Category Archives: INDONESIA

Wounds on Colonial-Era Skull Examined in Indonesia

Wounds on Colonial-Era Skull Examined in Indonesia

Wounds on Colonial-Era Skull Examined in Indonesia
The injuries on the skull of the woman were examined using both digital and ultraviolet light photography.

A possibly enslaved woman may have been executed with a sharp weapon in what is now the Papua province of Indonesia, a new study finds.

Only the skull of the victim is available for analysis, but it revealed that the woman was between 26 and 42 years old when she was killed.

“Multiple sharp force trauma injuries were identified on the frontal, temporal, and occipital bones of the cranium,” the researchers wrote in a paper published Sept. 16 in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. The team used digital and ultraviolet photography to examine the injuries on the skull.

The woman lived in what scholars call Indonesia’s “colonial period,” a time between the 16th and mid-20th century when the country was controlled by European powers.

The skull was found on Biak Island in 1935 by scientists from Airlangga University in Indonesia. The year and the word “Biak” (which may refer to the Biak people) is written on the skull, researchers noted in the study.

During the colonial period, Europeans went on slave raids and captured local people. The Dutch, who controlled Indonesia during much of this time period, practiced  widespread enslavement.

It’s possible that the woman was killed as part of these raids, but “it is impossible to differentiate if the cranium analyzed in this study belonged to a victim of inter or intra-tribal warfare, or if they were killed as a slave” study lead author Rizky Sugianto Putri, a forensic anthropologist at Airlangga University, told Live Science in an email.

“However, the execution-style wounds on the cranium support that the individual was kneeling or sitting and was not able to defend themselves actively.” 

The team noted that female sorcerers known as “mon” were highly sought during raids. That raises the question as to whether this woman could have been a sorcerer.

The identity of her killers is also unclear. “We do not know who killed her. However, the sharp-force trauma wounds were consistent with a parang, a weapon commonly used by Papuan tribes in the colonial period,” Sugianto Putri said.

Little research has been done on human remains in Indonesia that date to the colonial period. Putri hopes that this paper, and future research, will shed more light on how people lived and died during this period.

Indonesia discovers 700,000-year-old ‘hobbit’ fossils

Indonesia discovers 700,000-year-old ‘hobbit’ fossils

A visual approximation of the hobbit by Dr Susan Hayes, and right, a section of jawbone found at Mata Menge in Indonesia.

Dwarf “hobbits” lived on the Indonesian island of Flores for hundreds of thousands of years, according to evidence from newly excavated hominin fossils. An international research team, following up on the original hobbit discovery that drew international attention in 2004, has discovered a fossilized diminutive jaw bone and six small teeth from an adult and two children that they believe are 700,000 years old.

The scientists believe that the new finds, described in the journal Nature, represent ancestors of the hominin species Homo floresiensis, whose remains were discovered in 2004 and date back to around 55,000 years ago.

“The fossils . . . appear to be remarkably similar to those of Homo floresiensis,” said Yousuke Kaifu of Tokyo’s National Museum of Nature and Science, who led their dating and identification. “What is truly unexpected is that . . . Homo floresiensis had already obtained its small size by at least 700,000 years ago.”

The original discovery led to a debate between paleontologists who proposed that the fossils represented nothing more than a modern human with pathological dwarfism and those who favored a previously unknown hominin species.

“This find has important implications for our understanding of early human dispersal and evolution in the region — and quashes once and for all any doubters that believe Homo floresiensis was merely a sick modern human (Homo sapiens),” said Gert van den Bergh from Wollongong university in Australia, who led the archaeological team that excavated the jaw fragment and teeth from layers of sedimentary rock at Mata Menge on Flores.

Aida Gómez-Robles, a paleontologist at George Washington University in the US who was not part of the Flores team, agreed: “The current findings . . . confirm beyond any reasonable doubt that Homo floresiensis is a distinct hominin species with deep evolutionary roots.”

The discovery site is 70km from the Liang Bua cave where the original hobbit remains were found. The team chose to dig into the fossil-rich sandstone at Mata Menge because hundreds of thousands of years ago it was the site of a stream running through open grassland with some trees — the sort of place ancient hominins liked to live. Simple stone tools had already been found nearby.

The big evolutionary questions are when the hobbit ancestors originally reached Flores and why they became so much smaller than any other known hominins.

The oldest signs of human habitation on the island are stone tools from about 1m years ago, believed to have been left by Homo erectus, a hominin species then moving through southeast Asia by land.

