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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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