Part of a collection of pottery sherds originating at the small island of Vuatom (Watom) in Papua New Guinea's (PNG's) Bismarck Archipelago. The original object register of the National Museum of Victoria (now known as Museums Victoria) records that the sherds were 'dug up ... found at about a depth of 4 feet, about 50 yards from the high water, on one of the very few level patches of Watom'.

The sherds are ornately decorated with motifs created by impressing a comb-like tool or shell, and by making incisions into the vessel surface before firing.

Archaeologists use the term 'Lapita' to refer to this style of pottery, made by First Peoples who were expert seafarers. Similar pottery has been found in other island and coastal locations in north and north-west PNG, as well as on the south coast. Elaborately decorated pottery has also been found at the earliest archaeological sites in the south-east Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. The earliest 'Lapita' style pottery found in the Pacific dates to around 3300 years ago, but the Watom Island pottery probably dates to within the period c. 2850-1850 years ago.

Physical Description

Earthenware sherd. The sherd is from a carinated vessel (meaning that the exterior wall of the vessel changes angle relatively sharply). The sherd's exterior surface is decorated. On one side of the carination, the decorations consist of diagonal indented lines arranged into a geometric pattern and bordered by a horizontal indented line. The other side of the carination is decorated with incised lines arranged into tesselated arcs: these decorations are bordered (above and below) by single horizontal indented lines. The indented motifs were probably made by impressing a comb-like tool or part of a shell.

More Information

  • Object/Medium


  • Maker


  • Locality

    Watom Island, East New Britain, Papua New Guinea

  • Date Produced

    c. 2850 to 1850 years ago

  • Collector

    Father Otto Meyer

  • Date Collected


  • Object Measurements

    65 mm (Length), 41 mm (Width), 16 mm (Depth)

  • Keywords


  • References

    [Article - Journal] Casey, Dermot A. 1936. Ethnological Notes. Mem. Mus. Vic. 9
    [Book] Craig, Barry, et al. War Trophies or Curios? The War Museum Collection in Museum Victoria 1915-1920.
    [Chapter] Spriggs, Matthew. The vicissitudes of Lapita pottery, 1909-45: The Melbourne witness, in Spriggs, Matthew, et al. Uncovering Pacific Pasts: Histories of Archaeology in Oceania. 15.
    [Book] Spriggs, Matthew & Bedford, Stuart. 2019. Debating Lapita: Distribution, Chronology, Society and Subsistence. 52. 528.

  • Collection Names

    War Museum Collection

  • Type of item


  • Discipline


  • Category

    First Peoples

  • Collecting Areas

    Pacific Cultures