Archaeology of Indonesia
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Archaeology of Indonesia
Prajnaparamita of Java has become perhaps the best known icon of ancient Indonesian art, as one of the rare images that successfully combines aesthetic perfection and spirituality.[1]

The archaeology of Indonesia is the study of the archaeology of the archipelagic realm that today forms the nation of Indonesia, stretching from prehistory through almost two millennia of documented history. The ancient Indonesian archipelago was a geographical maritime bridge between the political and cultural centers of Ancient India and Imperial China, and is notable as a part of ancient Maritime Silk Road.[2]

The first government institution of archaeology was officially formed in 1913 with the establishment of Oudheidkundige Dienst in Nederlandsch-Indië (Archaeological Service in the Dutch East Indies) under Professor Dr. N.J. Kromm.[3](p5)

Today, the national institution of archaeology in Indonesia is the Pusat Arkeologi Nasional (National Archaeological Center).[4]


Early period

During the early period of archaeological discovery in Indonesia, from the 16th to the 18th century, ancient statues, temples, ruins and other archaeological sites and artifacts were usually left intact, undisturbed by locals. This was mainly due to local taboo and superstitious beliefs connecting statues and ancient ruins with spirits that might caused misfortune. For example, two old Javanese chronicles (babad) from the 18th century mention cases of bad luck associated with "the mountain of statues", which was actually the ruins of the Borobudur Buddhist monument. According to the Babad Tanah Jawi, the monument was a fatal factor for Mas Dana, a rebel who revolted against PakubuwonoI, the king of Mataram in 1709.[5] It was recorded that the "Redi Borobudur" hill was besieged and the insurgents were defeated and sentenced to death by the king. In the Babad Mataram (or the History of the Mataram Kingdom), the monument was associated with the misfortune of Prince Monconagoro, the crown prince of the Yogyakarta Sultanate in 1757.[6] In spite of a taboo against visiting the monument, "he took what is written as the knight who was captured in a cage (a Buddha statue in one of the perforated stupas)". Upon returning to his palace, he fell ill and died a day later.

Another example: the Prambanan and Sewu temple compound is connected to the Javanese legend of Roro Jonggrang; a wondrous folklore about a multitude of demons that built almost a thousand temples, and a prince who cursed a beautiful but cunning princess causing her to become a stone statue.[7] Nevertheless, several Javanese Keratons did collect archaeological artifacts, including Hindu-Buddhist statues. For example, Keraton Surakarta, Keraton Yogyakarta, and Mangkunegaran collected archaeological artifacts in their palace museums.[8] In areas where the Hindu faith survived, especially Bali, archaeological sites such as Goa Gajah cave sanctuary and the Gunung Kawi temples still served their original religious purposes as sacred places of worship.

Dutch East Indies period

Hindu-Buddhist sculptures in the Museum of the Royal Batavian Society of Arts and Sciences (today the National Museum of Indonesia), Batavia, c.1896

Formal archaeological study in Indonesia has its roots in 18th-century Batavia, when a group of Dutch intellectuals established a scientific institution under the name Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen, (Royal Batavian Society of Arts and Sciences) on 24April 1778.[9] This private body had the aim of promoting research in the field of arts and sciences, especially in history, archaeology, ethnography and physics, and publishing the various findings.

Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the Governor General of British Java (1811 to 1816) had a personal interest in the history, culture, and the antiquity of ancient Java, writing The History of Java, which was published in 1817.[10] During his administration, the ancient ruins of Borobudur, Prambanan and Trowulan came to light. This sparked a wider interest in Javanese archaeology. A number of temple ruins were surveyed, recorded and catalogued systematically for the first time. However, by the 19th century, the sudden surge of interest in Javanese art had led to the looting of archaeological sites by "souvenir hunters" and thieves. This period saw the decapitation of a Buddha's head at Borobudur. Of the original 504 ancient Buddha statues in Borobudur, over 300 are damaged (mostly headless), and 43 are missing. The looted Borobudur Buddhas' heads were mostly sold abroad, ending up in private collections or acquired by Western museums[11] such as the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam and The British Museum in London.[12]

In 1901, the colonial government of the Dutch East Indies set up the Commissie in Nederlandsch Indie voor Oudheidkundige Onderzoek van Java en Madoera, headed by Dr J. L. A. Brandes.[4] It was officially recognized on 14June 1913, with the formation of the Oudheidkundige Dienst in Nederlandsch-Indië (Archaeological Service of the Dutch East Indies), often abbreviated as "OD", under Professor Dr. N.J. Kromm.[3](p5) Kromm is credited as the pioneer who established the organizational foundation of archaeological study in the East Indies. The object of this was to attempt to ensure that every archaeological find, discovery, exploration and study was conducted and recorded correctly and in accord with the scientific approach of modern archaeology. During Kromm's administration, numbers of journals, books and catalogues were composed and published which systematically recorded the archaeological finds in the colony. Several initial restoration works on the temple ruins of Java were also conducted during this period.[3](p5)

Republic of Indonesia period

After the turbulent period of World War II Pacific War (1941-45) and the ensuing Indonesian Revolution (1945-49) the Oudheidkundige Dienst ("OD") was nationalized by the newly recognized United States of Indonesia in 1950 as Djawatan Poerbakala Repoeblik Indonesia Serikat (Archaeological Service of the United States of Indonesia). In 1951, the organization of Djawatan Purbakala was improved as Dinas Purbakala as a part of Djawatan Kebudajaan Departemen Pendidikan dan Kebudajaan (Cultural Service of Department of Education and Culture), with independent archaeological offices in Makassar, Prambanan and Bali.[3](p5)

In 1953, two of the first native Indonesian archaeologists graduated, one of them was R. Soekmono, who subsequently succeeded Bernet Kemper as the chief of Djawatan Poerbakala Repoeblik Indonesia. Later the national archaeological institution changed to Lembaga Poerbakala dan Peninggalan Nasional (Institute of Archaeology and National Heritage) or LPPN.[13]

In 1975 the LPPN was separated into two institutions: Direktorat Pemeliharaan dan Pelestarian Peninggalan Sejarah dan Purbakala which focussed on preservation efforts; and Pusat Penelitian Purbakala dan Peninggalan Nasional which focussed on archaeological research.[4]

In 1980, the institution was changed to Pusat Penelitian Arkeologi Nasional (National Archaeological Research Center) under the Ministry of Education and Culture. In 2000 the institution was transferred to Ministry of Culture and Tourism. In 2005 the institution name was changed to Pusat Penelitian dan Pengembangan Arkeologi Nasional (National Archaeological Research and Development Center). In 2012 it changed again to Pusat Arkeologi Nasional (National Archaeological Center) with authority transferred back from the Ministry of Tourism to the Ministry of Education and Culture.[4]

Today, several Indonesian public universities have archaeology study programmes, including Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, University of Indonesia in Jakarta,[14]Udayana University in Bali, Hasanuddin University in Makassar, Haluoleo University in Kendari and Jambi University in Jambi.[15]

Notable sites

The cranial skull of Homo erectus discovered at Sangiran
Borobudur restoration circa 1980
Candi Tikus, a 14th-century bathing pool of Trowulan, discovered in 1914

Notable findings and artifacts

The 9th century Central Javanese Wonoboyo Hoard, discovered in 1990


See also


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Further reading

External links

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