Category Archives: Indonesia
Another collection of stone tools dating back more than 50,000 years has been unearthed on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Details of the find, at a rock-shelter known as Leang Burung 2, are described in our paper out today in PLOS ONE.
But we uncovered no human fossils, so the identity of these tool-makers remains a mystery.
In 2016 we reported the discovery of similar findings dating to 200,000 years ago on Sulawesi, and we also have no idea who made them.
Or they could be a totally unknown species.
Where did they go?
Not only do we not know who the first inhabitants of Sulawesi were, we have no idea what happened to them.
By 40,000 years ago people were creating rock art on Sulawesi. Given the sophistication of these artworks, their makers were surely Homo sapiens with modern minds like ours.
If the first islanders were a now-extinct group, did they linger long enough to encounter modern cultures?
Sulawesi also holds great promise for understanding the initial peopling of our land.
This large island on the route to Australia might have been the launch pad to these shores up to 65,000 years ago. It could even be where the First Australians met Denisovans.
Resolving this mystery is not easy on a huge landmass like Sulawesi. Where do you begin to look? Which brings us to Leang Burung 2.
The original dig
Leang Burung 2 is a limestone rock-shelter in the island’s south. It was first excavated in 1975 by archaeologist Ian Glover.
Glover dug to a depth of 3.6m, uncovering “Ice Age” artefacts dating back 30,000 years. He also found, at the bottom of his trench, a layer of yellow clay containing simpler stone tools and fossils of large mammals (megafauna) that were rare to absent in overlying (that is, younger) “Ice Age” levels.
But before Glover could explore these hallmarks of earlier habitation he had to shut down the dig – large rocks in the trench had made further progress untenable.
Decades later, the late Mike Morwood, of “Hobbit” fame, resolved to extend Glover’s trench to bedrock. He had a hunch that below the undated clay might be evidence that archaic humans existed on Sulawesi until relatively recent times. In fact, Mike thought the ancestors of the “Hobbits” might have come from this island to the north of Flores.
In 2007 Mike’s team (led by Makassan archaeologist Irfan Mahmud) deepened the trench to 4.5m, but the dig was once again halted by rocks.
A new dig and deeper
Later, at Mike’s invitation, and with colleagues from Indonesia’s National Research Centre for Archaeology (ARKENAS), I reopened the trenches in an effort to finally get to the bottom of things.
Over three seasons (2011-13) we excavated to a depth of 6.2m – deeper than ever before. It was a trying dig, requiring the use of heavy-duty shoring to support the unstable walls and specialist drilling equipment to remove huge rocks that had hindered prior work at this site.
Instead of reaching bedrock, we hit groundwater. With water seeping in, our dig was done.
Nevertheless, we can confirm that beneath an upper disturbed zone there is indeed evidence of an early human presence, having exposed a rich cultural horizon in a brown clay deep below Glover’s yellow clay.
Among the findings are large, rudimentary stone tools and megafauna fossils. We also turned up a fossil from an extinct elephant, the first known from the site.
Dating the new find
We are fortunate to have dating methods that were unavailable in Glover’s day, but the age of the lowermost layers has still proved tricky to nail down.
Our best efforts suggest that the top of Glover’s clay is over 35,000 years old, while the brown clay is about 50,000 years old – and we still have not bottomed out.
The early inhabitants used tools like those made 200,000 years ago on Sulawesi, so the deepest artefacts may be connected to the island’s oldest tool-making culture.
These cave dwellers could still have been around when the first rock art appears 40,000 years ago, but owing to dating uncertainties and the erosion of a large amount of sediment from Leang Burung 2, we can’t be sure.
A new hope
Digging deeper at Leang Burung 2 is possible but it will require serious effort, including artificially lowering the water table. But while research at this shelter has been challenging, it has led us to another site with better prospects.
Our excavations at nearby Leang Bulu Bettue have unearthed rare “Ice Age” ornaments up to 30,000 years old, and we have now reached deeper and older levels.
Further work at this cave may yield vital clues about the original inhabitants of Sulawesi, including, we hope, the first fossil remains of these enigmatic people.
