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The Archaeology of the Aru Islands, Eastern Indonesia

The Archaeology of the Aru Islands, Eastern Indonesia

S. O’Connor
M. Spriggs
P. Veth
Series: Terra Australis
Volume: 22
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    The Archaeology of the Aru Islands, Eastern Indonesia
    Book Description:

    This volume describes the results of the first archaeological survey and excavations carried out in the fascinating and remote Aru Islands, Eastern Indonesia between 1995 and 1997. The naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who stopped here in search of the Birds of Paradise on his voyage through the Indo-Malay Archipelago in the 1850s, was the first to draw attention to the group. The results reveal a complex and fascinating history covering the last 30,000 years from its early settlement by hunter-gatherers, the late Holocene arrival of ceramic producing agriculturalists, later associations with the Bird of Paradise trade and the colonial expansion of the Dutch trading empires. The excavations and finds from two large Pleistocene caves, Liang Lemdubu and Nabulei Lisa, are reported in detail documenting the changing environmental and cultural history of the islands from when they were connected to Greater Australia and used by hunter/gatherers to their formation as islands and use by agriculturalists. The results of the excavation of the late Neolithic — Metal Age midden at Wangil are discussed, as is the mysterious pre-Colonial fort at Ujir and the 350-year old ruins of forts and a church associated with the Dutch garrisons.

    eISBN: 978-1-921313-04-2
    Subjects: Archaeology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Acknowledgements
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 The Aru Islands In Perspective: A General Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)
    Matthew Spriggs, Sue O’Connor and Peter Veth

    Alfred Russell Wallace arrived at the sand-spit settlement of Dobo in the Aru Islands (Fig. 1.1) on January 8, 1857, having travelled from the Kei Islands by local sailing perahu on a journey which had taken 30 hours. The following day he set off to explore the small island of Wamar, to which that sand-spit was connected, but soon lost the path to the village of Wamma and had to turn back. But not before he ‘had taken about thirty species of butterflies, more than I had ever captured in a day since leaving the prolific banks of the Amazon,...

  5. 2 Environmental Change in the Aru Islands
    (pp. 25-40)
    Geoffrey Hope and Ken Aplin

    The Aru archipelago has attracted scientific interest over the past two centuries because of its position as a ‘lifeboat’ of the former Torresian plain of the continent of Sahul. Yet despite a lengthy visit by Wallace (1857, 1869; see Chapter 1, this volume), and subsequent studies of birds and other biota (e.g. van Balgooy and Nooteboom 1995; Monk et al. 1997; Flannery 1995), and geomorphology (Verstappen 1959), virtually no comprehensive environmental studies have been published with the exception of Nooteboom (1996). Although remoteness has been blamed for this state of affairs, the islands have experienced more than two centuries of...

  6. 3 Mammals and Other Vertebrates from Late Quaternary Archaeological Sites on Pulau Kobroor, Aru Islands, Eastern Indonesia
    (pp. 41-62)
    Ken Aplin and Juliette Pasveer

    Excavations in each of Liang Lemdubu and Liang Nabulei Lisa, limestone caves on Pulau Kobroor, Aru Islands, produced substantial quantities of bone and other vertebrate faunal remains. Together, these provide a rich record of the late Pleistocene to Holocene vertebrate fauna of Pulau Kobroor, important new information on local environmental conditions through the period of human occupation of the sites, and some insights into the economic activities that were undertaken from each site.

    In this chapter we provide a systematic review of the prehistoric vertebrate fauna, giving justification in support of the more controversial determinations and providing a brief commentary...

