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Earliest migrations and influences

The first inhabitants of Nusa Tenggara originate without doubt from mainland Asia. They came via Jawa and Balo to Lombok. One of the main questions concerning this period until the prehistory of Indonesia is: when did it happen? About one milion year ago, people lived there - Homo erectis, ancestors of the modern man - on Jawa, as is prooved by discoveries near Sangiran and Trini on Central Jawa. During the Ice Age the current Sunda Plate, with on top the current Sumatera, Jawa, Bali and Borneo, was a part of the Asian continent. The early man could easily have walked from mainland Asia to Bali without getting wet feet.
Nusa Tenggara has probably never been connected with the dried-up Sunda Plate; Lombok and Bali were separated by a stretch of water about 40 km wide. But it's possible to see the 3726 meter high Gunung Rinjani on Lombok from Bali. So it's possible that the early inhabitants of Bali knew that there was more land towards the east. But there is no hard evidence that Homo erectus succeeded in crossing Selat Lombok before 30 to 50,000 years ago, the time of the earliest human traces on Sulawesi and New Guinee and in Australia. It's very likely that Australia was populated by migrants from Nusa Tenggara, which crossed from Timor.
Stone tools have been found on Flores. They can be related with bones of extinct, elephant-like animals, the Stegodon trigonocephalus, of which is said that they are over 100,000 years old. However the discoveries still can't de dated exactly it's unclear when the stegodonten extinguished on Flores; it could be much later than 100,000 years ago.
Until now, the oldest dates archological discoveries in Nusa Tenggara come from caves in East Timor. Excavations in four caves near Baucau and Venilak have found a workshop for stone tools. They found 13,000 year old tools. The discoveries in Timor also contain bones and other remains of local fauna from that time: giang rats, bats, snakes and other reptiles, fish and shells. The bigger mammals like pigs, goats, dogs and wild spiecies like deer, monkeys and couscous are probably introduced to Nusa Tenggara about 5,000 years ago.

Picture: Dongson drum

Archeological remains from the period before the introduction of agriculture, found in other caves, have not been completely explained. Indonesian archeologists have found objects from this era in the caves of Liang Bua in Western Flores, and in Gua Oelnaik, near Camplong in West Timor.
Presumably the then inhabitants are lingually and biologically closely related with the populations in New Guinee and Australia. About 5,000 years ago a graduate mix of the populations took place. Migrants which spoke Austronesian languages - the so-called Austronesians - came via the Philippines and Sulawesi (Celebes) from the Asian mainland, while the migrants which spoke Papua-languages probably came from New Guinee, Pantar, Alor and parts of Timor. With the arrivals of the new, agriculture, pets and the art of pottey were introduced. Probably the Austronesians were responsible for all these developments.
The discovery of clear archeological proove which shows the start of agriculture is of more recent date. The best places are again the caves of Baucau and Venilak, where simple pottery is found, as well as beads, bracelets and parts of fish hooks made from shells, and bones of pigs, the most important pets in the region.The early discoveries are about 5,000 years old. Bones of dogs, goats and water buffalo's are only 3,000 years old.

The Metal Age

About 2,000 years ago, they could get iron and bronze, and maybe even to melt and pour them as well. On numerous locations arctefacts from the metal age were found. Big bronze Dongson drums, made in Vietnam between about 500 BC and 300 AD, are localised on Sumbawa, Sangeang, Roti and Alor. The best example was found on the small island of Sangeang, north of Sumbawa, and can not be found in the National Museum in Jakarta. This drum, named 'Makalamau' by the local population, is 84 cm high. It's decorated with elephants, horses and holy objects, and humans dressed like Chinese and Northwest India. The exotic icons tell us that it was probably made in the 3rd century BC, somewhere on mainland Asia, possibly in Finan (the current south of Vietnam) or somewhere else in Vietnam. It's unknown when the instrument came to Sangeang.
Other clues for possible trade contacts with Vietnam in this period are found on Flores, where a wall-painting - the Watu Weti near Ende - shows a typical dongson knife in the middle of canoos and bronze axes. In Inelika, near Bajawa, a similar bronze knife was found, while the island of Roti exposed three remarkable bronze axes, which are uniquely shaped, but show some Dongson motives. They are most likely made in Indonesia, maybe about 1500 to 2,000 year ago.
Nusa Tenggara was less influenced by the Indian culture than Jawa and Bali; the cultures in the coastal areas can be seen as basically prehistoric and fundamentally Austronesian, until the islam got some influence in the 15th and 16th century. The region was located at the border of the Indian influence; whitnesses of that are the objects that were made to Indian example.


Recently important burial sites from the metal era have been found in southern Lombok (Gunung Piring) and East Sumbawa (Melolo). On Lombok, the deceased were placed in shallow graves, together with pottery, bronze bracelets and iron tools. In Melolo the bodies were first decomposed, before the bones were put in pots which were than placed in holes in the ground.
Furthermore little is known from the prehistoric past. Stone graves and megaliths are still erected everywhere. Several of the most interesting structures are the table-shaped stones on Sumba. These 'dolmen' can also be found on Sumatera, Jawa and Melanesia. When they were first built is unknow; possibly they point at a communcal cultural past.

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