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Gatherers, hunters and sailors

The most important remark that should be made against the background of the early history of humankind, is that Sulawesi is located east of the Line of Wallace: the gulf deep water which separates the continental plateaus of Australasia and Asia. Since the island was formed milions of years ago by earth-movements, it has always been separated from continental Asia.
From the moment that people live there, there has never been an over-land connection which connects this island with another. On Sulawesi, evidence of human inhabitation before 30,000 B.C. have never been found. (On Jawa, remains of the homo erectus have been found, these date back to about 1.000.000 years ago) Still, Australia and New-Guinee were inhabited about 40,000 years ago, and geography suggests that colonists from mainland Asia have travelled south via Sulawesi and Nusa Tenggara to Australia.
Sulawesi's oldest dated archeological remains come from one cave in the limestone hills in the neighborhood of Maros, northeast of Makassar. About 30,000 years ago, families here gathered rivershells; they made sharp axes and knives with stone. Tools from stone and the possibly even older axes are gathered on the river terraces in the Walanae Valley between Sopeng and Sengkang. Old bones from extinct giant pigs and elephants, among them the stegodonts, were found. The age of the tools cannot be determined exactly - they can have washed ashore at the river from different sources -, however they are more primitive than those of Maros, they don't need to be older as well.
About 10,000 years ago the big icecaps retreated and the current interglacial period (the Holocene) started. In the cave of Ulu Leang near Maros, deposits from 10,000 to 7,000 year old have brought up thick, rough stone axes and firestones, which are a brand to this period in Indonesia as well as Australia.
The inhabitants of Ulu Leang lived from hunting and gathering. There are little remains of their food, but a pile of shells near Paso, at the coast of Danau Tondano, as grown over several centuries with shells from the lake. Bones of wild pigs are also found here, as well as smaller amounts of bones from dwarf bufallos, monkeys, turtles, birds and snakes.

Marospoints and microlytes

About 8,000 years ago the production of stone tools changed a lot. On the southwestern part of Sulawesi, microlytes (small tools with a cutting edge) suddenly appeared, just like in the Phillippines, on parts of Jawa and in Australia at about the same time. These changes are hard to explain. There is no evidence of the arrival of a new population on Sulawesi, or the idea that these kind of tools were already produced on other parts of the island. It is possible however that improved techniques were introduced from elsewhere.
Production on the area of stone tools by the Toale population on South-Sulawesi is the biggest of these new activities, which are found in Southeast Asia. (The Swiss nephews Sarasin, which discovered this in 1902, assumed that the Camba, which still lived in caves in the forest, were living descendants from these prehistoric makers of the tools.) Toalene arctefacts were found in caves, protected by rocks, and on open locations on slightly raised alluvial sedimental layers near the rivers. This development is followed best at what was discovered near Ulu Leang. About 8,000 years ago, small trapezoid or long microlytes were found here, followed by hollow and sawn projectile arrows ('Marosarrows') 6,000 years. Other arctefacts found are axes with a polished cutting edge, which could have been made when making mats or baskets, bone points and possibly scrapers from two shelled animals. As well as their ancestors, the Toalene hunted for local mamals: makakes, civet cats, anoa's and pigs.

Picture: Dongson drum

In several caves drawings of pigs and handprints (contours of human hands, made by a red, blood containing substance) The handprints are similar to those found in Australia. The findings in Maros are impossible to date, but could very good be made in the period before agriculture was introduced.


The current inhabitants of Sulawesi speak Austronesian languages, which were introduced on the island about 4,000 years ago from the north, via Taiwan and the Phillippines. The population of Sulawesi was part of the southern mongoloid groep, which nowadays lived in the biggest part of Southeast Asia. The growth of the population and the necessity to cultivate new coastal areas probably form the background of this important period in human expansion. Trade could also have been a factor. Early Austronesians were skilled in making canoos and sailors; many of them lived on the remote islands of Polynesia.
On the base of skelettons found elsewhere in Indonesia, it is assumed that the hunters and gatherers, which lived on Sulawesi about 4,000 years ago, had an Australian-Melanesian look. We will never be capable of tracing down the spoken languages, even if we assume that these languages were still used until very recently in isolated groups.
The early agricultural pioneers of Sulawesi were only with a few and were probably located close to the coastal areas. The tropical rainforests and wet climates in the hinterlands were not profitable for the cultivation of rice (rice was introduced on Sulawesi 2,000 BC), since the people still lived in the stone age. There areas probably got inhabited in the last 2,000 years, when iron tools had gotten common.

