Culture History of the Toalean of South Sulawesi, Indonesia

By Bulbeck, David; Pasqua, Monique et al. | Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific, Spring-Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

Culture History of the Toalean of South Sulawesi, Indonesia


Bulbeck, David, Pasqua, Monique, Di Lello, Adrian, Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific


THE TERM TOALEAN is here applied to microlithic assemblages in South Sulawesi (Fig. 1) with an age range between c. 8000 and 1500 B.P. They include a range of unifacially trimmed stone points, notably Maros points with bifacial, serrated retouch along the margins and a retouched hollowed base. Another group of microliths shows bidirectional blunting along their backs, resulting in backed blades in the case of elongated pieces, and geometric microliths when the artifacts are squatter in shape. Finely polished bone points and utilitarian shell artifacts are other common components (see Figs. 2 and 5).

[FIGURES 1, 2 and 5 OMITTED]

Rock shelters with Toalean artifacts were first excavated in 1902 in the remote hinterland of Lamoncong (Sarasin and Sarasin 1905a). A resurgence of excavations in the late 1930s, which involved the Australian archaeologist Fred McCarthy, confronted archaeologists with the intriguing typological similarities between the Toalean and Australia's broadly contemporary "small tool tradition" (Bartstra 1998). The possibility of a prehistoric link between South Sulawesi and Australia inspired a second spate of excavations between 1969 and 1975, designed to date the Toalean radiometrically (Glover and Presland 1985; Mulvaney and Soejono 1970a, 1970b). Concurrently, Van Heekeren (1972) and Bellwood (1985) portrayed the Toalean as one of a multitude of microlithic or "flake-blade" industries in Island Southeast Asia. The question of an ancient relationship between South Sulawesi and Australia now tends to be held in abeyance (Mulvaney and Kamminga 1999:258).

As noted by Chapman (1986:83-84), considerable diversity can be observed within the Toalean. We shall interpret this phenomenon as an example of the general pattern of variety within Island Southeast Asian microlithic traditions. We shall also review the Toalean typological sequence based on the compilation and calibration of every available radiocarbon date, some of them unpublished. The dates will be expressed at the two-sigma confidence interval, using the CALIB 3.0 program, including the "model ocean marine mixed layer" correction (Stuiver et al. 1986) for samples of marine shellfish. Another goal is to synthesize the available data from open Toalean sites, notably those recorded by Bulbeck (1992) during his South Sulawesi Prehistoric and Historical Archaeological Project (SSPHAP). The resulting landscape archaeology perspective will be linked to relevant geomorphological data: for instance, the evidence that the South Sulawesi peninsula was a virtual island during the middle Holocene (Gremmen 1990).

We are not interested in a typological culture history for its own sake but as a prerequisite to understanding the Toalean (Table 1). A thorough literature review is in order to improve the synthesis previously attempted by Van Heekeren (1972). The early excavations, even some by Van Heekeren, were of mixed quality and often scantly reported. The excavations by the 1969 Australian-Indonesian Expedition to South Sulawesi (Chapman 1981; Mulvaney and Soejono 1970a, 1970b), and by Ian Glover (1976, 1978), observed higher technical standards. Even here, however, we note problems like the consistent use of arbitrary spits to excavate sites with a complex stratigraphy. We shall follow the excavations in approximate chronological sequence, as ideas on Toalean classification changed with time. For instance, the earliest references to hafted microliths postdate McCarthy's visit to South Sulawesi in 1937, and the first unambiguous reference to backed implements in a specific site dates to 1952 (by Van Heekeren). Similarly, the term Maros point was coined only in 1970 (Mulvaney and Soejono 1970a, 1970b).

The very use of the term Toalean, from the Bugis word Toale' or "forest people," is problematical. The Sarasins named the excavated assemblages after the Toale' who occupied certain rock shelters in Lamoncong, even though these people used metal tools, had no knowledge of flaking stone, and grew rice and maize (Sarasin and Sarasin 1905b: 16, 272, 286). …

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