Despite its short lifespan, the signing of the Australia-Indonesia Agreement on Maintaining Security in 1995 marked a particular milestone in the history of the two countries’ relationship.
From the Indonesian perspective, the agreement was considered somewhat effective in building common interests to promote regional security and stability. Indonesia perceived the agreement as complementary to the 15 years of Australia-Indonesia military co-operation that had already taken place.
To some extent, the agreement also enriched Indonesia’s existing bilateral military co-operation with selected countries in the region.
Indonesia once assumed that the agreement was also meant to build confidence and ease Australia’s anxiety over regional security. Australian federal cabinet papers from 1994 and 1995, released today by the National Archives of Australia, support this presumption.
A gesture from down under
Cabinet submissions show Prime Minister Paul Keating first raised the idea of a security agreement in June 1994 with Indonesian President Soeharto. Discussions on the draft were relatively efficient: the text was agreed one month before the treaty was signed in December 1995.
Keating is remembered as one of the most Indonesia-friendly Australian prime ministers. He has frequently argued that relations with Indonesia should be an Australian foreign policy priority.
Keating’s cabinet submission strengthens his image as an Indonesian “diplomat” while prime minister. Unlike previous administrations, members of the Keating government visited Indonesia four times per year. This showed his strong personal interest in building a sustainable relationship with one of Australia’s nearest neighbours.
The agreement with Australia was Indonesia’s first bilateral security agreement. It emphasised the friendly relations between the two countries in the early-to-mid-1990s. This contrasts with the late 1990s, when enmity dominated relations amid the East Timor dispute.
There were some concerns in Indonesia over the agreement, including questioning its impact on the wider southeast Asian region. However, these were not as strong as protests in Australia, where some claimed the agreement showed Keating supported Soeharto’s dictatorship.
Easing Australia’s anxiety
The cabinet records not only reinforce Keating’s strategic interest in Indonesia, they also reflect Australia’s anxiety on certain issues.
From a regional perspective, the treaty reassured others of Indonesia’s commitment to building common security interests. From the Keating government’s point of view, the process of securing stability in the region should begin on its doorstep. So Indonesia has a dual purpose for Australia: a near neighbour, and an entry point for securing regional security.
The cabinet records also disclose that the agreement was seen as a means to ease Australian anxiety on uncertain strategic change in southeast Asia. This aligns with the region undergoing a post-Cold-War security transformation in the 1990s, particularly in the relationship between ASEAN and Indochinese countries (such as Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia).
Keating’s submission also supports his statement that Australia’s success in Asia would determine its success elsewhere. For him, the security agreement with Indonesia would help enrich Australia’s existing arrangements in the region.
The cabinet records confirm Australia’s anxiety on what would happen once Soeharto left office. The treaty itself was therefore seen as a way to bind Indonesia’s commitment to co-operate with Australia.
Keating argued that the treaty might not necessarily prevent Australia from any possible disputes with Indonesia. But it could help Australia to handle what – and who – followed Soeharto as president. This expectation was far from true, given Indonesia’s decision to terminate the treaty in 1999 due to Australia’s intervention in East Timor.
The period in Indonesia following Soeharto’s resignation in 1998 was unpredictable. The assumption that the security agreement would be helpful indicates that Australia did indeed have strong fears of Indonesia’s upcoming reformasi.
However, Indonesia’s succession was a domestic issue. It would not have threatened Australia’s strategic security in any way – but for the Howard government intervening in East Timor.
Repairing the mutual trust
The Labor government’s defeat in 1996 and the conclusion of the security agreement in 1999 were once misunderstood as the end of the Australia-Indonesian friendship. Indeed, it wasn’t until 2006 that the two countries developed the Lombok Treaty to revive security co-operation.
The cabinet records show that Keating’s legacy has proven relevant: Australia’s defence relationship with Indonesia is its most important in the region. It has built a strong base to extend the scope of co-operation between the two countries to economics, counter-terrorism, and law enforcement.