Picture: Stone face

The most important neolythical location which has been found on Sulawesi until now, is close to Sungai Karama, near Galumpang, in the northwest of South-Sulawesi. This location has brought up a remarkable collection of stone axes, points, stone tools and fascinating pottery with fine and detailed geometrical decoration.
The findings of Galumpang can't be dated, but similar pottery found in East-Malaysia is known to be 3,000 years old. The collection of Galumpang could be entirely related to those which were brought by the first people which spoke Austronesian which setteled on the islands of the Southsea, members of the so called Lapita-culture.

Bronze Age and Iron Age

About 2,000 years ago the populations on Sulawesi had learned to make bronze and iron. Against that time they were on the edge of the zone that was influenced by India, which would become so important to Bali and Jawa. Sulawesi never had much of this influence and even cultures along the coast can be seen as fundamentally Austronesian until the arrival of islam in the 16th and 17th century. Outside this, beads were inspired by India and were sometimes even produced in India and were imported to the island; they can be found on most locations dating from the Bronze and Iron Age.
Locations where arctefacts have been found from this period are many on this island. Until now no Vietnamese Dongson drums have been found, these were spread out over southern Indonesia about 2,000 years ago. Which is closest, geographically seen, is the huge drum from Pulau Selayar. The instrument has characteristic decorations: birds, very schematic warriors and naturalistic elephants. It could have been produced in Vietnam about 200 BC; Sulawesi probably wasn't blessed with elephants in that time.
Another well-known bronze object, the big 'bottle' which is bought in Makassar and is now on display in the museum of JKakarta, has stylistic featured, among them a mask, which assume a relation to the huge bronze drum of Pejeng, on Bali. Both pieces are most likely produced in Indonesia, not in Vietnam, but if the bottle really is produced on Sulawesi, we will probably never know.

Picture: Handprints

During the first milennium A.D., the residents of the island seem to have adapted a habit which was normal in the Phillippines and on Borneo in that time: burying bones of their deceased in ceramic jars in caves. Several collections of this are known in the caves of Maros in the southwest, but the best documented comes from the cave Leang Buidane on the Talaud islands, northeast of Manado. The remains were put in big ceramic jars and wooden coffins on the floor of the cave; they were brought to the hereafter together with small, nicely decorated jars, beads and agate from India, bronze axes, tools from iron and shells. Almost identical collections have been discovered in coastal areas of Borneo along the Celebes Sea and in the Phillippines; they are evidence of the trade contacts between the islands in that time.

Grave jars and statues

Other well-known archeological importancies of Sulawesi are the remarkable stone grave jars (kalamba) with engraved lits which can be found in National Park Lore Lindu, in the mountains west of Danau Poso. Some jars from Besoa and Bada, recently examined by Indonesian archeologists, have brought up metal and ceramic objects; the composition suggests that they are dated somewhere in the first milennium A.D.
Near the jars are big stone statues of which some are almost four meters high. They all express clear female and male genitals.
Shortly before the First World War, when this ancient culture became known among scientist, the megalyths were seen as something from an Arabic, Mediterranian population, which was probably looking for gold and perls in the archipelago. They assumed that this hypothetical population would have introduces several activities: the art of constructing irrigated ricefields, washing gold and metallurgy. Nowadays the megalyths are seen as a part of the Austronesian culture which spread over Indonesia and the Pacific over the last 5,000 years.
Other big stone monuments are the rows and circles of erected stones which can be seen throughout entire Tana Toraja around Rantepao, and the waruga (old stone sarcofaguses) from Minahasa. Thes are probably not very old, however none of these monuments has been investigated thouroughly by archeologists yet. It is assumed that the waruga are related to Chinese ceramics, which was probably imported around 1400.
The so-called 'megalythical' tradition in many cultures on Sulawesi is not an easy subject for archeological survey. This has it's background in the fact that the structures are - because they are not buried - rarely in relation with arctefacts that have been dated.

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