A case study in New Caledonia explores the changes in the natural and cultural setting at the end of the Lapita period in the first millennium B.C. After the mid-Holocene highstand, sea level fell about 1.5 m, thereby enlarging coastal plains, altering previous mangrove and marshy settings, and transforming nearshore marine environments. Many of these changes occurred gradually over several centuries, but the termination of finely decorated Lapita pottery coincided with the first signs of loss of coastal habitat optimal for marine-based horticulturalists in the first millennium B.C. Organized village compounds and extensively cultivated landscapes emerged much later, in the first millennium A.D. The results suggest that, although the Lapita phenomenon represents the founding ancestry of Oceanic societies, it also represents the end of an era and way of life that eventually could not be maintained in a changing world. © 2008 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.