This website contains the data produced from 2011-2015 as part of an archaeological survey of early Presbyterian mission sites on the islands of Tanna and Erromango in southern Vanuatu (TAFEA Province). The project documented mission sites as well as Melanesian features on the landscape. It also involved a program of test excavation, and comprehensive analysis of materials recovered from excavations. These materials tell the story of early Christianity in Vanuatu, during an era of early interactions between Presbyterian missionaries and Melanesian people. Explore the different collections to learn more.

New for 2017: This website should be used in conversation with the book An Archaeology of Early Christianity in Vanuatu, available for download or purchase from ANU Press. https://press.anu.edu.au/publications/series/terra-australis/archaeology-early-christianity-vanuatu-terra-australis-44


Ce site internet présente les données recueillies entre 2011 et 2015 dans le cadre d'un projet de recherches archéologiques sur les sites des premières missions presbytériennes, sur les îles de Tanna et Erromango, dans le Sud du Vanuatu (province de TAFEA). Ce projet comprenait l'inventaire des sites missionnaires ainsi que des éléments typiquement mélanésiens présents dans le paysage. Il comprenait également la réalisation d'un ensemble de sondages archéologiques et l'analyse des objets provenant des fouilles. Ces derniers témoignent des premiers temps de la christianisation du Vanuatu, à une période d'interaction forte entre les missionnaires presbytériens et les communautés mélanésiennes. Pour en savoir plus, explorez les différentes collections présentées!

Welkam (Bislama)

Ples ia hemi blong talem histri blong ol fes misnari long Erromango mo Tanna long 1800s. Hemi wan projek blong “akiologi”: ol olfala bilding we ibin foldaon, ol evidens we istap long graon, mo ol smol bubu blong bifo. Blong yusim website ia, yu save lukim evri small samting we projek ibin faenem blong talem story blong ol misnari blong bifo. I kat olsem sam pikja blong sam Kastom ples blong bifo. Misnari i save waet man, be olsem hemi wan histri blong ol man ples we oli bin tred mo toktok wetem ol misnaris. Christianity long Vanuatu, hemi kam aot long ol fes taem we ol man ples oli stap tred wetem ol fes misnari long ol aelans blong TAFEA.

Creative Commons Licensing

The Southern Vanuatu Mission Archaeology website by James Flexner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This means you may use media items from this site, but only for non-commercial purposes, they must be clearly attributed to the license holder (James Flexner), and any items must also be licensed under similar terms.

How to Use the Datasets

This site contains a number of linked datasets including photographs, field drawings (both raw scans and finished images), field notes, and artefact data that should allow users to explore the archaeological understanding of early missionary interactions in southern Vanuatu.

Please note that all of the material on this site is free to download. However, ALL of this material is subject to copyright restrictions. Please contact the site administrator before using publicly beyond ‘ fair use’ (for example, using an image for a classroom-based lecture is allowed, but if the lecture goes to a publicly-accessible blog or website, then permission is required). Commercial use of this material is prohibited. Please be respectful of other peoples’ cultures when reinterpreting this material.

General Use

Members of the public might simply want to explore the site, looking at some of the images and other data to understand the foundations of the archaeological process. Archaeologists begin with field notes, data recording, and drawings, building from these basic building blocks to make broader scientific and theoretical arguments about the past. This site gives you the opportunity to see some of these datasets and form your own ideas about the history and ‘materiality’ of missionary interactions in Melanesia. The ‘Reports’ section also offers limited narrative accounts of this material. For more information on the details of how the project was done, see ‘Research Use’.

Educational Use

[COMING SOON: Primary and secondary educators may access educational modules, consisting of self-contained exercises for students, including datasets and associated teacher’ s guides.] Teachers interested in developing a module based on this project in consultation with the primary researcher and mukurtu staff should Contact James .

Research Use

Researchers, including artists and cultural practitioners in Vanuatu, may contact the site administrator for access to additional datasets, including GIS files, some GPS coordinates, and other restricted material not available through the public portal of this site. Access is granted at the administrator’s discretion.

The following information about data structure should allow researchers as well as students and members of the public to analyse the datasets independently.

