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Jakarta Post

Research into South Sulawesi prehistoric caves continues

  • Andi Hajramurni

    The Jakarta Post

Makassar   /   Wed, February 11, 2015   /  09:18 am

The Makassar Cultural Heritage Preservation Center (BPCB) is working with the city'€™s Hasanuddin University and Ujungpandang Heritage to conduct new research into prehistoric caves located in Maros and Pangkajene Islands (Pangkep) regencies in South Sulawesi.

BPCB archeologist and research coordinator Rustan said the studies were aimed at updating research conducted 10 years ago, which had not since been updated, especially after Indonesian and Australian researchers discovered a painting in Maros in 2014, believed to be as old as those found in Europe.

'€œThe data on prehistoric caves in South Sulawesi, especially in Maros and Pangkep, is based on 10-year-old research, and a number of archeologists felt that the quality of paintings in the caves had deteriorated and been degraded. It has even been suggested that the degradation is taking place rapidly,'€ said Rustan
on Tuesday.

Consequently, the BPCB will conduct further research on the caves to find out their current condition as well as to serve as a parameter on the nature of the changes in the caves, as expressed by researchers and archeologists.

Rustan said concern had been expressed about some of the caves in the region as it was home to a number of cement plants and granite quarries, which were continuously exploiting the surrounding terrain.

Residents living around the caves also had not provided protection, especially for the caves located near rice fields and human settlements.

The karst area stretching from Maros to Pangkep regencies is home to 138 prehistoric caves and as many as 93 of them have paintings on their walls and ceilings.

Rustan said the new study would be carried out in stages. In the initial stage, the research will be conducted at the Belae prehistoric site in Minasa Te'€™ne district, Pangkep.

The complex is home to 21 prehistoric caves, 15 of which have paintings. However, only 10 of the caves will be studied.

'€œWe have picked 10 caves because they have been previously researched and are tourism objects. They have also been subject to vandalism,'€ added Rustan.

One of the 10 caves which has attracted the attention of researchers is Sakapao Cave, which holds paintings of a hand and a deer-like mammal and a form which has yet to be identified.

The paintings are believed to date back around 28,000 years. Rustan explained that it remained unclear who created the paintings. Some researchers believe the paintings date back to the Austronesian and Pre-Austronesian eras.

However, the current research will not touch on the matter, as it requires time and special methods to conduct such research. The BPCB will focus more on preserving the historical sites.

In the initial stage the research will be carried out over 20 days, from Feb. 2 to 21, when 20 researchers will conduct studies at the sites.

Hasanuddin University archeologist Iwan Sumantri said more systematic data on the placement of artifacts would be derived from the research.

He said the caves were located in highly complex areas and had provoked a lot of academic inquiries that had not yet been fully answered.

'€œThe prehistoric caves in Maros and Pangkep, decorated with paintings, have become a mystery which has yet to be revealed. The paintings are mostly in the form of hands, flora and fauna, humans as well as abstract shapes. Only two colors were used, red and black,'€ said Iwan.