Balinese sarcophagus lost forever due to neglect

It would have been an amazing find: a skeleton entombed in a terracotta sarcophagus in Bali for 2,000 years. Unfortunately, workers operating a brickmaking kiln nearby have destroyed and contaminated most of the find, and future reconstruction is all but impossible. This sad story reveals the state of archaeology throughout Indonesia – many sites are destroyed out of ignorance and a more immediate and pressing financial need.

DUST TO DUST: Ancient relics reduced to rubble
The Jakarta Post, 30 January 2009

But studies at the site may never take place. Archaeologists are hamstrung by a lack of funding and political will. There is simply no money to halt the brick-making and set up a project to investigate and preserve evidence from potentially 5,000 years of continuous human endeavor.

“This breaks our hearts,” Yuliati said. “In Kremes there are many sites like this. More than 10 sarcophagi have been unearthed to date. This new site is very rich.”

In most countries, sites such as Kremes would be sealed off for protection. Archaeologists and their students could then begin the painstaking excavation process, extracting and documenting one artifact at a time, to discover more about who these ancient people were, how they lived and what they might teach us now.

Although there are many institutions to help with ancient artifacts, including UNESCO, applying for funding is outside the sphere of the Bali Archaeology office.

“Jakarta has to do that because we’re just a branch [office],” Yuliati said. “Our hands are tied.”


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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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