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The bay, on the island of Efate in the South Pacific nation Vanuatu, is long, symmetrical and briskly rectangular.
In the expected place of wavelets is a blue so calm and unbroken that the sea doesn’t so much crash on the land as neatly abut it.
PART IA faint aura of destiny seems to hover over Teouma Bay.
It’s not so much the landscape, with its ravishing if boilerplate tropical splendor — banana and mango trees, coconut and pandanus palms, bougainvillea, the apprehensive trill of the gray-eared honeyeater — as it is the shape of the harbor itself, which betrays, in the midst of such organic profusion, an aspect of the unnatural.
There, Bedford embraced the local chief, Silas Alben, who led us through village gardens of banana and tuber to a high limestone cliff with a sprawling view of the Teouma site.
As we shared the sweating neon flesh of a machete-split papaya, Bedford, now affiliated with the Australian National University, ran through all the reasons that the sheltered cove far below — just then rippling beneath a late-afternoon rainbow — would have made an inviting stage for the encounter of an ancient people with a primeval place.
The villagers of Vanuatu often happen upon shards of timeworn ceramic, which spark an idly mythical curiosity; they’re said to be fragments of Noah’s Ark, or the original Ten Commandments, or the burst water vessels of powerful ancestral spirits.
On the west side of that border is a string of archipelagoes called Near Oceania: islands chained to one another (and to the rest of the world) by lines of sight.
A meaningful national identity has been constructed from a common appreciation of ceremonial pig-tusk bracelets and the taking of kava, a very mild narcotic root that looks like primordial pea soup and tastes like a fine astringent dirt.
Above all, however, the ni-Vanuatu are bound together by the fact of the country’s nautical isolation: Their nearest neighbors are hundreds of miles in any direction.
He immediately recognized its distinctive pattern — “dentate stamping,” an ancient technique so named because it looked as though some tiny-toothed creature had bitten an intricate pattern into the ceramic — and understood that this pottery coincided with the very first movement of ancient peoples into the South Seas.
Bedford rushed to the site of the discovery, an old colonial coconut plantation that the bulldozer had been clearing for use as a prawn farm.