  7. 4 Three Seasons of Archaeological Survey in the Aru Islands, 1995–97
    (pp. 63-84)
    Matthew Spriggs, Peter Veth, Sue O’Connor, Husni Mohammad, Ako Jatmiko, Widya Nayati, Aliza Diniasti Saleh and Djoko Witjaksono

    Armed with the set of questions and issues discussed in Chapter 1, we arrived in Aru in 1995 and began a reconnaissance survey, which was continued in a more targeted way in 1996 and 1997. In each year, a considerable amount of time was spent liaising with kepala desa (village leaders, Bahasa Indonesian) and communities, towards a thorough explanation of our objectives and in order to identify any known sites. After travelling to the various islands from the kecamatan (district capital), Dobo, the general strategy was to carry out formal discussions and interviews, address adat (customary law) issues, and then...

  8. 5 The Ujir Site: An Early Historic Maritime Settlement in Northwestern Aru
    (pp. 85-94)
    Peter Veth, Sue O’Connor, Matthew Spriggs, Widya Nayati, Ako Jatmiko and Husni Mohammad

    This chapter is an expansion of Veth et al. (2000) and includes additional information. During archaeological reconnaissance of the western coasts of the Aru Islands in 1995 a remarkable complex of major stone ruins was located near the contemporary village of Ujir (Fig. 5.1). Initial inspection of the settlement revealed a considerable number of stone structures covering what appeared to be several architectural phases. The structures are heavily overgrown by secondary rainforest and are located directly adjacent to a sungai or tidal channel, forming a deep natural harbour.

    Despite the claim of local villagers that the settlement was a benteng...

  9. 6 Wangil Midden: a Late Prehistoric Site, With Remarks on Ethnographic Pottery Making
    (pp. 95-124)
    Peter Veth, Matthew Spriggs, Sue O’Connor and Aliza Diniasti Saleh

    During our surveys around the Aru Islands from 1995–97 we noted a number of mounded and linear middens, some of considerable extent (see Chapter 4, this volume). Only one of these coastal sites, an extensive mounded midden on the northwestern littoral of Wamar Island (Figs 6.1–6.3), was excavated. It is located approximately one kilometre from the modern village of Wangil. This paper documents the test pitting and analysis of the Wangil midden.

    Many of the coastal middens recorded in the Aru group (Chapter 4, this volume) were noted to contain both plain and decorated pottery, and this raised...

  10. 7 Liang Nabulei Lisa: A Late Pleistocene and Holocene Sequence from the Aru Islands
    (pp. 125-162)
    Sue O’Connor, Ken Aplin, Juliette Pasveer and Geoff Hope

    The excavation at Liang Nabulei Lisa began on 24 November 1997, approximately one year after the Liang Lemdubu excavation was carried out (see Chapter 4, this volume). The site was selected for excavation as it was located close to a stream-fed sungai, had abundant cultural material on the surface and appeared to have some depth of deposit. The Lemdubu excavation had recovered a Pleistocene sequence dating from ca. 27,000 years ago through to the historic period, but the early to mid-Holocene were not represented. It was hoped that Nabulei Lisa would complement the Lemdubu sequence by providing a full Holocene...

  11. 8 Human Remains from Liang Nabulei Lisa, Aru Islands
    (pp. 163-170)
    David Bulbeck

    Fragments of human skeletal material were recovered from the Liang Nabulei Lisa excavation. They had already been washed and cleaned when brought to the author for study on two occasions, by Sue O’Connor in late 1997 and Juliette Pasveer on 17 May 2001. Their condition could be described as semi-fossilized, whether their appearance is unburnt (the majority) or burnt. I identified the fragments by anatomical element and sought joins between them and other evidence of the minimum number of individuals represented.

    With respect to the age of the remains, O’Connor et al. (Chapter 7, this volume) detail the early Holocene...

