Recent excavations at two sites in northern Thailand have revealed that a metal-age culture was underway there in the 4th millennium B.C. – much earlier than in either China or India. This discovery has already overturned the conception of Southeast Asia as a prehistoric backwater’ and some scholars are now speculating that this region was in fact one of the great prehistoric cradles of human cultural development.
Such speculations somewhat premature in the case of Indonesia, where relatively few Neolithic sites have been excavated and dated with precision But numerous excavalions being undertaken here are expected to turn up new and exciting discoveries.
In Indonesia Prehistory, Indonesian archaeological findings have contributed more than their share of conirouersy in the past. In 1890. a Dutch military physician by the name of Eugene Dubois discovered a fossilized primate jawbone in Central Java that possessed distinctively human man characteristics. The jawbone was found in association with fossils of mammalian species thought to have died out several hundred thousand years ago and was at first discounted by Dubois as belong to an extinct speciesof apes But when, in the following year, he discorered two more hominoid fossils in similar circumstances. He became convinced that he had unearthed the world’s first evidence of Darwin’s longsought “missing link.” He named his discoverv pithecanthropusm erectus (up rihgt ape – man), and published his findings in 1894.
Unfortunatelvfor Dubois, Darwin’s evolutionary theories were still being hotly disputed at this time and his discorery, dubbed JavaMan,” was vehemently denounced by religious groups. Crushed Dubois withdrew his speciments and there after ceased to work in the field of paleoanthropology. It was not until more thin two decades later, with the discovery of similar fossils outside Peking in 1921, that he was eventually vindicated.
“Java Man” and “Peking Man” are now recoqnized as members of the species Homo erectus, a direct ancestor of man who inhabited the Old World from about 1.7 million until 250.0000 years ago. The body skeleton of Homo erectus was issentially modern but his skull was thick, long and low and he possessed a massive face with strongly protruding brow ridges. Many fossils of this type have been discovered in central Java since Dubois’time, some of which are more than a million years old. Replicas are on display at the Geolosical Museum in Bandung and the Sangiran site museum,out side Surakarta.
Recent research has shown that Homo erectus probably could not speak, but that he could utter sound, with which to communicate. He was an omnivore and a food gatherer who lived in caves as well as in open camp sites and was apparently the first creature to know the use of fire. He also produced an extensive stone tool kit that included flaked choppers,axes and hand – adzes. Thousands of stone tools dating from between 500,000 and 250.000 years ago have been collected from the bed ot the Baksoka River near Pacitan,in south – central Java Similar tools have also been found in Flores and Timor, which raises the intriguing possibility that Homo erectus may have spread to the eastern islands. Unfounately these tools cannot be accurately dated.
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