Fri, 18 Jul 2003

Archeological sites found in Sumbawa

I Wayan Juniartha, The Jakarta Post, Denpasar, Bali

Three major archeological sites, including two spacious, yet distinctively different burial grounds, have been found in Huu district, Dompu regency on Sumbawa Island, West Nusa Tenggara (NTB).

The sites, believed to be between 2,500 and 4,500-years-old, were discovered during an eleven-day excavation sponsored by the government.

"It was very a important find from an archeological perspective, because in only one district we found three different sites, only two kilometers away from each other," expedition team leader Ayu Kusumawati said on Wednesday.

"The sites were very vast, totaling about four hectares," she added.

Ayu and other archeologists were convinced that the findings would shed more light on the pre-historic traditions in the vast equatorial archipelago.

The first site was located at the Nangasea area near the famous surfing beach of Lakey. The team found dozens of beads, earthenware, animal bones and shells, which suggested that it was a settlement area in ancient times.

"It is important that the first coastal settlement was found in West Nusa Tenggara," Ayu said.

Previously, she added, archeologists had found similar settlements in Anyer (West Java), Plawangan (Central Java), Gilimanuk (Bali) and in East Nusa Tenggara.

With those discoveries, Archeologists believed that the pre- historic traditions in Indonesia spread from west to the east.

"This coastal site will surely provide important information on the spread of certain traditions," Ayu said.

The first burial ground lies in the Oepusi (Cold Water) area, where dozens of corpses were buried in a sitting position. "It was a primary burial method. A slab of stone was placed horizontally on the surface of each grave," she said.

The second burial ground located on a spacious flat terrain on the hill of Doro Manto.

Dozens of man-made holes -- 60 centimeters in diameter and 50 centimeters deep -- were spread across the terrain's rocky surface there. Human bones and beads were found piled up inside the holes.

The majority of the holes' openings were still sealed with stones.

"It was a secondary burial method. The deceased were buried somewhere else first and after a certain period of time his or her bones were moved into a hole in this ground.

"local people called the burial ground Kopan Cui (King's Footprints) and indeed we found eleven human footprints in a huge slab of stone," Ayu said.

The team also found an ancient tomb, which was believed by the locals to have been the final resting place of Gadjah Mada, the influential prime minister of the Javanese Majapahit Empire, whose power and influence stretched across the archipelago in the 14th century.

"The tomb's architectural characteristics display the influence of both pre-historic and Islamic cultures," Ayu said.

The excavation was carried out by 16 archeologists, including three from the Jakarta-based National Archeological Research Center (Puslit Arkenas). The remaining participants were from the Denpasar-based Eastern Indonesia Archeological Agency.

The head of Puslit Arkenas, Haris Sukendar, himself directed and supervised the excavation, which was held from June 22 to July 2.

Ayu said the mission was financed by assistance funds from by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture and the Dompu regency.

The team plans do more in September to further investigate the sites.