In the footsteps of A. B. Lewis

Between March 1993 and February 1994 with major funding from the National Science Foundation (Grant DBS-9120301) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (Grant RO-22203-91), Robert L. Welsch, Adjunct Curator of Anthropology,  and Regenstein Curator John Edward Terrell, together with Wilfred Oltomo from the Papua New Guinea National Museum, lived on the Sepik coast of northern New Guinea to learn there how exchange relationships  between villages link families and local communities into larger human associations (or "regional systems").

During their repeated trips to this coast since 1990, Welsch and Terrell have been able to gather a great deal of information about the raw materials, manufacture, use, cultural meaning, and local socioeconomic significance of this region's material culture—as witnessed both by The Field Museum's ethnographic collections and also by the local crafts still being practiced in these many small communities. 

They have visited more than 80 villages in some 42 communities in Papua New Guinea, and 11 villages in and around Jayapura in Indonesian New Guinea.  They have made new collections of contemporary material culture in nearly all of these communities, with important collections from about 30 communities.

Their modern collection of contemporary material culture (some 2,000 items) is the largest single collection ever made along this stretch of coastline  by a single expedition.  Half of this collection is now at the Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery in Port Moresby; the rest is at The Field Museum.

Sissano Village, 1990

(© 1990, John Edward Terrell)

New Acquisitions, 1993

Some of the items purchased in villages on the Sepik coast by the expedition from The Field Museum in 1993-1994 "on display" at our field headquarters on Ali Island near Aitape (© 1993, John Edward Terrell)

Ali Island Lapita potsherd

Only two Lapita potsherds have been discovered in New Guinea.  Both are from the Aitape area of the Sepik coast.  Terrell found the specimen shown here in 1993.  Its exact age is unknown (it is a surface find), but stylistically it appears to be early Lapita.  If so, then it is well over 3,000 years old  (© 1993, John Weinstein, The Field Museum).