Stretching the length of Southeast Asia across four time zones, Indonesia is in the centre of many archaeological discoveries that shape our understanding of the past.
Indonesia is an archipelagic country, composed of over 17,000 islands which can divided into seven regions: Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan, the Lesser Sundas, Sulawesi, Maluku and Papua. Indonesia has a rich and diverse archaeological record, from evidence of early hominids, rock art, Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms and Islamic sultanates, to remains from Dutch colonization and recent wars. Several cultural sites are listed as Unesco World Heritage, namely: Borobudur, the cultural landscape of Bali, Prambanan, Ombilin Coal Mining Heritage and the Sangiran Early Man site.
This page covers the archaeology of Indonesia as a whole, and you can find more details about the other countries in their respective pages or explore the Resource Guide for thematic areas. There’s also the Virtual Archaeology page where you can visit Southeast Asian archaeological sites online, learn something from the Online Lecture Library, or find recent academic papers for more up-to-date research.
The Indonesian archipelago was inhabited as early as 1.6 million years ago by Homo erectus from fossil evidence. A newly-discovered species of hominid, Homo floresiensis, is known for its small stature and lived in Flores around 74,000-13,000 years ago. Homo sapiens appear in the archaeological record from as early as 70,000 years ago with rock art from Kalimantan and Sulawesi dating to around 45,000 to 35,000 years. The most well-known migration wave into the Indonesian islands are associated with the Austronesian-speaking peoples who came into the region around 2,000 BCE from a maritime route originating in Taiwan. These migrants merged with indigenous populations, bringing with them rice agriculture, bronze casting and megalithic cultures.
Indianized kingdoms began to emerge during the first half of the first millennium CE. Tarumanegara on Java and the Kingdom of Sunda on Sumatra are the earliest known historic polities in Indonesia (3rd to 6th centuries CE). Classical kingdoms include Kalingga Kingdom, Medang Kingdom (responsible for Prambanan), Sriwijaya, Sailendra (responsible for Borobudur), Majapahit and Singhasari. The influence of Indian culture penetrated deeply into society, philosophy and religion. However, the quick rise of the Malacca Sultanate in modern-day Malaysia during the 16th century saw the adoption of Islam in Java and Sumatra, which remains the dominant religion today.
Starting from the 16th century, Europeans began to trade with Indonesia in an effort to monopolize the sources of valuable spices. In 1602 the Dutch East India Company secured a monopoly on trade and colonial activities in Java, which led to the establishment of Batavia (modern day Jakarta) in the 17th century. By 1800 the Dutch East India Company was bankrupt, and the Dutch East Indies was formally annexed by the Netherlands in 1825. The Dutch introduced cash crops, including coffee and rubber, which became dominant in the economy of Indonesia. Dutch rule ended after the Second World War. The modern state of Indonesia emerged following the country’s independence from Dutch colonial rule in 1945.
Like many other countries in Southeast Asia, archaeology in Indonesia today began as a colonial endeavour, with Dutch East Indies scholars collecting and describing artefacts from the colonial period. It was not until the discovery of fossils in Trinil in the beginning of the 20th century that interest in prehistory and archaeology increased. For the first half of the 20th century, archaeology was conducted mainly by Europeans, but indigenous archaeologists have increasingly taken the forefront in more recent years. Archaeological research in Indonesia is led by Pusat Penelitian Arkeologi Nasional (the National Archaeology Research Centre), and several universities in the country. Many foreign teams, particularly from Australia, also have active research projects in the region.
There are a numerous books relevant to the archaeology and history of Indonesia, and the list below is my personal recommendation based on what I have in my library or have read, and are easily available. There are some local-language publications that are not available in the internet, and newer books are higher up on the list. Some of these links are affiliate links and I may receive a commission if you click on them and make a purchase. For other sources of reliable academic information, you should also check out the books page for latest releases and the occassional free book, as well as the journals page for the latest scientific research.
- *new* Sukuh und Ceto, zwei vergessene geheimnisvolle Heiligtümer Zentraljavas: Eine Auswahl by Rolf Weber
- *new* Ecology of a Tool: The ground stone axes of Irian Jaya (Indonesia) by Pierre Perequin and Anne-Marie Petrequin
- *new* The Politics of Heritage in Indonesia: A Cultural History by Marieke Bloembergen and Martijn Eickhoff
- *new* Eyes of the Ancestors: The Arts of Island Southeast Asia at the Dallas by Reimar Schefold and Steven G. Alpert (Eds.)
