A Note on Finds of Early Chinese Ceramics Associated with Megalithic Remains in Northwest Lampung

By McKinnon, E. Edwards | Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, September 1993 | Go to article overview

A Note on Finds of Early Chinese Ceramics Associated with Megalithic Remains in Northwest Lampung


McKinnon, E. Edwards, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies


Introduction

Finds of imported ceramics, especially early Chinese stonewares, are relatively rare in the mountainous interior of Sumatra.(1) In 1977, however, Indonesian archaeologists discovered a series of five megalithic sites in Kecamatan Sumberjaya, Kabupaten Lampung Utara, about 85 kilometres northwest of Kotabumi the district administrative centre and some distance south of the road to Liwa and Krui. These sites were completely unknown in the Dutch colonial period and only came to light when Javanese immigrants moved in to the area in the nineteen fifties. Consequently, the present names by which these locations are known tend to reflect recent Javanese usage rather than indigenous nomenclature. Excavations at the complex known as Telagamukmin in Desa Purwawiwitan, Kecamatan Sumberjaya in 1980 revealed considerable quantities of locally made earthenware sherds and fragments of imported south Chinese stonewares dating from the ninth to tenth centuries, the Five Dynasties and northern Song periods in China.(2) A bronze bracelet, two bronze blades and other metal fragments were also recovered. Quantities of ceramic sherds have also been recovered as surface finds at other locations including Batuberak and Batutameng Desa Purajaya(3), Ciptaarga, Bungin and Cabangdua. These discoveries are of particular interest not only because they give some insight into ritual practices and the use of imported ceramic materials at megalithic sites in the late first millennium A.D. but also because of their implications with regard to the little-known prehistory and protohistory of the Lampung region, and economic developments and foreign trade contacts with this virtually unexplored (in an archaeological context) part of Sumatra. Professor O.W. Wolters has commented that although the extreme south of Sumatra never enjoyed much political importance in later times, it lies strategically between the Jambi-Palembang coast and Western Java and was, to this extent, in a region which was a trading centre in the seventh century.(4) Indeed, since this was first pointed out in 1967, two late seventh century Sriwijayan curse inscriptions have come to light in the valley of the Wai Sekampung in southern Lampung and there have also been some interesting and extremely important finds of early metal age artifacts in this region. Finds of Sriwijayan inscriptions at Palas Pasemah on the Wai Pisang, a tributary of the Wai Sekampung(5) and latterly at Jabung on the Wai Sekampung itself underline(6) the economic and political importance of the area in the seventh century. The sites near Sumberjaya in northwest Lampung are located near the headwaters of the Wai Besai, a tributary of the Wai Kanan, itself a tributary of the Wai Tulangbawang, one of the most important rivers in Lampung. After the confluence of the Wai Kanan with the Wai Kiri, the main tributaries of the Tulangbawang, this river flows north and eastwards and enters the Selat Sunda at Tanjung Serdang a short distance south of the mouth of the Wai Masuji. The Tulangbawang not only affords access to the main maritime route from Sumatra to Java, Bali and the spice islands further east but also, by means of a very brief coastal journey, uninterrupted access by water from Menggala to the Air Musi and Palembang, a route which was of great importance in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and possibly much earlier.(7)

The name Tulangbawang, in the form To-lang-p'o-huang, was known to Chinese geographers in the seventh century,(8) a fact which appears to be of increasing archaeological importance. The recent discovery of a Heger type I bronze kettledrum at Desa Panca Tunggal Jaya some 85 kilometres downstream from Menggala(9), in an area of slightly higher ground on the Tulangbawang underlines this. A stone Buddha head now in the Lampung Provincial Museum in Bandar Lampung is said to have come from Negeri Besar(10), an important settlement on the Wai Kanan above Menggala. Other relatively recent chance finds of bronze artifacts in Lampung include a smaller bronze drum and an almost perfect bronze flask from an ancient beach ridge at Labuanmeringgai.

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