Mr van den Bergh believes some individuals reached Flores accidentally — perhaps swept out to sea by a tsunami and drifting on debris — because there is no archaeological evidence for boatbuilding so long ago.

Isolated island populations of other animals are often subject to evolutionary dwarfing. Flores itself was home to two now-extinct species of pygmy elephants. If the founding population was indeed Homo erectus, then its stature would have decreased by about one-third (to around one meter tall) and its brain size shrunk by half within 300,000 years.

Workers at the archaeological dig at Mata Menge, Flores Island, sift for bone fragments.

An alternative explanation is that a smaller and older species of hominin such as Homo habilis reached Flores more than 1m years ago and underwent a slower dwarfing process.

The researchers say this is less likely because there is no evidence for the presence of hominins in what is now Indonesia so long ago.

The mystery can only be solved by the discovery of more complete skeletal remains of ancestral hobbits — including limbs and skulls — on Flores through more intensive excavation work.

31,000-year-old skeleton missing lower left leg is earliest known evidence of surgery, experts say

31,000-year-old skeleton missing lower left leg is earliest known evidence of surgery, experts say

31,000-year-old skeleton missing lower left leg is earliest known evidence of surgery, experts say
Australian and Indonesian archaeologists stumbled upon the skeletal remains of a young hunter-gatherer whose lower leg was amputated by a skilled surgeon 31,000 years ago.

A 31,000-year-old skeleton missing its lower left leg and found in a remote Indonesian cave is believed to be the earliest known evidence of surgery, according to a peer-reviewed study that experts say rewrites understanding of human history.

An expedition team led by Australian and Indonesian archaeologists stumbled upon the skeletal remains while excavating a limestone cave in East Kalimantan, Borneo looking for ancient rock art in 2020.

The finding turned out to be evidence of the earliest known surgical amputation, pre-dating other discoveries of complex medical procedures across Eurasia by tens of thousands of years.

By measuring the ages of a tooth and burial sediment using radioisotope dating, the scientists estimated the remains to be about 31,000 years old.

Palaeopathological analysis of the remains revealed bony growths on the lower left leg indicative of healing and suggesting the leg was surgically amputated several years before burial.

Dr Tim Maloney, a research fellow at Australia’s Griffith University who oversaw the excavation, said the discovery was an “absolute dream for an archaeologist”.

View of the archaeological excavation at Liang Tebo cave which unearthed the 31,000-year-old skeletal remains.

He said the research team, which included scientists from the Indonesian Institution for Archaeology and Conservation, was examining ancient cultural deposits when they crossed stone markers in the ground revealing a burial site.

After 11 days of excavation, they found the skeleton of a young hunter-gatherer with a healed stump where its lower left leg and foot had been severed. Maloney said the nature of the healing, including the clean stump, showed it was caused by amputation and not an accident or animal attack.

“[The hunter] survived not just as a child, but as an adult amputee in this rainforest environment,” Maloney said. “Importantly, not only does [the stump] lack infection, but it also lacks distinctive crushing.”

Archaeologists at work in Liang Tebo cave in the remote Sangkulirang-Mangkalihat region of East Kalimantan.

Prior to this discovery, Maloney said it had been widely accepted that amputation was a guaranteed death sentence until about 10,000 years ago, when surgical procedures advanced with the development of large settled agricultural societies.

The previous oldest evidence of a successful amputation was a 7,000-year-old skeleton of an elderly farmer from stone age France. His left arm was amputated above the elbow.

The skeletal remains showing the amputated lower left leg.

“This finding very much changes the known history of medical intervention and knowledge of humanity,” Maloney said.

“It implies that early people … had mastered complex surgical procedures allowing this person to survive after the removal of a foot and leg.”

Maloney said the stone age surgeon must have had detailed knowledge of anatomy, including veins, vessels and nerves, to avoid causing fatal blood loss and infection.

He said the successful operation suggested some form of intensive care, including regular disinfection post-operation.

Emeritus Prof Matthew Spriggs of the Australian National University School of Archaeology and Anthropology, who was not involved in the study, said the discovery was “an important rewrite of our species history” that “underlines yet again that our ancestors were as smart as we are, with or without the technologies we take for granted today”.

Spriggs said it should not be surprising that stone age people could have developed an understanding of the internal workings of mammals through hunting, and had treatments for infection and injury.

“We tend to forget that modern humans like us 30,000 years ago … would have had their intellectuals, their doctors, their inventors,” he said.

He said they would have had to experiment with plant medicines and other treatments to stay alive.

“Any inhabitants of tropical rainforests today, usually now mixing hunting and gathering with forms of agriculture, have a large pharmacopoeia that would have to have been developed over millennia.”

