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Illegal digging threatens prehistoric relics

Illegal digging threatens prehistoric relics
trefwoorden: IndonesiŽ - keramiek - fossielen - prehistorie
Pegunungan Sewu mountain range in Gunungkidul in southeastern Yogyakarta boasts numerous archaeological findings, ranging from human and animal fossils, ceramic fragments to stoneware.
Extensive findings have presented evidence that the mountain range was inhabited by human beings thousands of years ago, prompting archeologists to consider the area a capital of prehistoric life.
Study reveals that most human beings living in the area in prehistoric days were predominantly Mongoloid, while others had Australomelanesian characteristics, such as oval craniums, vertical cranium walls and prominent jaws.
"They lived in the Pegunungan Sewu mountain range between 12,000 and 8,000 B.C.," said Anggraeni of the Gadjah Mada University (UGM) School of Archeology.
According to experts, the formation of Pegunungan Sewu mountain range began in the form of coral rock karst in the Miocene period and later surfaced during the Pleistocene period. However, river erosion and water infiltration on the karst over thousands of years eventually changed it into a beautiful mountain range with conical karst and caves that are still evident up to the present time.
When prehistoric man lived there, Pegunungan Sewu mountain range, which was previously below sea level, had become a dense forest and a habitat of various fauna. Evidence includes countless findings of various fauna fossils, such as from deer and wild cats.
"The reason why prehistoric people were willing to live there was because it was as an ideal area, rich with food supplies, shelter and materials to create various tools," Anggraeni said.
For shelter, for example, prehistoric man chose caves or hollows. There were plenty such places in the area.
Convincing evidence that prehistoric man once used the caves for shelter was gathered during an excavation by PTKA, an integrated research team for the Gunungkidul archeological site of the UGM School of Archeology in March 2002.
The excavation, which took place at Song (Cave) Bentar in Kenteng village and Song Blendrong in Tambakromo village, for example, found various findings that confirmed that prehistoric people did once live in the caves.
"The findings included, among other things, human bones, animal bones, ceramic fragments and fragments of various household articles made of stone and bone," Tjahjono Prasodjo of the UGM School of Archeology said.
Archeologists could have found more in the caves, but they were unfortunately competing with unauthorized diggings conducted by local residents in search of either guano or precious stones called watu lintang. Guano is used as fertilizer while watu lintang or batu lintang is used as a raw material to produce glass.
"They (local residents) did not realize that the caves housed precious relics of prehistoric civilization, and that were damaging relics that were important for further archeological studies," Tjahjono said.
In Lawa Cave in Ponjong region, for example, while local people were collecting guano from the cave during daytime, the UGM archeological team conducted excavation work in it at night.
Similar problems were also encountered at other caves, including Song Bentar and Song Blendrong. The team feared that important archeological relics had already disappeared or been destroyed since local residents had started excavating stones years before the team conducted research there.
"We often found small bones while digging, but we did not take any out. We put them back in the cave," said Satiman, a villager of Kenteng. He added that most local residents had stopped looking for watu lintang in the 1980s due to a drop in prices.
What happened in Song Sengok in Getas village, Playen, was no different. In 2001, the archeological team found hippopotamus fossils. However, local people had already been working in the cave to collect guano.
"My father often found bones while searching for guano in the cave, but he did not take them out. He just left them there," said Mursinah, whose house is above Sengok Cave.
Another cause of concern, according to Tjahjono, was the karst quarrying activities conducted in the mountain range that might also house prehistoric relics.
But people, he said, could not be blamed since most of them, especially local residents, do not fully understand the importance of such findings -- meaning the government and archeologists are left with the task of educating people about the importance of managing archeological resources in their respective areas.

Gelezen in: The Jakarta Post (19 juli 2003)