Down on their luck, farmers turn gold diggers

Indonesian farmers turn to treasue hunting in times of drought to raise money, oblivious to the archaeological value of the artefacts.

27 February 2007 (Jakarta Post) – Indonesian farmers turn to treasure hunting in times of drought to raise money, oblivious to the archaeological value of the artefacts.

Jakarta Post, 27 Feb 2007

Down on their luck, farmers turn gold diggers

It was seven months into the drought last month and the farmers of Pedes district in Karawang, West Java, were at their wits end thinking of ways to make a living.

Then one of them hit on something — literally — when he was digging in a field. Beads of gold and stone, ceramics and human bones protruded from the freshly dug earth.

“You can’t imagine what it was like to strike gold after being broke for months,” 56-year-old Wijaya, one of the Pedes residents who spent days and nights digging for ancient treasure in one of the rice fields near his house, told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

Living just an hours drive from archeological sites dating back to a prehistoric era did not make Wijaya and his neighbors aware of the historical value of the beads they found.

Illegal excavations are common practice in the country, with some fully aware of the fact they are breaking the law stipulating that artifacts that are more than 50 years old belong to the state.

Some others, like those who found ceramics and coins in Jakarta’s Old Town, were simply ignorant they were erasing traces of history for the sake of some extra cash.

Meanwhile, archeologists are too busy playing Indiana Jones or seeking funding support to preserve ancient sites and the government cannot be relied upon.

“The public cannot be blamed for what has happened all too often. We have to support public archaeology if we want to raise community awareness,” said Peter Ferdinandus, a researcher with the National Archaeological Research Center.

Public archaeology is a branch of modern archaeology that focuses on increasing public awareness and education about archaeology and that promotes legislative attempts to provide funding and protection for archaeological sites.

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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