The commitment from the two countries to build a mutual understanding also remained strong. Suspicion has sometimes arisen, but the two countries are aware that conflict would do more harm than good.
A cave dig in Indonesia has unearthed a unique collection of prehistoric ornaments and artworks that date back in some instances to at least 30,000 years ago. The site is thought to have been used by some of the world’s earliest cave artists.
Published today, our new findings challenge the long-held view that hunter-gatherer communities in the Pleistocene (“Ice Age”) of Southeast Asia were culturally impoverished.
They also imply that the spiritual lives of humans transformed as they encountered previously unknown species on the journey from Asia to Australia.
The human journey beyond Asia
Modern humans had colonised Australia by 50,000 years ago. It was a journey that required people crossing by boat from continental Eurasia into Wallacea, a vast swathe of island chains and atolls spanning the ocean gap between mainland Asia and Australia.
Archaeologists have long speculated about the cultural lives of the first Homo sapiens to enter Wallacea, as part of the great movement of our species out of Africa.
Some have argued that human culture in the Late Pleistocene attained a high level of complexity as Homo sapiens spread into Europe and as far east as India. Thereafter, culture is thought to have declined in sophistication as people ventured into the tropics of Southeast Asia and Wallacea.
But new research in Wallacea is steadily dismantling this view.
New findings from ‘Ice Age’ Sulawesi
In the latest addition to this rash of discoveries, we describe a suite of previously undocumented symbolic artefacts excavated from a limestone cavern on Sulawesi, the largest island in Wallacea.
The artefacts were dated using a range of methods to between 30,000 and 22,000 years ago. They include disc-shaped beads made from the tooth of a babirusa, a primitive pig found only on Sulawesi, and a “pendant” fashioned from the finger bone of a bear cuscus, a large possum-like creature also unique to Sulawesi.
Also recovered were stone tools inscribed with crosses, leaf-like motifs and other geometric patterns, the meaning of which is obscure.
Further evidence for symbolic culture was shown by the abundant traces of rock art production gleaned from the cave excavations. They include used ochre pieces, ochre stains on tools and a bone tube that may have been an “air-brush” for creating stencil art.
All are from deposits that are the same age as dated cave paintings in the surrounding limestone hills.
It is very unusual to uncover buried evidence for symbolic activity in the same places where Ice Age rock art is found. Prior to this research, it also remained uncertain whether or not the Sulawesi cave artists adorned themselves with ornaments, or even if their art extended beyond rock painting.
Early art and ornaments from Wallacea
Previous cave excavations in Timor-Leste (East Timor) have unearthed 42,000 year old shells used as “jewellery”, as reported in 2016. In 2014 archaeologists announced that cave art from Sulawesi is among the oldest surviving on the planet.
At one cave, a depiction of a human hand is at least 40,000 years old. It was made by someone pressing their palm and fingers flat against the ceiling and spraying red paint around them.
Next to the hand stencil is a painting of a babirusa that was created at least 35,400 years ago.
These artworks are compatible in age with the spectacular cave paintings of rhinos, mammoths and other animals from France and Spain, a region long thought to be the birthplace of modern artistic culture.
Some prehistorians have even suggested that the presence of 40,000-year-old art in Indonesia means that rock art probably arose in Africa well before our species set foot in Europe, although an Asian origin is also conceivable.
Based on the new evidence emerging from Timor and Sulawesi, it now appears that the story about early humans in Wallacea being less culturally advanced than people elsewhere, especially Palaeolithic Europeans, is wrong.
The weird world of Wallacea
Owing to the unique biogeography of Wallacea, the first modern humans to enter this archipelago would have encountered a strangely exotic world filled with animals and plants they had never imagined existed.
Surrounded by deep ocean troughs, the roughly 2,000 islands of Wallacea are extremely difficult for non-flying organisms to reach. Because of their inaccessibility, these islands tend to be inhabited by relatively few land mammals. Endemic lineages would have arisen on many islands as a result of this evolutionary isolation.
Sulawesi is the weirdest island of them all. Essentially all of the island’s terrestrial mammals, except for bats, occur nowhere else on earth. Sulawesi was probably where human beings first laid eyes on marsupials (cuscuses).
