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A note on finds of early Chinese ceramics associated with megalithic remains in northwest Lampung.


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.(11) It should be noted that the Wai Semangka also rises in the same general area of Sumberjaya but flows southwards into Semangka bay, a little to the south of Lampung bay. Although the Semangka also affords access to the coast, it is the Indian ocean coast. Since the route was extremely difficult to travel(12), it is unlikely to have been of the same economic importance as the riverine route afforded by the Tulangbawang and its tributaries. The Sumberjaya sites are also not, in terms of absolute distance, that far from Liwa (south of Danau Ranau) and Krui on the west coast. They may well have been linked by overland trails, though crossing difficult terrain,(13) to the west coast in which connection it is interesting to note the discovery of a fragmentary bronze nekara from the area "somewhere between Kota Agung (Lampong) and Suoh (Krui, Bengkulu)".(14) Discovery

The megalithic remains in the Sumberjaya area were apparently unknown in Dutch colonial period. Immediately prior to Independence in 1916, the area was apparently uninhabited and first opened up by transmigrants from Java in 1951. The first report of megalithic remains was made by an anthropologist named Funke and investigation by Indonesian archaeologists followed in 1977 and 1985. It is not the intention in this essay to discuss the megaliths in detail. A brief description of the sites near Sumberjaya will not, however, be amiss. There are seven recorded groups of remains. The two megalithic sites at Puraj are located on fingers of higher ground (tanjung) now planted with coffee, set between lower-lying areas which are now sawah or wet-rice fields drained by streams running down the slopes of Gunung Ringgih. These north-flowing streams drain into the Wai Besai, a tributary of the Wai Kanan itself a tributary of the Wai Tulangbawang. They lie at approximately 800 metres above sea level, affording views over the area to the north. The largest complex is that now known as Kebuntebu (formerly called Batuberak, a name which apparently offended the sensibilities of the current inhabitants and has thus been changed), located a hundred or so metres west of the village market and south of the road from Purajaya to the adjacent site known as Batutemang. This first extensive site comprising several menhirs, now mostly fallen, and clusters of dolmens arranged in lines or groups is one of the most impressive megalithic sites in southern Sumatra outside of Pasemah. The stones appear to be oriented towards Gunung Ringgih, a forest-covered peak to the west of Gunung Abung. The Sumberjaya remains are virtually all plain rocks exhibiting none of the carving of the Pasemah complex. Numerous sherds of earthenware and early imported Chinese stonewares have been recovered by excavation from this site and also as surface finds.

Some 350 metres west of Kebuntebu is the site known as Batutemang, located on a tanjung, a long finger of land planted with coffee which overlooks the surrounding rice sawah. This location is cut off by a rampart and ditch, isolating it from the adjacent area of higher land immediately to the north. Unfortunately the sketchmap No. 7 given in Haris Sukendar's report(15) gives no indication of the nature of the terrain which, like that of the Kebuntebu site, would have played an important role in isolating the site within its surroundings. Here there are no less than seven dolmens, the largest of which is some 2 metres in diameter, and five menhirs of impressive dimensions. The largest, now fallen, stood some 3.60 metres in height. The stones are oriented in a northeast-southwesterly direction. Here also are numerous sherds of earthenware and indications of the presence of early stonewares. As this area is less intensively cultivated than Kebuntebu, fewer sherds have been found here. The Cabangdua site at Desa Purawiwitan on the left of the road from Bungin to Airdingin, is characterized by three dolmens, the largest of which is 3.50 metres in length and what are called batugores, stones with relatively shallow incised marks scored into the surfaces, a technique found at numerous megalithic sites in southern Sumatra and West Java. Sherds of Song/Yuan and Ming Chinese stonewares have also been found at this site.(16)

At Bungin, the much-disturbed megalithic remains comprising nine dolmens ranging between 0.55 and 0.97 metres in height which are located in the village market. There were formerly considerably more stones but many have been disturbed or removed for building purposes.(17) More recently, obsidian flakes have been reported from this site.(18)

The site known as Telagamukmin (also Tlagamukmin), Desa Telagamukmin comprising four dolmens of between 1.50 and 3.40 metres in length, is reportedly located on a slope of the Bukit Asahan, 850 metres above sea level, some 7 metres off the path between Purawiwitan and Bungin. Numerous earthenware and ninth to fourteenth century stoneware sherds were recovered at this site. Two bronze blades were excavated from Telagamukmin in 1985.(19) I have not been able to visit this site which in 1974 was said to be some 75 minutes walk from the nearest vehicular access.(20)

The Ciptaarga site, where there are three menhirs, is located in Desa Ciptaarga, Kelurahan Purawiwitan, some two and a half kilometres southeast of Purawiwitan. One of these stones is known as the batu jagur or altar stone.(21) At Purawiwitan, some 73 metres right of the road from Purajaya to Purawiwitan is a solitary dolmen located in front of a villager's house.(22) The Batujaya site at Muarajaya is 860 metres above sea level and located some 1.5 kilometres from Telagamukmin, approximately one kilometre from the left of the road. The complex comprises seventeen dolmens, seventeen menhirs and six large flat stones and covers some 4 hectares. The menhirs are arranged in five rows running north-south. Numerous earthenware sherds are scattered on the surface of this site.(23)

At Air Ringkih, Desa Bungin, some 2.5 kilometres west of Bungin village north and south of the path from Bungin to Ujungjaya there is a complex of seven dolmens, six menhirs, and two scored stones located in coffee gardens.(24) This complex covers approximately 1.5 hectares located on hilly land in a meander of the Air Ringkih. Sherds of earthenware and imported stonewares are to be found here also.

