reilly (1900-88), a Marist Father associated with the Musée de l'Homme in Paris, drew on Meyer's work, his own extensive bibliographical knowledge and his observations during a one-year mission in the region in 1934-5 to present part of the collection in France, laying the ground for further theories. The publication, interpretation and curation of the Meyer/O'Reilly collection represents an exemplary journey through the history of Pacific archaeology and the emergence of the Lapita paradigm. We consider the context of Meyer's encounter with O'Reilly, the ideas both men advanced in analysing the collection and the site, and how these resonated during the development of Pacific and Lapita archaeology throughout the first half of the 20th century.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)354-378
Number of pages25
JournalThe Journal of Pacific History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2019


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