  12. 9 Liang Lemdubu: A Pleistocene Cave Site in the Aru Islands
    (pp. 171-204)
    Sue O’Connor, Ken Aplin, Katherine Szabó, Juliette Pasveer, Peter Veth and Matthew Spriggs

    Liang Lemdubu is located in the western interior of Pulau Kobroor in an area of karstic limestone (Fig. 9.1). This large, double-entranced cave was formed when an ancient subterranean river cut a passage through the limestone. It runs in length for 30m, is up to eight metres wide and has an average height of three metres (Figs 9.2, 9.3). To reach it one has to boat to the upper reaches of Sungai Papakulah, followed by a two hour walk inland through rainforest. This is the same sungai where Alfred Russell Wallace spent six weeks collecting skins and other specimens in...

  13. 10 Artefacts on Aru: Evaluating the Technological Sequences
    (pp. 205-234)
    Peter Hiscock

    Cultural sequences from excavations at the two cave sites, Liang Lemdubu and Liang Nabulei Lisa, provide fundamental information about not only ancient cultural activities in this landscape, but also about the environmental history of the region and the nature of human exploitation in the changing ecosystems. In this context, the human use of lithic artefacts, which involved exploitation of rock resources and chronological changes in the procurement and processing of those resources, tells us about the human responses to changing environments. Although these excavations were small and exploratory in nature, their location in different parts of the landscape provides an...

  14. 11 Bone Artefacts from Liang Lemdubu and Liang Nabulei Lisa, Aru Islands
    (pp. 235-254)
    Juliette Pasveer

    Bone artefacts in the form of small bipoints, slender unipointed specimens and spatulae, have been found in many sites throughout Australasia and Oceania. They were more common during the Holocene, but certainly also occurred during Late Pleistocene times. Due to their perishable nature and often limited modification, many may have been lost or gone unrecognised in existing assemblages. In some instances, the manufacture and use of bone artefacts through time may have been as common as that of stone tools (Webb and Allen 1990).

    Systematic studies on bone points from this region have been carried out only occasionally (e.g. Lampert...

  15. 12 The Last Glacial Maximum Human Burial from Liang Lemdubu in Northern Sahulland
    (pp. 255-294)
    David Bulbeck

    The one metre square test pit (Test Pit C) excavated by O’Connor, Spriggs and Veth at the Liang Lemdubu site, Aru, recovered a semi-complete human skeleton. When alive, the individual (‘Lemdubu Woman’) had been a tall woman of around 166cm in height, with a rugged skull and quite large teeth by female standards (Fig. 12.1). Age at death is estimated at around 30 years old based on the morphology of the pubic symphysis and stage of tooth wear. The vertebral discs, right tibia and right clavicle present a series of holes which are suggestive of metastatic lesions. All parts of...

  16. 13 Isoleucine Epimerization in Casuarius Eggshells from Archaeological Sites in the Aru Islands, Liang Lemdubu and Liang Nabulei Lisa
    (pp. 295-306)
    Simon J. Clarke and Gifford H. Miller

    The epimerization of the amino acid isoleucine in avian eggshells has been used to determine the timing of a variety of events throughout the Late Quaternary. Epimerization is a chemical reaction that interconverts L-isoleucine into its epimer D-alloisoleucine. Geochronological investigations based on isoleucine epimerization in avian eggshells have been used to help assess the timing of the extinction of a member of the Australian megafauna, Genyornis, a large flightless bird (Miller et al. 1999a). Isoleucine epimerization in Genyornis and water bird eggshells have been used to confine the timing of lacustrine episodes beyond the limit of radiocarbon dating in central...

  17. 14 On the Cultural History of the Aru Islands: Some Conclusions
    (pp. 307-314)
    Sue O’Connor, Matthew Spriggs and Peter Veth

    In the introduction to this volume (Chapter 1) we discussed the specific objectives of the Aru Islands research project and how these were framed within the context of broader regional themes and issues that have directed, and continue to direct, archaeological enquiry within Island Southeast Asia, Australia, and elsewhere in Oceania. Here we review the results of our field work and analysis in the context of these broad research questions.

    Specifically we had hoped to find archaeological evidence in the Aru Islands that would throw light on the following issues:

    1) the nature and rate of maritime colonization and island...