Archaeology of Indonesia

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.

To cite this page: Tan, Noel Hidalgo (Updated 21 August 2021) Archaeology of Indonesia. Southeast Asian Archaeology. Available at:

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.

Recommended Books

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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.

Image Gallery

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For more images, check out and follow Southeast Asian Archaeology on Instagram.

Indonesian Archaeology in the News

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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!

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