Patrick Nunn, professor of Oceanic Geoscience at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji, announced the find Tuesday. He said the two-month excavation he led at Bourewa Beach on the southwest coast of Fiji's main island, Viti Levu, revealed stilt houses built above the sea, quantities of Lapita-decorated pottery, stone tools and jewelry.
"These people were artists," Nunn told The Associated Press.
The Lapita people are believed to have migrated eastward from the Bismarck Archipelago of Papua New Guinea to Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Solomon Islands and other Pacific islands.
The Bourewa Beach settlement was the earliest yet uncovered in Fiji by about 200 years, said Nunn, who directed the project supported by Fiji Museum and researchers from universities in Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the United States and Britain.
Fiji Museum staffer Sepeti Matararaba found the jewelry, made from shells, under an upturned clay pot, put there by someone about 3,000 years ago. When Matararaba turned the pot over, he uncovered a cache of nine shell rings of different sizes, four shell bracelets and six necklace pieces complete with drill holes.
Peter Shepphard, an associate professor of anthropology at Auckland University in New Zealand who works on early Lapita and other settlements in the Solomon Islands, described the finds as "extraordinary" and from "a very important site."
The site was likely a manufacturing center for shell jewelry and the cache a "deliberate burial of a shell jewelry collection" by the Lapita inhabitants, Nunn said.
"These are the first people in the South Pacific, they are a Stone Age people," he said. "Within a decade or so of arriving in Fiji they were producing exquisite shell jewelry ... they were producing intricately decorated pottery."
Nunn said the Lapitas disappeared by about 550 B.C. as a distinctive cultural group: "After that, you don't see anyone in Fiji making shell jewelry like that, or pottery like that."
He said that fact is interesting because it is opposite of what would be expected - the production of crude pottery and crude jewelry at the start of the settlement 3,000 years ago getting more sophisticated toward the present.
"We're still a long way off knowing why this is," he said.
Shepphard, who was not involved in the Fiji project, said the decorations of the early settlers reveal an effort to retain their ties to their homeland area in the Bismarck Archipelago.
Other Archaeological Discoveries
-A stone tool used as a knife at least 35,000 years ago was one of hundreds of tiny sharp rocks unearthed in western Australia. The discovery, announced April 7, is one of the oldest archaeological finds in that part of the country. One local Aboriginal elder said it's vindication that his people have inhabited the land for tens of thousands of years.
-Researchers strung together gold and stone beads after recovering them from a grave in southern Peru. The finding, unveiled March 31, may represent the earliest known gold jewelry made in the Americas. It dates back about 4,000 years, researchers said.
-Archaeologists in Peru said March 13 that they found the ruins of an ancient roadway, temple and irrigation system in the Andes Mountains. The structures, located at the famed Sacsayhuaman fortress, which overlooks the city of Cuzco, are believed to have predated the Incan empire, but were then significantly expanded.
-Archaeologists, were working on a dig for a subway line in Rome's central Piazza Venezia Square last year, announced on March 7 that they uncovered medieval kitchens, Roman taverns and remains of Renaissance palaces beneath the city's surface.
-On March 5, Greek officials said that a road construction crew unearthed an important 3,000-year-old tomb. The rare beehive-shaped monument, which was found on the island of Lefkada, contained many artifacts and could shed light on the Mycenaean presence in the area.
-A team of archaeologists announced Feb. 25 that they had unearthed a 5,500-year-old ceremonial plaza in Casma, 229 miles north of Lima, Peru. Carbon dating shows that the plaza, found under another piece of architecture at the ruins of Sechin Bajo, above, is one of the oldest structures ever found in the Americas.
-Archaeologists investigating the collapse of the Mayan civilization said Feb. 20 that they used a satellite to uncover the ruins of hidden cities in the Guatemalan jungle. The satellite can see through clouds and forests to reveal differences in the vegetation below.
-In December, archaeologists said they found the first known surviving Roman throne in the ruins of Herculaneum, which was buried under hot ash and lava when Mount Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79.
-In late November, scientists announced the discovery of pottery shards and arrowheads in Jerusalem's City of David indicating that a nearby wall may be one mentioned in the Bible's Book of Nehemiah, from the fifth century B.C.
-A clay temple built 2,000 years before Jesus Christ's time was discovered in Lambayeque, Peru, archaeologists announced Nov. 10. Mural paintings inside are considered some of the oldest ever found in the Americas.
-In September, Israeli archaeologists searching for ancient Jerusalem's main road stumbled across the drainage channel that the Jews used to escape the invading Romans in A.D. 70.
-Archaeologists discovered an underground wall near the city of Aleppo, Syria, in September that revealed an 11,000-year-old wall painting believed to be the oldest in the world.
-A gold mask was among gold and silver artifacts dating back to the fourth century B.C. that were discovered in July at a Thracian tomb near Topolchane, Bulgaria.