The discovery of ornaments manufactured from the bones and teeth of babirusas and bear cuscuses – two of Sulawesi’s most characteristic endemic species – implies that the symbolic world of the newcomers changed to incorporate these never-before-seen creatures.
Our excavations have unearthed thousands of animal bones and teeth, but only a tiny fraction are from babirusas. The near-absence of babirusas from the cave inhabitants’ diet, coupled with the portrayal of these animals in their art, and use of their body parts as “jewellery”, suggests these rare and elusive creatures had acquired particular symbolic value in Ice Age human culture.
Perhaps the first Sulawesians felt a strong spiritual connection with these odd-looking mammals.
This ‘social interaction’ with the novel species of Wallacea is likely to have been essential to the initial human colonisation of Australia with its unprecedentedly rich communities of endemic faunas and floras, including many species of megafauna that are now extinct.
In fact, elements of the complex human-animal spiritual relationships that characterise Aboriginal cultures of Australia could well have their roots in the initial passage of people through Wallacea and the first human experiences of the curious animal life in this region.
Seventy five years ago this month, Australia, the UK, US and the Netherlands suffered a series of disastrous naval defeats against Japan in the narrow straits and seas around Indonesia. The warship wrecks in the Java Sea and the Sunda Strait are the final resting place for thousands of Allied sailors.
The sites are considered war graves by survivors and their descendants, following a long maritime tradition of respecting human remains on shipwrecks.
So it was with shock and deep disappointment that an international team surveying the Java Sea wrecks in November 2016 found that at least four Dutch and British shipwrecks – and one American submarine whose entire crew was captured alive – had simply vanished from the seabed some 70 metres below.
The ships were enormous – the HMS Exeter, for example, was a 175-metre heavy cruiser, longer than three Olympic-sized swimming pools. Other Allied ships in Indonesian waters have also been damaged.
The evidence suggests that the missing ships were stolen, or salvaged, for the valuable metal now sitting on the sea floor.
The recent desecration of the Java Sea naval wrecks was unsurprising to those familiar with the state of underwater cultural heritage in Indonesia. Last year, Inside Indonesia reported on measures being taken to mitigate damage to two other Allied wrecks in Indonesia: HMAS Perth and USS Houston in the Sunda Strait, west of Jakarta. These naval ships were attacked by a Japanese fleet in the early hours of March 1 1942, sinking with over a thousand lives lost between them.
In 2013, reports emerged of salvage barges removing scrap metal from the sites. Although Indonesian authorities were not identified as participating in the salvage operations, they were criticised for not doing more to protect the wrecks.
Well-meaning recreational divers have also been implicated. Commenting on the removal of a trumpet from USS Houston, the Executive Director of the USS Houston Survivors’ Association said:
We have no idea of the untold number of other divers who have pilfered our ship […] and have kept relics retrieved for their own personal use, “stealing” that which truly belong [sic] to the lasting memory of the bravery and dedication of the men who served on these warships.
Advocacy groups in Australia have long called on authorities to protect HMAS Perth. While a recent sonar scan confirmed that USS Houston was largely intact, results for HMAS Perth were inconclusive. Australian and Indonesian divers are due to return to HMAS Perth next month. Despite these efforts, some feel that it is already too late to protect HMAS Perth.
Why steal a ship?
Naval shipwrecks mean huge amounts of scrap metal, with huge potential re-sale value. The sheer quantity of scrap metal on a naval ship means that a single wreck can be worth up to A$1 million. The bronze propellers alone are worth tens of thousands of dollars each.
It is unlikely that the salvage was conducted in complete secrecy. The Java Sea wrecks lay close to one of Indonesia’s largest naval bases, and suspicious activity – not to mention visible environmental impacts such as oil spills – is unlikely to have gone unnoticed by passing marine craft.
Removing a shipwreck from the seabed requires time, know-how, and money. Salvage operations in southeast Asia appear to have become increasingly sophisticated.