- *new* De Sumatraansche Periode der Javaansche Gesxhiedenis by Nicolaas Johannes Krom
- *new* The History of Srivijaya, Angkor and Champa by Takashi Suzuki
- *new* A View from the Highlands: Archaeology and Settlement History of West Sumatra by Mai Lin Tjoa-Bonatz
- *new* The Spice Islands in Prehistory: Archaeology in the Northern Moluccas, Indonesia by Peter Bellwood [Open Access download here]
- *new* Malay Seals from the Islamic World of Southeast Asia by Annabel Teh Gallop
- Borobudur: Golden Tales of the Buddhas by John N. Miksic
- First Islanders: Prehistory and Human Migration in Island Southeast Asia by Peter Bellwood
- A New Human: The Startling Discovery and Strange Story of the “Hobbits” of Flores, Indonesia by Mike Morwood and Penny van Oosterzee
- Cultural Landscape Management at Borobudur, Indonesia by Masanori Nagaoka
- Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula by Paul Michel Munoz
- The Rise Of Majapahit by Setyo Wardoyo
- Monumental Bali: Introduction to Balinese Archaeology & Guide to the Monuments by A.J. Bernet Kempers
- Following the Cap-Figure in Majapahit Temple Reliefs: A New Look at the Religious Function of East Javanese Temples, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries by Lydia Kieven
- Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds
- The Archaeology of the Aru Islands, Eastern Indonesia by Sue O’Connor, Matthew Spriggs and Peter Veth (Eds.) [Open Access download here]
- Indonesian Heritage. Volume 1: Ancient History by John Miksic (Ed.)
- Indonesian Heritage. Volume 6: Architecture by John Miksic and Gunawan Tjahjono (Eds.)
- Prehistory of the Indo-Malaysian Archipelago by Peter Bellwood [Open Access download here]
Most Popular Indonesian Archaeology Posts
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Indonesian Archaeology in the News
The news reports indexed below usually link to external sites that were active at the time of posting; sometimes websites may be temporarily down or may have reorganised their underlying architecture or have even closed down – in these cases the links may not be available. Most of the news articles archived are in English; this is largely because I do not have a working competency in Bahasa, although when I am made aware of stories in this and other languages I try to index them.
Looking for something specific? You can also use this search box:
These are links to external sites and unless stated, I have no connection with the organisations or entities in these links or control over their content. They are sorted alphabetically, but you should also explore the Resources page which have links sorted by themes. If you have a link to suggest, please get in touch!
- Aksara di Nusantara – A crowdsourced and crowd-created list of ancient and traditional Indonesian fonts are made freely available.
- Balai Konservasi Borobudur – Borobudur Conservation Centre.
- Balai Pelestarian Cagar Budaya Aceh – Branch of the Indonesian Centre for Conservation of Cultural Heritage based in Aceh.
- Balai Pelestarian Cagar Budaya Bali – Branch of the Indonesian Centre for Conservation of Cultural Heritage based in Bali.
- Balai Pelestarian Cagar Budaya Banten – Branch of the Indonesian Centre for Conservation of Cultural Heritage based in Banten.
- Balai Pelestarian Cagar Budaya Gorontalo – Branch of the Indonesian Centre for Conservation of Cultural Heritage based in Gorontalo.
- Balai Pelestarian Cagar Budaya Jambi – Branch of the Indonesian Centre for Conservation of Cultural Heritage based in Jambi.
- Balai Pelestarian Cagar Budaya Jawa Tengah – Branch of the Indonesian Centre for Conservation of Cultural Heritage based in Central Java.
- Balai Pelestarian Cagar Budaya Jawa Timur – Branch of the Indonesian Centre for Conservation of Cultural Heritage based in East Java.
- Balai Pelestarian Cagar Budaya Kalimantan Timur – Branch of the Indonesian Centre for Conservation of Cultural Heritage based in East Kalimantan.
- Balai Pelestarian Cagar Budaya Maluku Utara – Branch of the Indonesian Centre for Conservation of Cultural Heritage based in North Maluku.
- Balai Pelestarian Cagar Budaya Sulawesi Selatan – Branch of the Indonesian Centre for Conservation of Cultural Heritage based in South Sulawesi.
- Balai Pelestarian Cagar Budaya Sumatra Barat – Branch of the Indonesian Centre for Conservation of Cultural Heritage based in West Sumatra.
- Balai Pelestarian Cagar Budaya Yogyakarta – Branch of the Indonesian Centre for Conservation of Cultural Heritage based in Yogyakarta.
- Balai Pelestarian Situs Manusia Purba (BPSMP) Sangiran – Sangiran Early Man Centre.
- Banda Islands Archaeology Website – An archaeology project in the Banda Islands in East Indonedia led by the University of Washington and Gadjah Mada University to uncover the archaeology of this region.
- Banda Islands Field School Blog – A blog run by the students and instructors attending an 8-week field school at the Banda Islands in early 2009.
- Borobudur on Google Streetview
- Borobudur on Project Jigsaw – by the Australian National University.
- Direktorat Jenderal Kebudayaan – The Directorate General of Culture is the implementing agency of Indonesia, overseeing cultural heritage, museums and archaeology
- EFEO Jakarta blog (French/Bahasa Indonesia) – Blog run by the Jakarta branch of the Ecole Francaise d’Extreme-Orient.
- Indonesian Heritage Society – Non-profit organization supporting cultural institutions in Indonesia
- Pinisi – Site by Horst Liebner about the Sulawesi boatbuilding tradition.
- Reminiscing Old Java – Blog dedicated to sharing information about old Javanese civilization, including heritage, history, and culture. Last updated 2016.
- Tanah Datar Archaeological Project – An excavation blog for the Tanah Datar Archaeological Project, running from 1 March – 8 April 2012, by Universitas Indonesia and the Frei Universität Berlin.