Cave Use Variability in Central Maluku, Eastern Indonesia

Article excerpt


This paper explores variability in cave use in central Maluku from initial settlement in the late Pleistocene to the ethnographic present. Significant variability exists. Historic and ethnographic accounts highlight cave use that is not often considered by archaeologists. Some uses may leave few archaeological signatures. Factors affecting different cave uses are examined, including environmental, social/cultural, and historical factors. The effects of immigrant population influences, such as the Austronesian immigration into and/or influence on central Maluku, are also important considerations. The possibility of multiple migrations of pre-Austronesians and various Austronesian groups, and the subsequent effects on cave use, are also discussed. Archaeological case studies include the Labarisi site (north Buru), the Hatusua site (southwest Seram), and several cave sites on the northern Leihitu Peninsula (Ambon). KEYWORDS: central Maluku, pre-Austronesian, Austronesian.


IT IS NOW INCREASINGLY CLEAR that humans systematically colonized both Wallacea and Sahul and neighboring islands from at least 40,000-50,000 years ago, their migrations probably entailing reconnoitered and planned movements and perhaps even prior resource stocking of flora and fauna that were unknown to the destinations prior to human translocation (Latinis 1999, 2000). Interestingly, much of the supporting evidence derives from palaeobotanical remains found in caves. The number of late Pleistocene and Holocene sites that have been discovered in the greater region including Wallacea and Greater Near Oceania, most of which are cave sites, has grown with increased research efforts particularly in the last few decades (Green 1991; Terrell pers. comm.). By the late Pleistocene and early Holocene, human populations had already adapted to a number of very different ecosystems (Smith and Sharp 1993).

The first key question considered in this chapter is, how did the human use of caves differ in these different ecosystems? We limit our discussion to the geographic region of central Maluku in eastern Indonesia (Fig. 1). Central Maluku is a mountainous group of moderately large and small equatorial islands dominated by limestone bedrock; there are also some smaller volcanic islands. The region is further characterized by predominantly wet, lush, tropical, and monsoon forests. Northeast Buru demonstrates some unique geology (Dickinson 2004) that is responsible for the distinctive clays and additives used in pottery production (discussed later in this paper). It is hoped that the modest contribution presented here will aid others working on addressing this question in larger and different geographic regions.


A second interest is to illustrate the extent of variation in central Malukan cave use using archaeological, ethnographic, and historical data (but concentrating on the first category; see Table 1). A third interest is to contribute to understanding whether there were limited periods of intensive migration and/or nonlocal influence followed by long periods of sparse or no migration, or a constant (albeit oscillating) stream of migration and interaction. Such questions have been central to the debates about the beginnings of agriculture and arboriculture in the region and the strengths and weaknesses of the Austronesian (1) colonist model (this volume: Barker et al.).


Intensive archaeological surveying and testing were first conducted by Spriggs and Miller in the 1970s (Spriggs 1990, 1994; Spriggs and Miller 1979). They identified many cave sites including the Hatuhuran Cave Complex, which was subsequently surveyed and tested by the Hawai'i-Pattimura team in 1993 (Latinis and Stark 2003; Stark 1995). Glover and Ellen (1975, 1977) conducted archaeological assessments, but these concerned mainly pottery traditions, ethnoarchaeological pottery manufacture, and flaked stone tools. …