Academic journal article Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific

Obsidian Sourcing in Bandung, Indonesia

Academic journal article Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific

Obsidian Sourcing in Bandung, Indonesia

Article excerpt


Obsidian is a natural volcanic glass, which was widely used during prehistoric times as cutting implements probably because it is shiny and attractive, and can be worked easily into implements with razor-sharp edges. Obsidian is formed through relatively fast cooling of high-silica lava domes and flows that are usually very homogeneous in chemical composition. The geological occurrence of obsidian is typically very limited and its homogeneous chemical composition is often highly characteristic of a particular source. Its relatively limited occurrence made it a valuable item of trade or exchange during prehistoric times. Although obsidian artifacts are brittle and have a short use-life, they are highly durable and can be found in archaeological sites over thousands of years old. As such, obsidian serves as an excellent material for studies in prehistoric sourcing, trade, or exchange.

In the last 30 years or so, research in the Mediterranean, the southwest Pacific and Southeast Asia have produced successful results using obsidian sourcing to extract information on prehistoric trade and exchange. This is mainly because linking obsidian artifacts to geographical sources can be successfully done using a wide range of techniques such as X-ray flourescence analysis, electron microprobe analysis, neutron activation analysis, proton-induced gamma-ray emission method, and proton-induced X-ray emission method (Ambrose et al. 1981; Bellwood 1989; Bellwood and Koon 1989; Bird et al. 1981; Chia 2003a, b; Duerden et al. 1987; Green 1987; Green and Bird 1989; Shackley 1998; Smith et al. 1977; Tykot 1998; Ward 1973; Williams-Thorpe 1995).

The islands of Indonesia, which possess active volcanic island arcs associated with explosive volcanism, have produced many obsidian sources. Some of these sources were exploited by prehistoric humans to make obsidian tools such as those in found in the Bandung region. However, many of the obsidian artifacts have yet to be chemically traced to known sources. This study is an attempt to trace the obsidian artifacts found at the sites of Gua Pawon, Dago, and Bukit Karsamanik in Bandung to some of the nearby and known sources in Nagreg and Garut.



Obsidian artifacts have been discovered from a number of areas in the Bandung Basin, such as Padalarang, Pakar (southwest of Dago), Dago (KQ 380), north of Pasir Soang, Pasir Cikebi, west of Mount Tugu 2, northwest of Pasir Layung 2, south ofMount Cimenyan, Pasir Panyandakan (KQ 273), Mount Jatiluhur, Sekebunar, Cingiringsing, Pasir Luhur, west of Mount Cinangka area, and northwest of Pasir Pongkor, Lembang, Cicalengka, Banjaran, Soreang, Cililin, Bukit Karsamanik, and Gua Pawon (Fig. 1). The discovery of these obsidian artifacts have been reported by de Jong and von Koenigswald (1930), Krebs (1932-1933), Mohler and Rothpletz (1942-1945), van Stein Callenfels (1934), van der Hoop (1938), von Heine Geldern (1945), Bandi (1951), van Heekeren (1972), Nies Anggraeni (1978), Pantjawati (1988), Nurul Laili (2005), and Lutfi Yondri (2005). The precise dating of the obsidian artifacts found in these sites, however, remains mostly unknown due to the lack of chronometric dates. Nonetheless, earlier researchers such as von Koenigswald and van der Hoop classified these obsidian artifacts as implements dating to the Neolithic (cultivation) period based on the existence of pottery, square hatchet fragments, and metal printing; molds (Callenfels 1934; Hoop 1940; Koeningswald 1935). Others such as von Heine Geldern (1945), Bandi (1951), and Soejono (1984), however, preferred to classify the obsidian artifacts as artifacts from a pre-Neolithic period ofhunting and gathering.

Gua Pawon

Gua Pawon (Pawon Cave) is located in the Cipatat district in the western plateau of the Bandung Basin area (see location in reference to other sites in Fig. 1). This cave is situated approximately 716 m above sea level in Mount Masigit, which is part of the Rajamandala limestone formation, consisting mostly of limestone and laminated limestone with foraminifera content (Sudjatmiko 1972, 2004). …

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