Due to the poor preservation of faunal remains in the tropics and the extreme marine biodiversity prevailing in the Indo-Pacific basin, Ichthyoarchaeology has long remained on the fringes of Oceanian research. However, the site of Teouma, excavated between 2004 and 2010 and associated with the first settlement of the Vanuatu archipelago, yielded a regionally unprecedented ichthyofaunal assemblage. Almost 40,000 fishbones were uncovered among the deposits related to the Lapita cemetery and midden (c. 3000-2800 B.P.), and in the Arapus and Erueti cultural levels (c. 2800-2500 B.P.).
This thesis aimed to demonstrate that, when using the most efficient methodological protocols, Ichthyoarchaeology has the potential to solve a number of major and specific archaeological issues (fishing practices, diet, subsistence strategies and human impact). Exhaustive anatomical and taxonomical determination of the remains, examination of their spatial distribution, estimation of the individual weights and multiplication of the interpretative criteria (ecological traits, palaeoenvironments and effectiveness of fishing techniques) provided detailed and original data.
A total of 13,047 elements, belonging to 35 families of bony and cartilaginous fish, have been identified. Results support the previous hypothesis of an opportunistic and strictly coastal exploitation of marine resources by Lapita groups, always close to their occupation sites. Although they usually seem to concentrate on reefs and herbivorous taxa, Lapita fishing activities at Teouma focused mainly on gregarious carnivores and omnivores that live or venture in the bay and the estuary (Selar spp., Mugilidae, Katsuwonus pelamis), likely by means of mass-capturing devices such as encircling nets or beach seines, deployed collectively from crafts or from the shore. Freshwater species (Eleotridae) and a large array of fish commonly found on coral drop-offs or reef flats (Scaridae, Acanthuridae, Serranidae) were also taken, probably with individual gear (fish traps, lines, multi-pronged spears) and discrete methods (hand gathering, weirs or poison). The techniques and devices implemented all along the sequence are polyvalent, complementary and adapted to all aquatic environments.
Marine ecosystems did obviously not suffer from overfishing but one freshwater species (Giuris sp.1) might have been locally extirpated. Observations drawn from the spatial analysis and from the assessment of the place of fish within the general diet suggest that the site could have been frequented solely in a punctual or ephemeral way (community events and/or funeral rites) and that the habitat area was perhaps located elsewhere, away from the cemetery.