Boats disguised as fishing vessels have been used elsewhere in the region. But my conversations with people close to the issue suggest that the Java Sea wrecks were likely removed using a major surface platform known as a claw barge. This reduces the need to rely on large numbers of divers, and, if operated together with specialist imaging equipment such as a sonar scanner, would maximise the efficiency of the salvage. It is also believed that the crew were armed.
The salvagers gave little-to-no consideration to objects of historical or archaeological significance.
The removal of propellers and trumpets is one thing. But the desecration of submerged war graves is undoubtedly the most troubling aspect of this story.
The presence of human remains on the wrecks does not deter illicit salvagers from their nefarious activities. However, the legal status of underwater war graves is ambiguous.
There is no international consensus on military human remains on sunken warships, and the onus is on states to make appropriate provisions for war grave recognition. Under Indonesian legislation, objects older than 50 years can be considered as cultural heritage. However, none of the wrecks mentioned in this article have been officially recognised – in fact, not a single underwater site has been heritage listed.
The international community has condemned the disappearance of the Java Sea wrecks, with the Dutch launching an immediate investigation. The UK Ministry of Defence also expressed serious concern about “unauthorised disturbance of any wreck containing human remains”, and requested that Indonesian authorities take “appropriate action”.
When the news broke that the ships had vanished, the head of Pusat Penelitian Arkeologi Nasional (National Archaeological Centre of Indonesia), Bambang Budi Utomo, was quoted as saying:
The Dutch government cannot blame the Indonesian government because they never asked us to protect those ships. As there was no agreement or announcement, when the ships go missing, it is not our responsibility.
Chief of Indonesia’s Navy Information Office, Colonel Gig Jonias Mozes Sipasulta, confirmed Indonesia’s view that the Dutch, British and US governments should have done more to protect the wrecks:
The Indonesian navy cannot monitor all areas all the time. If they ask why the ships are missing, I’m going to ask them back, why didn’t they guard the ships?
Although Indonesia quickly committed to investigating the mystery of the missing wrecks, these initial messages undoubtedly caused further damage to Indonesia’s already-problematic reputation in conserving underwater heritage.
Rather than trading diplomatic blows, Indonesia and the nations that the ships belong to must work together.
Indonesian researchers have been working on the HMAS Perth since 2015, assessing its condition and vulnerability.
The results confirm that the wreck has been damaged by salvagers. There are other threats too, including overly-enthusiastic recreational divers, sea sand mining operations, shipping traffic, and marine pollution from coastal development in nearby Banten Bay.
Last year, researchers conducted local sessions to raise awareness of the sites, which they believe is key to reducing damage to the site. The project team is also considering introducing a maritime conservation area around the HMAS Perth site. Other suggestions include public display signs and expanding commemoration activities to include coastal communities.
There are also efforts being made to increase awareness within the broader population. In Jakarta, the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries’ new Marine Heritage Gallery will bring underwater objects to both government officials and the general public.
In Sulawesi, one of Indonesia’s busiest maritime trading destinations, there are plans to open a Regional Training Centre for Underwater Cultural Heritage inside Makassar’s historic Fort Rotterdam.
Internationally, the United Nations’ Ocean Conference will convene in New York in June with the aim of reversing the decline in the health of the world’s oceans. So far underwater cultural heritage is not on the agenda. It is up to UN members to ensure that these issues, and not just marine life, get their time in the spotlight.
Sunken warships have both historical and emotional significance. They must be valued for more than the sale of their parts.
Five thousand Australian nurses served during the second world war. The most famous of these, Lieutenant Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel, survived a massacre on Bangka Island, and Japanese “hell camps” in Sumatra.
For many other nurses, life in WWII was by turns tedious, perilous and adventurous. Dorothy Janet Campbell was one of the vast majority who survived without capture, imprisonment or fatal illness. Her experiences are caught in her extensive diaries and photographs shared here by her niece Janet Scarfe.
South Australian Dorothy Campbell (known throughout her life to all as “Puss”) served in the Australian Army Nursing Service from 1940 to 1946, in England during the Blitz, in the Western Desert during the siege of Tobruk, in Papua New Guinea, and in Queensland and South Australia.