As remarked above, unlike many Sumatra inland sites, these particular locations are littered with sherds of broken pottery, including much poorly-fired earthenware, some of which displays paddlemarked designs. There are also significant amounts of imported higher-fired stonewares of south Chinese origin. In addition to the bronze bracelet mentioned above, the remains of two bronze blades and a number of glass beads were recovered at Telagamukmin,(25) several reddish-brown, yellow and light blue glass seed beads have been recovered at Batutameng.(26)

For such relatively valuable items of trade as stoneware bowls to appear in significant quantities in inland sites, the late first millennium inhabitants surely had access to valuable and much sought-after commodities to offer in exchange. What these items may have been one can at present only speculate. Whatever they were, they were apparently worth carrying relatively long distances to the lower reaches of the Wai Tulangbawang where they could be exchanged for imported goods. In addition to the ceramic evidence provided by the above-mentioned virtually indestructible sherds of stonewares imported items may have included iron, salt and textiles. Among the possibilities which present themselves for consideration as items of exchange are gold, ivory, rhino horns, hornbill ivory, resins and other forest products such as honey or even birds' nests. Pepper may also have been important by this time. Future archaeological research involving flotation for the recovery of pollen grains and soil analysis in and around the megalithic complexes may offer further clues. Some of the earthenware sherds have heavy deposits of carbon which may indicate the burning of resins or some other source of material.

The mountainous areas of western Lampung are known to have been a source of alluvial gold.(27) Elephants are still relatively numerous in Lampung. Resin-producing trees grow well at the altitudes where the megalithic complexes are located. Unfortunately, the original forest has long since been destroyed and there is perhaps little possibility of reconstructing the type of cover that once grew in this area. Some distance to the west, the area between Liwa and Krui is famous for its resin. At Krui there is also said to be a source of valuable birds' nests which was exploited during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.(28) Further north, near Danau Ranau, Forbes in 1879 noted a rich source of birds' nests in a limestone formation, which at that time were sent to Palembang.(29)

Imported Ceramics

Among the Chinese ceramics at Kebuntebu are a variety of Guangdong green-glazed spurmarked bowls and at least one fragment of a beige and brown glazed moulded ewer of Changsha ware with characteristic foliar moulded design. There are also the base fragments of contemporary white glaze folded-rim bowls with bi-type footrings of a type which has been recovered from candi sites such as Prambanan in Central Java and more recently at Palembang. These discoveries relate closely to recoveries of similar wares at Sriwijayan period sites in southern Sumatra(30) and in southern Thailand(31) and provide important evidence for the existence of an ancient trade route or routes extending into the more remote upland areas of the Bukit Barisan mountains by the ninth century A.D. At Batutemang, surface finds include a fragment of an olivegreen "dusun" jar, probably also from Guangdong, which have been recovered in quantity at sites on the north coast of Java(32) and around Palembang. A number of late Song and a few of the Yuan period(33) including covered boxes are also known.

At Telagamukmin, Indraningsih reports recoveries of 291 sherds including eighth/ ninth century stonewares.(34) These are probably the same ninth century wares as those found at Kebuntebu (Batuberak).

The presence of unusually large amounts of locally produced earthenware in association with early imported Chinese wares suggests two points, firstly that this megalithic tradition is contemporary with Sriwijayan activity in southern Sumatra(35) and secondly that there was an important and previously unrecorded indigenous pottery tradition in the mountains of northwest Lampung in the mid-late first and perhaps early second millennia A.D.


The Sumberjaya complex offers an interesting and unusual, if not unique insight into an example of an end point in the Chinese ceramic trade of the ninth to tenth centuries in southeastern Sumatra. The actual point at which the overland porterages or riverine routes met with the East-West maritime trade has yet to be identified but is almost certainly somewhere on the middle or lower reaches of the Wai Tulangbawang, the To-lang p'o-huang of seventh century Chinese geographers. The recent recovery of a bronze nekara from a point a short distance downstream from Menggala indicates that this area has, in fact, been of considerable importance from at least the early first millennium A.D. This region would appear to have been part of a network of small Sriwijayan riverine harbours which provided access to valuable products from an extensive mountainous hinterland.

It is not yet clear whether the megalithic sites at Sumberjaya were themselves part of contemporary habitation sites or whether they might have been habitation-cum-ceremonial or purely ceremonial locations used only on certain occasions. Further research is required to try to ascertain whether these sites were used on a permanent or intermittent basis. The lack of availability of proper mapping of these sites is also inhibitive to the understanding of their overall context and function.

