Archaeologists frequently interpret the duration and type of prehistoric occupation at a location/site from the relative abundance of prehistoric materials (accumulations research). Taphonomic factors have the potential to alter substantially the archaeological record leading to inaccurate assumptions about the nature of prehistoric settlement. Where vessel families of potsherds can be established, we provide a general method to estimate the parent population from which the sample of sherds derives, through analysis of vessel completeness of the sample. This provides a basis for archaeological interpretation of the scale of discard represented at a location. The approach used has broad applicability to many archaeological settings where behavioural inferences are made from poorly preserved ceramic samples. Statistical analysis of a ceramic assemblage from Roviana Lagoon stilt villages indicates that most of the ceramic assemblage has been destroyed over time. An unexpectedly severe taphonomic regime is inferred for this relatively sheltered landlocked lagoon setting. Rather than marking an ephemeral occupation, estimating a parent ceramic population indicates instead that early stilt village sites in the Solomon Islands region were probably permanently occupied for several centuries. Results also suggest that the relative absence of recorded Lapita sites in the main Solomon Islands, and possibly elsewhere in Near Oceania may be a result of a harsh taphonomic regime for the remains of stilt village occupation
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