Landscape data structure
SVMAP fieldwork took place from 2011-2015 on the islands of Tanna and Erromango. The project was split between three locations on Erromango (Cook’s Bay, Dillon’s Bay, and Potnuma) and four locations on Tanna (Kwamera, Lenakel, Port Resolution, and Waisisi). Each of these locations contained multiple archaeological 'sites', including missionary sites (churches, houses, graves), and local traditional, or ‘kastom’ sites. The sites could consist of a single archaeological 'feature' (e.g. a rock art site), or multiple features (e.g. a mission site with a house, a church, and associated graves). Exploring the different locations, sites, and features at svmap.mukurtu.net will provide access to associated photographs or drawings, as well as other kinds of field data, including excavation data.

Excavation data structure
Of the features recorded during the survey, seven were selected for limited test excavation. A series of ‘ Test Units’ (TU) were placed within and around each feature, ranging in size from 1x1m to 2x2m. The units were generally excavated by stratigraphic layers. Within each unit, changes in sedimentary colour and texture were used to divide the excavated deposits into ‘ contexts’ . J. Gordon House at Potnuma, Erromango was the exception to this rule. J. Gordon House is located on a coastal mud flat heavily disturbed by burrowing crabs, thus there was no visible change in sediment texture or colour, and the site was partially excavated in 10-cm deep arbitrary levels.

Within each unit, the context sequence began with ‘ A’ for the surface layer, then proceeded through ‘ B’ , ‘ C’ , etc. Each context was also given a unique number known as a ‘ Provenience Number’ or ‘ PN’ . These unique numbers make sure that, for example, G. Gordon House TU1 Context A is distinguished in the data from Imua Mission TU1 Context A. For a complete list of PNs, go to ‘ Excavation Info’ and find the ‘ Provenience List’ spreadsheet.

The one other kind of excavation context was the Shovel Test Pit (STP). STPs were excavated as a single core excavated with a small shovel or spade, with a diameter of 50cm, excavated to a depth of no more than 100cm. These were used only at Kwaraka and New Kwaraka, and a list of these is also present in the Provenience List.

The excavated features included five mission houses, and two components of a village site on Tanna located close to the old mission. The excavated sites are:

  • G. Gordon House (Dillon’ s Bay)
  • Robertson House (Dillon’ s Bay)
  • Undam (Dillon’ s Bay)
  • J. Gordon House (Potnuma)


  • Imua Mission (Kwamera)
  • Watt Mission (Kwamera)
  • Kwaraka Village (Kwamera)
  • ‘ New Kwaraka’ Village (Kwamera; site is also called ‘ Anuikaraka’ )



The plan maps for each of these features should provide locations for the TUs. The one exception is the single 1x1m TU at Undam. Undam was located roughly 1km inland from Dillon’ s Bay on the north side of the Williams River. The unit was excavated when a local collaborator found some red-slipped pottery in his garden. Subsequent excavations did not recover any more of this pottery, however they did recover a small amount of charcoal, shell, and fire-cracked rock showing long-term human activity in the area.


The field scans from each of the excavated sites provide the original excavation notes, including sedimentary descriptions, stratigraphic information, plan drawings, and interpretations of the contexts. There are also stratigraphic profile drawings that show the layering of the units as revealed by the excavations.

NOTE: Scans of the original field notes, including all of the individual context forms, as well as scanned field maps and Adobe Illustrator files of digitised maps are available in .zip folders associated with each location (Dillon's Bay, Potnuma, and Cook's Bay from Erromango; Kwamera, Port Resolution, Waisisi, and Lenakel from Tanna). This will mostly be of interest for Researchers, but the public is also welcome to access this primary scientific data.

Artefact data structure
Artefact datasheets, in the form of Microsoft Access Database Files, or Excel Spreadsheets, are downloadable from the site. Spreadsheets containing all of the artefact data from the project (a total of 24604 individual finds) can be downloaded, or you may want to download the spreadsheet for a specific material or functional category.

Artefacts were generally analysed by material category (ceramics, glass, metal, etc.). Some functional categories were also used (e.g. adornment, which includes buttons and other objects of personal adornment made from many different materials). There were a few ‘ catch-all’ categories as well. ‘ Small finds’ were artefacts that didn’ t fit the other categories but were analysed individually or in small batches (e.g. tobacco pipe stems and slate pencils), while ‘ Misc/bulk artefacts’ included material often found in large amounts that was best analysed in batches (e.g. fire-cracked rock).