The study was published in the journal Nature.

Burials in Indonesia Offer Clues to Migration

Burials in Indonesia Offer Clues to Migration

Scientists have discovered three bodies on an Indonesian island which provide an insight into the movements of early humans, thousands of years ago.

Dr Samper Carro from ANU with bones found at Alor Island, Indonesia.

The bodies, found across three burial sites, form part of the excavation and analysis of 50,000 bones unearthed along the south coast of Indonesia’s Alor Island, which is north of Timor Leste.

The various remains found beneath rock shelters in an area named Tron Bon Lei near Lerabain are between 7,500 and 13,000 years old.

But it’s the way they were buried which provides unique insights into how early humans moved across Southeast Asia during the Pleistocene and Holocene periods.

Studies are beginning to understand the genetic diversity of peoples within the region, which lead researcher Dr Samper Carro says can be further informed by the discovery of these bodies.

“The three quite unusual and interesting burials show different mortuary practices,” Carro says.

“They might relate to recent discoveries of multiple migratory routes through the islands of Wallacea from thousands of years ago.

“It shows how burial practices can complement data on genetic diversity from one of the current research hotspots in Southeast Asia.”

Burial practices and the talking dead

The discovery of human remains in the region began in 2014, when teams from ANU and Indonesia’s Gadjah Mada University, found a 12,000-year-old human skull buried along with several fish hooks.

More bodies were found when the team returned to the site four years later. Carro then spent several COVID-interrupted years studying the remains, with the results now published in PLOS One.

It’s the positioning of the bodies beneath the surface which provides archaeologists with insights into the different cultures that migrate through the region.

One of the bodies had its extremities intentionally removed before being buried.

Another was placed in a ‘seated’ position, while the third was lying on its side.

“Burials are a unique cultural manifestation to investigate waves of migration,” Carro explains.

Burial practices can provide scientists with insights into migratory patterns carried out by ancient cultures.

Equally, these practices may have developed locally, which is why Carro says further research to characterise mortuary practices in the region will help provide greater accuracy to her findings.

“Further research in aspects such as biomolecular anthropology, diet practices, or the types of tools used in burial rites will allow us to gather more data,” she says.

“These future efforts will provide us deeper insights to interpret the lifeways of these communities.”

Scientists discover remains of Hobbit humans that stood only 3ft high and lived 700,000 years ago in Indonesia

Scientists discover remains of Hobbit humans that stood only 3ft high and lived 700,000 years ago in Indonesia

SCIENTISTS have discovered the fossils of a “hobbit” that lived 700,000 years ago on an Indonesian island.

Scientists discover remains of Hobbit humans that stood only 3ft high and lived 700,000 years ago in Indonesia
A scientist’s estimation of what the “hobbits” might have looked like

The homo floresienis were ancient humans that lived between 100,000 and 50,000 years ago.

Adults stood just three-and-a-half feet tall and their brains were roughly one-third the size of our own, about the size of a chimpanzee’s.

Because of their miniature size, researchers nicknamed the unusual findings Hobbits.

The discovery consists of just six tiny teeth and a fragment of a small lower jawbone, but researchers say it is enough to suggest the fossils belonged to a direct ancestor of the Hobbits.

One theory states the Hobbits may have arrived on the island from Java after being washed out to sea by a tsunami.

The fossils included some tiny teeth.
As well as a piece of the lower jawbone

Over time, they could have shrunk on their new island home – a strange yet common phenomenon known as island dwarfism.

This relies on a variety of factors, from limited food sources to a lack of predators to defend themselves against.

Other researchers believe the fossils belonged to anatomically modern humans who suffered from some type of disorder that led to extreme disorder.

Microcephaly and Down syndrome have both been proposed.

However, the new discovery suggests otherwise – hobbits who wound up on the island seemed to defy traditional evolution and growth.

44,000-Year-Old Cave Painting Could Be the Earliest Known Depiction of Hunting

44,000-Year-Old Cave Painting Could Be the Earliest Known Depiction of Hunting

A 44,000-year-old cave painting of a hunting scene that involves humans and animals might be the oldest recorded story. It was discovered, by a group of archaeologists from Griffith University, Australia, in a cave on the Indonesian island Sulawesi.

Researchers think this mural might be the oldest rock art ever painted — the first sign of the ability of human being’s to paint, but also the earliest proof of our relationship with the spiritual or supernatural.