She spent many nights in air raid shelters and nursing in a tin hat but she was never directly bombed on land or sea.
Campbell’s diaries and photos record the nurses’ day to day lives, mostly away from the wards. She and her friends took full advantage of their split shifts and days off. There were sherry parties, tennis and golf, and sightseeing.
For all that, Campbell’s “real work” was “looking after our boys”. Long periods of inactivity, such as waiting for hospitals to be set up or weeks at sea became tedious, despite the games and socialising.
Campbell nursed in several hospitals that were state of the art, including the Australian Hospital in Surrey and in the Greek hospital in Alexandria. She also worked in freezing tents in Queensland and grass huts in Buna in Papua New Guinea.
She was devoted to her patients – provided they were genuine. She deplored the “B Class” men she nursed in England in 1940. Deemed unfit for service and awaiting repatriation to Australia, they made difficult patients, malingering, drunk and dismissive of the nurses’ orders. By contrast, the sick and wounded evacuated straight from Tobruk received her complete attention:
How I love to be able to help them, and to listen to their great stories they tell … it makes one feel and realise what a dreadful thing war is …
Occasionally she described cases as “very interesting” or “difficult” but mostly her comments relating to work were “busy”, “very busy” or “dog-tired”. Comparisons between her diary entries and the hospital daily war diary show what an expert in understatement she was.
Campbell was never too tired to sight see. She loved England and Scotland. In Alexandria, she sponged her patients very early one Saturday morning, rushed off duty and caught the train to Cairo with several nurses and officers. They shopped, dined and danced till late, saw the sphinx and pyramids, rode camels and donkeys, had their fortunes told (“damn lot of rot”) then caught a small plane back to Alexandria on Sunday afternoon.
She and the other nurses had a rich social life. In Alexandria, there were sea bathing and sailing, occasional dinners with colonels yearning for some female company, mosques to visit, and customs to marvel at.
The American base near Buna guaranteed a rich social life. She learned to drive a jeep, spent time off socialising with American officers and fell for one who was charming but duplicitous.
Campbell’s diary entries change over the years. Exhaustion and monotony set in as the war ground on. England, Egypt and Papua New Guinea were highlights.
Queensland in 1942-43 and 1945 was dull and she never liked dull. Entries from Townsville in 1945 were brief and largely confined to golf games (nine holes most days between shifts) and the narrow-minded matron. There were few photos. Her exaltation at the news of peace was personal, professional and patriotic. Here are her diary entries for 15th and 16th August 1945:
Very exciting day PEACE. Every body very excited – Party arranged in Red + Hut for all Hosp. (pts and staff.) – had few drinks in our Mess first, then… went to Sgts Mess – and then to dance, and then on to Officers Mess and spent very bright evening happiest night ever spent in army – felt rather ill and went out for walk…
Thursday Aug 16th [Townsville].
Terriffic [sic] headache., after a few hrs felt better and got busy and arranged party in our Mess – Off [duty] 1–6 – had a little rest and helped to prepare supper… Went off duty 8pm to party, it was one of the best we have had and it kept on until 1 am. every body thoroughly enjoying themselves.
The diaries end abruptly the night before she boarded the train home to Adelaide on 28 November 1945. Her great adventure was over.
She had nursed men with battle wounds and serious illnesses. She knew the anxiety of air raids and long sea voyages. But she also relished all the opportunities that came her way, particularly the friendships, the sightseeing and new experiences.
Campbell remained in the Citizens Military Forces until 1958 and was decorated for her work with the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps.
After her demobilisation, Campbell worked as a radiotherapy technician, one of the first women in South Australia to do so. She remained single, explaining to a small boy in an Anzac Day school talk that she “had loved them all and married none”.
She spoke of her time in the war to her family only in the broadest terms (“When we were away …”). She kept her diaries to herself to the end of her life. But kept them on her bookshelves for easy discovery.
The link below is to an article that investigates the spice wars of the 17th century, when Europe sought after nutmeg and other spices from the East Indies (Indonesia).
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