Oceania, 2000–1000 B.C.

  • Bird Head
    1978.412.1504
  • Pestle Finial
    1996.373.1

Timeline

2000 B.C.

1750 B.C.

AUSTRALIA
"Estuarine" period in Arnhem Land rock art, ca. 6000 B.C.–500 A.D.
"X-ray" style in Arnhem Land rock art, ca. 2000 B.C.–present
MELANESIA
POLYNESIA AND MICRONESIA

1750 B.C.

1500 B.C.

AUSTRALIA
"Estuarine" period in Arnhem Land rock art, ca. 6000 B.C.–500 A.D.
"X-ray" style in Arnhem Land rock art, ca. 2000 B.C.–present
MELANESIA
Stone figure tradition, New Guinea Highlands, ca. 1500 B.C.–1600 A.D.(?)
POLYNESIA AND MICRONESIA
Lapita peoples, ca. 1500–500 B.C.

1500 B.C.

1250 B.C.

AUSTRALIA
"Estuarine" period in Arnhem Land rock art, ca. 6000 B.C.–500 A.D.
"X-ray" style in Arnhem Land rock art, ca. 2000 B.C.–present
MELANESIA
Stone figure tradition, New Guinea Highlands, ca. 1500 B.C.–1600 A.D.(?)
POLYNESIA AND MICRONESIA
Lapita peoples, ca. 1500–500 B.C.

1250 B.C.

1000 B.C.

AUSTRALIA
"Estuarine" period in Arnhem Land rock art, ca. 6000 B.C.–500 A.D.
"X-ray" style in Arnhem Land rock art, ca. 2000 B.C.–present
MELANESIA
Stone figure tradition, New Guinea Highlands, ca. 1500 B.C.–1600 A.D.(?)
POLYNESIA AND MICRONESIA
Lapita peoples, ca. 1500–500 B.C.

Overview

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.

Key Events

  • ca. 2000 B.C.–present

    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.

  • ca. 1500 B.C.

    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 had ritual functions.

  • ca. 1500 B.C.

    Belau and the Mariana Islands (Micronesia) are settled by Austronesian peoples, probably from the Phillippines.

  • ca. 1500–1000 B.C.

    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.

  • ca. 1500–500 B.C.

    Lapita peoples settle Island Melanesia and Western Polynesia.

  • ca. 1500 B.C.–1 A.D.

    Austronesian peoples settle the main archipelagos of Micronesia and begin to develop into distinctly Micronesian cultures.

Citation

“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&region=oc (October 2000)

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