The painting in the cave depicts a scene where a group of part-human, part animal-like figures are hunting large animals that look a lot like pigs found in Sulawesi, along with a species of small-bodied buffalo called the ‘anoa’. Human beings with heads of animals seem to be carrying spears or ropes to help in their hunt.

The animals in the rock art that is being hunted by the half-human, half-animals beings.

Half-animal, half-human figures

The “human” figures in rock art, dubbed “therianthropes” are human figures with animal characteristics. These types of figures have shown up in cultures all around the world — from 17,000-year-old paintings of bird-headed human beings being charged by a bison in France’s Lascaux caves to a 40,000-year-old carved figure called “the Lion Man” in Germany.

“The hunters represented in the ancient rock art panel at Leang Bulu’ Sipong 4 are simple figures with human-like bodies, but they have been depicted with heads or other body parts like those from birds, reptiles, and other faunal species endemic to Sulawesi,” Adhi Agus Oktaviana, a rock art expert and PhD student in Griffith University, said in a statement.

This depiction of therianthropes may be the oldest evidence of the human ability to “imagine the existence of supernatural beings, a cornerstone of religious experience,” which means that they might have begun to have a semblance of understanding of religion or spiritual ideas.

“The images of therianthropes at Leang Bulu’ Sipong 4 may also represent the earliest evidence for our capacity to conceive of things that do not exist in the natural world, a basic concept that underpins modern religion,” Adam Brumm, an archaeologist who was part of the study said.

“Early Indonesians were creating art that may have expressed spiritual thinking about the special bond between humans and animals long before the first art was made in Europe, where it has often been assumed the roots of modern religious culture can be traced.” 

There is a handprint in red, at the left end of the mural that acts as a signature of the artist.

Cave art at a possible sacred site

The cave itself, researchers think, might have been a sacred site. It is not easily accessible, what with it being perched on a clifftop 20 meters above the valley floor — it would have required some climbing.

“Accessing it requires climbing, and this is not an occupation site. So people were going in there for another reason,” Maxime Aubert, an archaeologist part of this study told Ars Technica in an interview.

There was no evidence of the cave being used as a living place. There was no trace of the usual debris of human life—stone tools, discarded bones, and cooking fires—anywhere in the cave or in the much larger chamber beneath it.

The entrance of the cave is 20 meters above the valley.

The cave, which was given the name “Leang Bulu’ Sipong 4” when it was unearthed in 2017, is one of the hundreds of caves in the Maros-Pangkep limestone-rich region of South Sulawesi in Indonesia. In an interview with Nature, Brumm said, “I’ve never seen anything like this before. I mean, we’ve seen hundreds of rock art sites in this region, but we’ve never seen anything like a hunting scene.”

To confirm the art was the oldest, the group of archaeologists carried out dating tests by calcite build-up on the painting. The researchers were able to determine that calcite build-up on one pig began forming at least 43,900 years ago. The build-up on the two buffaloes is older than 40,900 years. The rock art previously considered to be the oldest was found in sites in Europe, and dated back to between 14,000 to 21,000 years ago.

A wide view of the entire painting, with annotations.

Archaeological findings like these are growing important in our understanding of humankind’s roots and evolution. There’s a fear this rock art might soon be lost altogether because of deterioration. The art is peeling and they do not know what is causing it.

“It would be a tragedy if these exceptionally old artworks should disappear in our own lifetime, but it is happening,” Oktaviana said.

“We need to understand why this globally significant rock art is deteriorating – now.”

7,200-year-old skeleton unearthed in Indonesia reveals an unknown human group

7,200-year-old skeleton unearthed in Indonesia reveals unknown human group

The ancient remains of a hunter-gatherer girl who died over 7,000 years ago in Indonesia, has revealed clues to a mysterious group of humans from the past. The discovery, made in 2015, in the Leang Panninge cave on Indonesia’s Sulawesi Island is the first discovery of ancient human DNA in the region, known as Wallacea.

In a study published, Griffith University archaeology professor and study co-author Adam Brumm said the girl, nicknamed Bessé,’ belonged to a mysterious group of modern humans from the Holocene era who archaeologists have named the Toaleans.

It is the first time an intact skeleton of the Toalean people had been found.

“We’ve got ancient DNA from the bones of this woman, but we could only reconstruct about 2 per cent of her complete genome,” Brumm told the ABC. “So that’s how degraded it was and it took a lot of work to get even that.”

Sulawesi is the largest island in Wallacea. White shaded areas represent landmasses exposed during periods of lower sea level in the Late Pleistocene.
Burial of the hunter-gatherer Toalean woman.

