By 2000 B.C., Melanesian peoples had lived in the southwest Pacific for over 35,000 years, but the remote islands of Oceania remained uninhabited. Beginning in roughly 1500 B.C., the Lapita culture, descendants of a second migration of peoples from Southeast Asia and the Melanesians with whom they interacted, began to expand eastward from Melanesia into the more remote islands of the western Pacific. Characterized by their intricately decorated pottery, the Lapita people are believed to be ancestral to the contemporary peoples of Polynesia, Micronesia, and some regions of Melanesia.
At the same time as the Lapita expansion, artists in New Guinea were creating distinctive stone mortars, pestles, and freestanding figures. Representing both human and animal forms, these enigmatic stone images are the earliest known examples of Oceanic sculpture.
The “X-ray” style in Australia depicting bones and internal organs of humans and animal figures develops in Arnhem Land rock art. This tradition continues to the present day.
Possible date for the earliest stone sculpture in New Guinea. Depicting birds, echidnas (porcupine-like animals), and other subjects, often in the form of stylized mortars and pestles, these figures may have ritual functions.
Belau and the Mariana Islands (Micronesia) are settled by Austronesian peoples, probably from the Philippines.
The Lapita peoples, ancestors of present-day Polynesians, spread through Melanesia, reaching Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa in Polynesia circa 1300–1000 B.C. Lapita art is characterized by a distinctive ceramic tradition with rich decoration that includes anthropomorphic images.
Lapita peoples settle Island Melanesia and Western Polynesia.
Austronesian peoples settle the main archipelagos of Micronesia and begin to develop into distinctly Micronesian cultures.
“Oceania, 2000–1000 B.C.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=03®ion=oc (October 2000)