The archaeological potential of East Kalimantan

Nat Geo has a feature on the French team working on the limstone karsts of the Sangkulirang Peninsula in Indonesian Borneo. Their finds from the last seven years are very promising, but development, mining and burning threatens all of that.

Karsts in Borneo. Source: National Geographic 20151111
Karsts in Borneo. Source: National Geographic 20151111

A Race to Save Ancient Human Secrets in Borneo
National Geographic, 11 November 2015

If you wanted to create a new UNESCO World Heritage Site, you might well look to the limestone landscape, or karst, on the Sangkulirang Peninsula in eastern Borneo. There, in the Indonesian province of East Kalimantan, you could cite the abundance of human and natural riches to justify your proposal.

For seven years, archaeologist Francois-Xavier Ricaut, from the University of Toulouse, and his French-Indonesian team, MAFBO (Mission Archéologique Franco-Indonésienne à Bornéo), have been excavating three sites in the Sangkulirang-Mangkalihat karst, which spans 3.7 million acres (1.5 million hectares).

In the karst, thick tropical forest shrouds weathered limestone spires, making it hard to get around, let alone do science. As a result, Ricaut says, “hardly any archaeological work has been done in this karst—we’re just beginning.”

After dogged sleuthing, Ricaut and his colleagues have found bones and charcoal that date back 35,000 years, the earliest such evidence of human occupation yet found in Kalimantan.

Full story here.

More news stories from the Sulawesi rock art

Indexing more stories from last week’s announcement of the 40,000-year-old rock art from Sulawesi.

Q&A: Cave Art Older, More Widespread Than Thought, Archaeologist Says
National Geographic News, 10 October 2014

Asian cave paintings challenge Europe as cradle of art
AFP, via Bangkok Post, 09 October 2014

35,000 year-old Indonesian cave paintings suggest art came out of Africa
The Guardian, 09 October 2014

Rock (Art) of Ages: Indonesian Cave Paintings Are 40,000 Years Old
Smithsonian, 08 October 2014

Cave Paintings in Indonesia May Be Among the Oldest Known
New York Times, 08 October 2014

Scientists locate world’s oldest rock art
UPI, 08 October 2014

40,000 year old rock art from Sulawesi

I’ve been waiting excitedly for this paper to be published! A new paper out in Nature presents new rock art dates from hand stencils in Sulawesi, with a whopper of a date: 40,000 years old! For those keeping score, that’s as old as the Palaeolithic rock art in Europe. These dates were derived using uranium-series dating, which is a method for dating calcium carbonate and thus a great way for dating rock art in limestone contexts where there’s mineral accretions over paintings.

Personally, the age of the dates isn’t all that surprising – having worked at a number of rock art sites in SEA one gets the impression that some of them are really old. There aren’t many dates for rock art in Southeast Asia because rock art is quite hard to date in of itself. But the few attempts to date rock art in SEA tend to suggest that some rock art is very old indeed: another u-series rock art from East Timor dates to no later than 6,300 years old (with a possible earlier layer of about 22,000 years). On the mainland we have estimates of rock art ages from associated finds at Padalin Caves that go back to 7,000 – 13,000 years.

For me, the big significance of this date is that this is a rock art site in Sulawesi, in Island Southeast Asia. This suggests that some rock art in Mainland Southeast Asia would be of comparable age, if not older: in the paper the authors suggest that “it is possible that an extensive
archive of rock art may yet survive from the initial modern human colonization of Australia and Southeast Asia”. I hope this paper also starts to upend a lot of the Eurocentrism inherent in world rock art literature – the painted caves of France and Spain are majestic and old, to be sure, but there are other old corpuses of art out there that need to be studied further. The rock art from Sulawesi is not a new discovery – its existence has been known for decades, but the new age determination adds a whole new dimension to the field.  Congrats to Max Aubert and team for this great paper!

Hand stencil from Borneo
Hand stencil from Borneo

Pleistocene cave art from Sulawesi, Indonesia.
Nature, doi 10.1038/nature13422.
Aubert, M., Brumm, A., Ramli, M., Sutikna, T,. Saptomo, E. W., Hakim, B, Morwood, M. J., D. van
den Bergh. G., Kinsley, L., Dosseto. A.

