The priceless pot

Sumin Best holds a priceless archeological find, a Fiji pot more than 2000 year old. Picture: File

Simon Best had travelled 2000 miles with a 2000-year-old pot.

“And I can’t wait to get rid of it,” he was quoted in an article in The Fiji Times on December 15, 1978 while handing it carefully into the eager arms of the then Fiji Museum director Mr Charles Hunt.

Mr Best, an archaeologist at Auckland University, helped find the pot buried in mud under about 10ft of water in a deep cave on an island about 11 miles off Lakeba.

Apart from its age and archeological value,the pot was rare because it was almost completely whole.

Most ancient pots are reconstructed from tiny chips, like putting together a priceless jigsaw puzzle with glue and imagination.

“This one and another were remarkably preserved by the water,” Mr Best said.

He was with a scientific team directed by Professor John Young of Adelaide University who was working on the history of the Lau islands.

They spent four months at the beginning of 1976 digging around Lakeba for traces of early inhabitation.

During a visit to a small nearby island, the team investigated a cave and saw large pieces of pottery nestling in the mud beneath a clear pool.

Divers brought up two virtually complete pots and many pieces which they found by groping in the mud.

Mr Best and another archeologist carried the complete pots, sealed in damp sawdust and plastic bags, on their laps all the way back to Auckland.

Radiocarbon analysis dated the pots at about 2300 years old, or 325 BC.

Mr Best said he believed they were cooking pots, possibly left at the pool when they were being washed.

He returned with one of the pots carried carefully in a cardboard carton.

His worst moments with the priceless archeological treasures were when they began to dry out.

“They began to disintegrate in my hands.”

He had to work fast to find chemical preservative which would keep them solidly intact.

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