Project Presentation

Painted plaster topographic map of Papua New Guinea, displayed on the wall of the UPNG Archaeological Laboratory (V. Celiberti 2017)

The Papuan Past project explores the modalities of human population settlement and adaptation – biological, cultural and technical evolution – over the last 50 thousand years in Papua New Guinea. The project combines archaeological and genomic approaches to reach this objective, and is run in close collaboration with the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG). The project focuses on two regions in Papua New Guinea: The Sepik flood plain and the highlands, which represent different cultural and physical environments.

Map of the New Guinea Island with the location of the two fieldwork areas: the Sepik floodplain (yellow dot) and the Highlands (red dot). Click to enlarge.
  • In the flood plain of the Sepik region (East-Sepik province) and specifically in the karstic region of the upper Karawari river. The collection of limestone caves range across 80 km in this transitional biotope between the highlands and the floodplain.
  • In the highlands region (Chimbu, Jiwaka, and the Western Highlands provinces), notably the region around Mount Wilhelm (highest mountain of PNG at 4500m), and the Wahgi valley and adjacent valleys (Wurup valley) where the earliest traces of plant exploitation and cultivation in Papua New Guinea are located (Kuk swamp, 10k years BP).
The Wurup valley, 9km from Mount Hagen (Western Highlands province): a north-south valley reaching the Wahgi valley at its northern mouth (H. Forestier 2017)

The objective of the project is to study the origin and evolution of human settlement and adaptation in these regions over a long period: from the late Pleistocene to the present-day. This will be achieved by investigating human populations through their archaeological remains, markers of cultural/technical changes, and biological markers. What are the relationships between these different elements of human population history? Can modifications be identified and are these associated to environmental, demographic or cultural pressures?

This project has strengthened scientific cooperation between France and Papua New Guinea. The collaborative network involves three different Papua New Guinean scientific partners (University of Papua New Guinea, National Museum and Art Gallery, Institute of Medical Research) and six international partners.

The field research team is international and composed of four archaeologists, one anthropologist, two biological anthropologists, and several scientific specialists participating punctually. During the fieldwork, which will take place every year in spring, five to fifteen local participants and students will complete this team.

The Sepik floodplain and in the distance to the north the Yimas Lakes and the upper Arafundi region at the bottom of the highlands (F.-X. Ricaut 2017)

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