40,000 year old rock art found in Indonesia
The Conversation, 09 October 2014

Ancient Indonesian rock art rewrites art history
ABC News, 09 October 2014

World’s oldest art found in Indonesian cave
Nature News, 08 October 2014

Indonesian Cave Paintings As Old As Europe’s Ancient Art
NPR, 08 October 2014

Cave paintings change ideas about the origin of art
BBC NEws, 08 October 2014

First-Known Painting Depicts Rare, Hefty Animal
Discover News, 08 October 2014

Prehistoric paintings suggest Indonesians began making art 40,000 years ago
Reuters, via Raw Story, 08 October 2014

Prehistoric Paintings in Indonesia May Be Oldest Cave Art Ever
Live Science, 08 October 2014

Indonesian cave art may be world’s oldest
Science News, 08 October 2014

Indonesian cave art: oldest hand ‘stencil’ yet discovered
Christian Science Monitor, 08 October 2014

Cave Paintings in Indonesia Redraw Picture of Earliest Art
National Geographic News, 08 October 2014

Prehistoric Cave Art Discovered in the Tropics
Discover, 08 October 2014
Continue reading “40,000 year old rock art from Sulawesi”

Perupun Arur Ritan stone mound site

Nicholas Gani

Nicholas Gani
Universiti Malaysia Sarawak
It’s a photo of Lindsay Lloyd-Smith and I trying to capture a ‘perfect’ plan shot of the excavation trench at the Perupun Arur Ritan stone mound site in the village of Pa Lungan in the Kelabit Highlands of Sarawak. Part of our work in this year’s Early Central Borneo project, which just ended last week.

Sugung Cave

Vida Pervaya Rusianti Kusmartono

Vida Pervaya Rusianti Kusmartono
Balai Arkeologi Banjarmasin, branch office of Pusat Arkeologi Nasional for Kalimantan
This is Sugung Cave located in the southeastern zone of the (karstic) Meratus Mountain in the southeastern region of Kalimantan. The investigation of this cave started in 2006 lead by myself, but in the following year was handed over to Bambang Sugiyanto, because I started to focus on West Kalimantan. The report of this discovery has been published, however, in Bahasa Indonesia.

Central Borneo sites mapped and investigated

Dr Lindsay Lloyd-Smith recently gave a talk at the Sarawak Museum on the ongoing work of the Central Borneo Project, focused on the Kelabit Highlands. Nick Gani, who gave me the heads up to this article, is also involved in the project and instrumental in coordinating archaeology education for undergraduate students at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak. Both Lindsay and Nick are personal friends of mine.

Dr Lindsay Lloyd-Smith speaking at the Sarawak Museum. Source: Borneo Post 20140825
Dr Lindsay Lloyd-Smith speaking at the Sarawak Museum. Source: Borneo Post 20140825

‘Need to locate undiscovered sites in Kelabit Highlands’
Borneo Post, 28 August 2014
Continue reading “Central Borneo sites mapped and investigated”

Sarawak Museum Journal is 100 years old this year

First published in 1911, the Sarawak Museum Journal turns 100 this year. The journal is one of the oldest in the region, and carries many articles pertaining to the archaeology of Borneo.

100 years and 88 volumes to show, Sarawak Museum Journal is a gold mine of heritage
The Star, 13 October 2011
Continue reading “Sarawak Museum Journal is 100 years old this year”

Earl of Cranbrook delivers lecture on Borneo zooarchaeology at UBD

Zoologist and environmental biologist the Earl of Cranbrook recently delivered a lecture to students at Universiti Brunei Darussalam. Lord Cranbrook was also on Borneo to present on the same topic at the recent Borneo archaeology seminar in Miri.

UBD Students Gain Insight On Zooarchaeology In Borneo
BruDirect.com, 03 November 2010
Continue reading “Earl of Cranbrook delivers lecture on Borneo zooarchaeology at UBD”

Wednesday Rojak #65 – The Malaysian edition

We’ve got a lot a stories from Malaysia in this week’s edition of Rojak – from the World Heritage Sites of Malacca and Georgetown, to the fates of some of the orang asli (aborigines) and the aftermath of the culture theft incident.

photo credit: a.r.hilmi
Continue reading “Wednesday Rojak #65 – The Malaysian edition”

Documentary to highlight 1,000-year-old relations between Brunei and China

A special documentary programme is being produced to showcase Brunei’s long history with China, through archaeological evidence from the 10th century Sungei Limau Manis site containing Song Dynasty artefacts, the shipwreck at Tanjung Simpang Mengkayauas well as the many ancient Chinese-Muslim graves in Brunei.

1,000 Years Of Brunei-China Ties To Be Documented
BruDirect, 21 May 2009

RTB To Film Documentary 7 On Brunei-China History
BruDirect, 21 May 2009
Continue reading “Documentary to highlight 1,000-year-old relations between Brunei and China”