Artefacts were batched where doing so would not obscure variability in the data. For example, a large pile of lime mortar fragments could be batched. So too could a pile of iron wrought nail fragments including portions of the nail head and shaft. However, individual iron wrought nails of different lengths were analysed separately. Materials dating to after the 1950s were also generally batched as contemporary garbage.

Each artefact or batch of artefacts was given a sample number within its material category (SmallFinds1, Ceramic500, etc.). Each of these sample numbers is unique to the artefact(s) in question. The artefact spreadsheets tell you which feature and TU each artefact is from. Each sample is also associated with a specific PN that can be used to identify the artefact with a particular context. In the artefact spreadsheets, the numbers in the 'Context' column can be matched with the numbers from the 'PN' spreadsheet, thus an artefact with 'Context' number 16 in an artefact spreadsheet is from PN16, which can be matched to a particular context using the PN spreadsheet (in this case Robertson Mission TU1 Ctx. D). The context can then be matched with a particular field form that will give information on sediment, stratigraphic relationships, associated finds, and interpretations. Context data in the form of scanned field forms is associated with each excavated feature.

In some cases, artefact datasheets may include summary tables as well as the spreadsheet data containing the individual samples.

To use artefact data in a student paper or publication
Students and researchers are most welcome to use this data for their own original analysis and publications, especially in comparison with other 19th century sites, particularly mission sites and sites in Oceania. However, at minimum the following citation must appear in the publication or student project using data from this page:

Flexner, James L. and Shanahan, Kelley (2016). Artefact data. Southern Vanuatu Mission Archaeology Project. https://svmap.mukurtu.net/ [Last accessed dd/mm/yy].

In many cases, it is likely that publications would benefit from greater consultation, including possibly co-authorship with the primary researcher Contact James here.


This website can be used in association with the book An Archaeology of Early Christianity in Vanuatu, published with ANU Press in 2016. The book can be downloaded as a free ebook, or print copies can be ordered from ANU Press at the following link: http://press.anu.edu.au/publications/series/terra-australis/archaeology-early-christianity-vanuatu-terra-australis-44

This project resulted in a number of published papers from academic journals, which may be accessed via the following links. This page will be updated as new articles appear in press. (Note that some links to journal articles are behind a paywall, though these can generally be accessed via university libraries, or Contact James for a copy).

James Flexner’s academia.edu page: https://sydney.academia.edu/JamesFlexner


Sherds of Paradise: Domestic Archaeology and Ceramic Artefacts from a Protestant Mission in the South Pacific

European Journal of Archaeology

DOI: 10.1080/14619571.2016.1147319

James L. Flexner & Andrew Ball



Iarisi's Domain: Historical Archaeology of a Melanesian Village, Tanna Island, Vanuatu

Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology

DOI: 10.1080/15564894.2015.1052865

James L. Flexner, Edson Willie, Andrew Z. Lorey, Helen Alderson, Robert Williams & Samson Ieru



“Because it is a Holy House of God”: Buildings Archaeology, Globalization, and Community Heritage in a Tanna Church

International Journal of Historical Archaeology

DOI: 10.1007/s10761-015-0289-2

James L. Flexner, Martin J. Jones, and Philip D. Evans



Under the Mission Steps: an 800 year-old human burial from South Tanna, Vanuatu

Journal of Pacific Archaeology

James L. Flexner and Edson Willie



Mapping local perspectives in the historical archaeology of Vanuatu mission landscapes

Asian Perspectives

James L. Flexner



Mission sites as indigenous heritage in Vanuatu

Journal of Social Archaeology

DOI: 10.1177/1469605314568251

James L. Flexner and Matthew Spriggs



The Historical Archaeology of States and Non-States: Anarchist Perspectives from Hawai‘i and Vanuatu

Journal of Pacific Archaeology

James L. Flexner



Mission archaeology in Vanuatu: preliminary findings, problems, and prospects

Australasian Historical Archaeology

James L. Flexner



Funding for website development was provided from an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DE130101703), which was hosted in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at the Australian National University, and from a start-up fund from the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry at the University of Sydney.