The Amazing of Indonesia Prehistory

The Amazing of Indonesia Prehistory

For the first post, I will write about Indonesia Prehistory. Recent excavations at two sites in northern Thailand have revealed that a metal-age culture was underway there in the 4th millennium B.C.-much earlier than in either China or India. This discovery has already overturned the conception of Southeast Asia as a prehistoric backwater' and some scholars are now speculating that this region was in fact one of the great prehistoric cradles of human cultural development.

Such speculations somewhat premature in the case of Indonesia, where relatively few Neolithic sites have been excavated and dated with precision But numerous excavalions being undertaken here are expected to turn up new and exciting discoveries.

Java Man
In Indonesia Prehistory, Indonesian archaeological findings have contributed more than their share of conirouersy in the past. In 1890. a Dutch military physician by the name of Eugene Dubois discovered a fossilized primate jawbone in Central Java that possessed distinctively human man characteristics.

Java Man

The jawbone was found in association with fossils of mammalian species thought to have died out several hundred thousand years ago and was at first discounted by Dubois as belong to an extinct speciesof apes But when, in the following year, he discorered two more hominoid fossils in similar circumstances. He became convinced that he had unearthed the world's first evidence of Darwin's longsought "missing link." He namedhis discoverv pithecanthropusm erectus (up rihgt ape-man), and published his findings in 1894.

Unfortunatelvfor Dubois, Darwin's evolutionary theories were still being hotly disputed at this time and his discorery, dubbed JavaMan," was vehemently denounced by religious groups. Crushed Dubois withdrew his speciments and there after ceased to work in the field of paleoanthropology. It was not until more thin two decades later, with the discovery of similar fossils outside Peking in 1921, that he was eventually vindicated.

"Java Man" and "Peking Man" are now recoqnized as members of the species Homo erectus, a direct ancestor of man who inhabited the Old World from about 1.7 million until 250.0000 years ago. The body skeleton of Homo erectus was issentially modern but his skull was thick, long and low and he possessed a massive face with strongly protruding brow ridges. Many fossils of this type have been discovered in central Java since Dubois'time, some of which are more than a million years old. Replicas are on display at the Geolosical Museum in Bandung and the Sangiran site museum,out side Surakarta.

Recent research has shown that Homo erectus probably could not speak, but that he could utter sound, with which to communicate. He was an omnivore and a food gatherer who lived in caves as well as in open camp sites and was apparently the first creature to know the use of fire. He also produced an extensive stone tool kit that included flaked choppers,axes and hand-adzes. Thousands of stone tools dating from between 500,000 and 250.000 years ago have been collected from the bed ot the Baksoka River near Pacitan,in south-central Java Similar tools have also been found in Flores and Timor, which raises the intriguing possibility that Homo erectus may have spread to the eastern islands. Unfounately these tools cannot be accurately dated.

Modern Man

The classification of more recent hominoid fossils is still very much in doubt, particuftuly for the transitional species between Homo erectus and modern man. Central to the problem of classificatioins the question of whether modern man evolved in a single place (thought by some to be sub-Saharan Africa) and then spread to other areas, or whether paralleel volutions occurred in vaious places and at different rates.

Modern Man

Indonesia Prehistory Fossil records can be intarpreted to support both views. In the Indonesian sphere, the controversy is centered around the dating and classification of the so-called" Solo Man" fossils discovered between 1931 and 1933 next to the Solo River at Ngandong in central Java. Some scholars classify "Solo Man" as an intermediate species dating from perhaps 250.000 years ago, and claim him as evidence of a distinct Southeast-Asian evolutionary descent from Homo erectus to modern-man. Others insist that "Solo Man" was simply an advanced Homo erectus species who survived in isolation and then died out completely. More accurately d ated discoveries will be needed to resolve the issue.

Fossil records of modern man (Homo sapiens ) dating from as early as 60,000 years ago have been found in China and mainland Southeast Asia, and this compares favourably with the appearance of Homo sapiens in other parts of the world, though two imprecisely dated African fossils are said to be more than 90,000 years old. Modern man also inhabited Indonesia, New Guinea and Australia by about 40,000 years ago and perhaps even earlier.

All Shoutheast Asiann Homo sapiens fossils prior to about 5.000 B.C. have been identified as members of the Australoid grouP of peoples who survive in isolated pockets in Malaya and the Philippines today as the black-skinned, wiry-haired negritos. It is thought therefore that Australoid peoples were the orisinal inhabitants of the entire region, and then were absorbed, driven to the uplands or push eastward by subsequent "waves" of Mongolian migration. According to this view, Australoid physical traits found today among the predominantly Mongolian population of Indonesia, such as curly hair and dark skin, are evidence of an Ausiraloid genetic contribution that becomes increasingly marked as one moves eastward in the archipelago.