Through DNA analysis, archaeologists have confirmed a theory that the Toaleans were related to the first humans who lived in Wallacea around 65,000 years ago and could also tie the girl to the Aboriginal Australians and Papuans.

Half of Bessé’s genome is shared with present-day Aboriginals, Papuans, and Western Pacific Islander peoples. She was also partly related to the older human ancestors the Denisovans, whose remains have been found in Tibet and Siberia.

Further analysis found that Bessé’ also had strong genetic ties to an ancient Asian group of people who did not mingle with the ancestors of Aboriginals and Papuans.

“A really unexpected discovery is that within the DNA of this ancient woman, we found ancestry from a very ancient Asian population,” Brumm said. “We don’t know quite who they were.”

Excavations at Leang Panninge cave.

Prof. Akin Duli from the University of Hasanuddin said this meant the population and genetic history of early humans in the region were more complex than previously thought.

“It is unlikely we will know much about the identity of these early ancestors of the Toaleans until more ancient human DNA samples are available from Wallacea,” Duli said.

However, finding more preserved remains, like Bessé’s, is extremely difficult given the tropical, humid weather of the region.

Just two other DNA samples have been found in the whole region and they come from Laos and Malaysia.

Bessé’ has no relation to the present-day people of Sulawesi, which is unsurprising given they are known to be largely descended from people who came from the Taiwanese region 3,500 years ago.

The Toaleans have been a century-old archaeological mystery since the discovery of unique, finely crafted arrowheads in several southern Sulawesi caves in 1902.

Undated Toalean stone arrowheads, backed microliths, and bone projectile points.

Intact DNA from a 7,200-year-old Woman reveals Unknown Human lineage

Intact DNA from a 7,200-year-old Woman reveals Unknown Human lineage

Archaeologists have discovered ancient DNA in the remains of a woman who died 7,200 years ago in Indonesia, a find that challenges what was previously known about the migration of early humans.

Intact DNA from a 7,200-year-old Woman reveals Unknown Human lineage
The skeletal remains of the ancient Toalean woman were found nestled among large rocks in a burial pit in Indonesia’s Leang Panninge cave.

The remains, belonging to a teenager nicknamed Bessé, were discovered in the Leang Panninge cave on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Initial excavations were undertaken in 2015.

The discovery, published in the journal Nature, is believed to be the first time ancient human DNA has been discovered in Wallacea, the vast chain of islands and atolls in the ocean between mainland Asia and Australia.

The DNA was extracted from the petrous part of Bessé’s temporal bone, which houses the inner ear.

Griffith University’s Prof Adam Brumm, who co-led the research, said the intact DNA was a rare find.

“The humid tropics are very unforgiving on DNA preservation in ancient human bones and teeth,” Brumm said.

“There’s only one or two pre-neolithic skeletons that have yielded ancient DNA in all of mainland south-east Asia.

“Elsewhere in the world – in the northern latitudes of Europe, in America – ancient DNA analysis is completely revolutionising our understanding of the early human story: the genetic diversity of ancient humans, population movements, demographic history.”

Initial excavations started in 2015 at the Leang Panninge cave on the island of Sulawesi.

The researchers describe Bessé as a “genetic fossil”. Genetic sequencing showed she had a unique ancestral history not shared by anyone living today, nor any known humans from the ancient past, Brumm said.

Around half of Bessé’s genetic makeup is similar to present-day Indigenous Australians and people from New Guinea and the Western Pacific islands.

“Her ancestors would have been a part of the initial wave of movement of early humans from mainland Asia through these Wallacean islands towards what we today call Sahul, which was the combined ice age landmass of Australia and New Guinea,” Brumm said.

Toalean stone arrowheads. Bessé remains were found alongside prehistoric tools and red ochre.

Surprisingly, Bessé’s DNA also showed an ancient link to east Asia, which challenges what was previously known about the timeline of migration to Wallacea.

“It is thought that the first time people with predominantly Asian ancestry entered the Wallacean region was around about three or four thousand years ago when the first prehistoric neolithic farmers entered the region from Taiwan,” Brumm said.


“If we’re finding this Asian ancestry in a hunter-gatherer person who lived thousands of years before the arrival of these neolithic people from Taiwan, then it suggests … earlier movement of some population from Asia into this region.”

Bessé is also the first known skeleton belonging to the Toalean culture, a group of hunter-gatherers who lived in South Sulawesi between 1,500 and 8,000 years ago.

She was around 17 to 18 years old at the time of burial. Prehistoric stone tools and red ochre were found alongside her remains. Her grave also contained bones of hunted wild animals.