The Jakarta Post
A young man busied himself cutting away the undergrowth in the wild forest, cleaning a stone sarcophagus sitting about 50 meters from a cave leading into the side of a mountain.
When asked, the man, Mulyadi, a farmer, did not know what the sarcophagus was. The 29-year-old said that he only knew that it was a historic object that he and his neighbors needed to care for.
According to Mulyadi, hundreds of such artifacts could be found near the mountain and his village of Tanah Wulan in Bondowoso, East Java, about 200 kilometers from Surabaya.
Bondowoso Archaeology Agency official Heri Kusdaryanto says that the residents of about 80 nearby villages have been serving as the caretakers of more than 1,100 megalithic (large stone) artifacts, which include menhir (standing stones), sarcophagi, statues, dolmen (lying stones or tomb tables) and caves.
Heri said that the huge number of stone monuments in the region have previously led scientists and archaeologists to dub Bondowoso the megalithic city. University of Indonesia archaeologists Sumiati AS and Soejono and Jember University lecturer Kayan Swastika recently published the results of their research into the region's archaeology, he added.
Batu kenong are Bondowoso's most famous megalithic asset, Heri said. The stones ' there are more than 400 in the region, the most in Indonesia ' have a bulge on their tops, making them resemble a kenong, or the small gong used in traditional Javanese music.
One nearby village, Pekauman, is home to 160 batu kenong. The village, easily reached by bus or taxi, sits on Kilometer 8 of Jl. Jember-Bondowoso. A small sign reading 'Situs Pekauman' (Pekauman Site)' is on the curb, only 150 meters from the artifacts.
Meanwhile, Pekauman village has 160 batu kenong amid the forests, farms and yards of local residents.
Heri said that batu kenong could be found in unique formations; such as in Maesan, where the artifacts appeared in circles, or in Kadedek, where they appeared in squares.
Soejono reported that the batu kenong were created for religious ceremonies held to thank their ancestors for prosperity and fertility, Heri said.
Dolmen ' another megalithic structure built for religious reasons comprising two or more stones supporting a large flat horizontal capstone ' can be found in no fewer than 16 villages in the region.
Jember University historian Edy Burhan Arifin said that Bondowoso deserved its nickname, as megalithic objects could be found throughout the area.
'It is so easy to find megalithic assets in every district in Bondowoso. Each district owns a unique asset, such as Maesan, with batu kenong, and Pujer, with dolmen,' he said.
Edy said that the artifacts proved that a developed culture was present in Bondowoso more than 4,000 years ago, before the start of the Bronze Age, and that the region was a fertile area, which attracted people to settle down.
In Bondowoso, researchers could find artifacts from the early Stone Age culture, such as dolmen and menhir, and later Stone Age culture, such as sarcophagi and batu kenong, Edy said.
However, increased government monitoring and supervision was essential ' especially to stop irresponsible collectors from stealing the megalithic objects, which he said were priceless.
'As of today, the government has yet to build a museum in Bondowoso. Can you imagine that?' Edy said.
' Photos by Alez Kurniawan
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