From lhe little evidence we have it appears that early Homo scpiers continued and refined the flaked-stone tool-making industries of Homo erectus also fashioning instrumentt ot bone shell and bamboo. They gatthered and hunted, eating a great variety of fruits, plants, molluscs and animals, including tiapirs, elephants deer and rhinocery. It seems that they were also cannibals because crushed human bones have been found along side discarded shells and animal debrish. Beginning a bout 20.000 years ago, there is evidence of human burials and partial cremations; several cave paintings (mainly hands stencils but also human and anitmal figures found in southwestern Sulawesi and New Guinea may be 10.000 years old.

The neolitics or New Stone Age is characterized here as elsewhere by the advent of village settlements, domesticated animals, polished stone tools, pottery and food cultivation. Its first apprearance is everywhere being pushed back in time by new archaeological findings, but worldwide it appears to have begun soon after the end of the last ice age around 10,000 BC. In Nothern Thailand, one recently discovered Neolitic site has been reliably place in the seventh millenium B.C. For Indonesia, however, there is no evidence prior to the third millenium B.C. andmost sites are of a more recent date. This situation is likely to change as new discoveries aremade, but it must be remembered too that cultural development in such a geographically fragmented area was highly uneven, and that remote tribes in New Guinea were still living in the Stone Age well into this century.

Indonesia History

In southwestern Sulawesia and eastern Timor. plain pottery pots and open bowls dating from about 1000 B.C have been found together with shell bracelets, discs, beads, adzes and the bones of pig and dog species that may well have been domesticated. Isolated Neolithic findings of incised and cord-marked pottery have been made in Sulawesi, Flores, Timor, Irian and Java but well-dated Neolithic sequences are notably lacking, particularly in western Indonesia.

The first agriculturalists in Indonesia must have grown taro before the introduction of rice. In fact rice came to much of Indonesia only recent centuries and taro is still a staple corp on many eastern islands, together with banana, yams, breadfruits, known: quadrangular and round, and the remains of early workshops producing the former have been found in south Sumatra and Java.

Neolithic Indonesians were undoubtedly seafarers, like their Polynesian cousins who spread across the Pacific at this time. Nautical terms bear significant similarity throughout the Austronesian family of languages, and stylized boat motifs and depicted on early pottery and in early bronze reliefs, as well as on the houses and sacred textiles of primitive tribes. Today the outrigger is found throuqhout Indonesia and Oceania.

megaliths + stone monuments

At the end of the Neolithic, megaliths (stone monuments) were constructed on many islands. These were variously places of worhip or tombs, in the shape of dolmen, menhirs, terraced sanctuaries, stepped pyramids, spirit seats and ancestor statues. The most striking of these are the carved stone statues of men riding and wrestling animals found on the Pasemah plateau in southern Sumatra. No definite date can be given for these and other megaliths, though it has been suggested that they are less than 2,000 years old. Stone-slab tomb megaliths are still being made on islands like Nias and Sumba.

The Dong-son Bronze Culture

In Indonesia Prehistory, It was once thought that Southeast Asia's Bronze Age began with the Chinese influenced Dong-son bronze culture of North Vietnam in the first millennium B.C., however he discovery of 5000-year-old copper and bronze tools at Ban Chiang and Non Nok Tha in northern Thailand has raised the possibility of related developments e sewhere in the region. Nevertheless all early Indonesian bronzes known to date are clearly of the Dong-son type and probably date from between 500 B.C. and 500 A.D.

The finest Dong-son ceremonial bronze drums and axes are distinctively decorated with engraved geometric, animal and human motifs. This decorative style was highly influential in many fields of Indonesian art, and seems to have spread together with the bronze casting technique. as old stone moulds have been found at various sites in Indonesia. The sophisticated "lost wax" technique of bronze casting was employed, and bronzes of this type have been recovered as far east as New Guinea and Roti.

Who were the Indonesian producers of Dong-son type bronzes? It is difficult to say for sure, but it seems that small kingdoms based on wet-rice agriculture and foreign trade flourished already in the archipelago during this period. Articles of Indian manufacture have been found at several prehistoric sites in Indonesia, and a panel from a bronze drum found on Sangeang Island near Sumbawa, depics figures in ancient chinese dress. Early Han texts mention the clove producing islands of eastern Indonesia, and it is certain that by the second century B.C. (if not earlier), trade was wide spread throughout the archipelago.


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