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Three boats found in the Bengawan Solo River raise questions for researchers

Asip Hasani

The Jakarta Post

Lamongan, East Java  /  Sat, November 2, 2019  /  02:18 pm
Three boats found in the Bengawan Solo River raise questions for researchers

Sections of mid 20th-century boats jut out of the water as researchers rush to take advantage of low dry-season water levels on the Bengawan Solo River in East Java on Friday. (JP/Asip Hasani)

A team of researchers worked to unearth three boats, thought to be Japanese vessels, from the bottom of the Bengawan Solo River in Lamongan regency, East Java, on Friday.

The excavation, run by the Education and Cultural Ministry's Cultural and Museum Heritage Preservation Directorate (PCBP), began ahead of schedule to take advantage of low water levels due to the long drought. 

"The process was initially scheduled next Monday. We're currently racing the rain. The excavation process will be difficult if the river level increases," PCBP preservation division head Abi Kusno said on Thursday.

The Bengawan Solo is the longest river in Java. In early October, several sand miners saw a 5-meter by 2-meter section of one of the boats jutting out of the water.  

Lamongan Education and Cultural Agency cultural division head Alamudin said the Dutch East Indies military used to cross the river near the excavation location, based on information provided by the locals.

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"The locals also said that a great battle involving Dutch troops once happened near the location," Alamudin added. 

An old trembesi tree, standing about 100 meters from the site, bears scars from the battle. Bullet holes dot its trunk.

A researcher from the Maritime Archaeology Society, Stefanus, who joined the excavation team said the three boats were most likely Japanese, not Dutch. He explained the boats were rather small -- too small to be Dutch military vessels, which were all more than 6 meters long.

Sections of the boats await excavation in the Bengawan Solo River, Lamongan regency, East Java, on Friday.Sections of the boats await excavation in the Bengawan Solo River, Lamongan regency, East Java, on Friday. (JP/Asip Hasani)

The boats were constructed with rivets rather than by welding. Riveting is a stronger and more efficient technique in the mass production of planes and ships.

Stefanus said if the three boats were sunk in battle there were two possible explanations. The first was that the boats were sunk as part of the Dutch effort to drive the Japanese out of Indonesia. The second possibility was that the battle occurred during the Dutch Military Aggression between 1946 and 1949.

"However, these are only hypotheses, not yet supported by real evidence based on physical findings on the three boats," he added.

According to Abi, the excavation is expected to finish on Nov. 6.

He said the excavation had to be done very carefully to avoid damaging the boats. The team also expected to find related artifacts near the vessels. 

"Hopefully the rain won't fall just yet," Abi said. (kes)