1 There are, of course, one or two notable exceptions such as the Lolo site (Danau Gadang) in Kerinci where Song period stonewares were found in association with bronze materials (including a fragment of a tympan of a nekara), obsidian flakes and locally made earthenware. A.N.A.T.a.T. Van der Hoop, "A prehistoric site near the Lake of Kerinchi (Sumatra)", in Proceedings Third Congress of Prehistorians of the Far East, 1938, Singapore, pp. 200-204. 2 J. Ratna Indraningsih, Haris Sukendar, Budi Santoso Aziz and Rokus Due Awe, Laporan Penelitian di Lampung: Berita Penelitian Arkeologi No. 33 (hereafter BPA No. 33) (Jakarta: Pusat Penelitian Arkeologi Nasional, 1985), p. 7.

3 Batuberak is now known as Kebuntebu. Batutameng (from "tameng", Javanese: a shield - thus a stone shaped like a shield).

4 O.W. Wolters, Early Indonesian Commerce: A Study of the Origins of Srivijaya (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967), p. 206.

5 Boechari, "An Old Malay Inscription of Srivijaya at Palas Pasemah (South Lampung)", in Pra Seminar Penelitian Sriwijaya (Jakarta: Pusat Penelitian Purbakala dan Peninggalan Nasional), pp. 19-40.

6 The Palas Pasemah inscription, which is slightly damaged, is to be found in situ on the bank of the river Wai Pisang in close proximity to a number of earthen mounds known locally as "punden". As villagers report the occurrence of beads in these mounds, they appear to be the sites of burials though to the best of my knowledge no human remains have been found. The Jabung inscription recovered from the edge of the Wai Sekampung at Jabung is now in the Pugungraharjo Archaeological Site Museum.

7 De Bruyn Kops writing in 1919 notes that Menggala was the most densely populated centre in Lampung and that most of Lampung's pepper was despatched from Menggala to Palembang by water. Menggala is located on the first appreciable high ground upstream from the river mouth, a key point on the river. The modern road into Menggala from Bandar Lampung crosses a wide area of rice sawah, apparently once a former river bed, which may be of some archaeological interest.

8 Wolters, Early Indonesian Commerce, p. 162.

9 The discovery of the kettledrum was made on 9th October 1991 when a woman digging in a field near what appears to be the edge of a former riverbed struck the tympanum with her changkul, breaking it into five pieces. Despite the damage it should be possible to reconstruct the tympanum, which displays a twelve-pointed star, satisfactorily. The sides are virtually undamaged with the shoulders displaying a row of flying birds facing anticlockwise with other geometric patterns. Dimensions are given as: tympanum D. 0.60 m; D. base 0.65 m; H. 0.50 m. The drum is now in the Lampung Provincial museum. Sherds of earthenware and some imported stonewares from between the thirteenth century to the nineteenth or twentieth century were found in the same vicinity. Provincial Department of Culture Office report: 11th November 1991. 10 Information from Pak Ayun of Bandar Lampung.

11 These two vessels are also in the Lampung Provincial Museum. The flask is similar to that found at Lolo in Kerinci which is thought to date from the early/mid first millennium A.D. |Peter Bellwood, Prehistory of the Indo-Malaysian Archipelago (London: Academic Press, 1985), p. 288~. The Labuanmerringai/Jabung area looks extremely promising for future archaeological research. The area has obviously been inhabited for centuries. In Desa Meringgai itself there is an important, strong spring of fresh water a few hundred metres north of a rectangular earthwork located in what is now a pepper plantation. The earthwork appears, on the basis of ceramic surface finds, to date from about the sixteenth or seventeenth century.

12 Henry O. Forbes, A Naturalists' Wanderings in the Eastern Archipelago (reprinted, Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1989).

13 See, for example: J. Patullo, "Account of a Journey to the Lake of Ranow in the Interior of Kroee", Malay Miscellanies (Bencoolen, 1820), which gives some of the earliest intelligence of this area in the English language.

14 A.J. Bernet Kempers, The Kettledrums of Southeast Asia: A Bronze Age World and Its Aftermath. Modern Quaternary Research in Southeast Asia (Rotterdam: A.A. Balkema, 1988). Krui is now administratively part of Kabupaten Lampung Utara. 15 Haris Sukendar, Berita Penelitian Arkeologi No. 20. Laporan Penelitian Kepurbakalan Daerah Lampung (hereafter BPA No. 20) (Jakarta: Pusat Penelitian Arkeologi Nasional, 1979).

16 BPA No. 20, p. 2.

17 Ibid., p. 3.

18 BPA No. 33, p. 7.

19 Ibid., p. 78.

20 BPA No. 20, p. 4.

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid., p. 5.

23 BPA No. 33, p. 7.

24 Ibid., p. 5.

25 Ibid., pp. 29, 33.

26 BPA No. 20, p. 11.

27 Gold is still collected in small quantities from many of the streams running down from the Bukit Barisan mountains.

28 William Marsden, The History of Sumatra (reprinted, Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1975).

29 Henry O. Forbes, A Naturalists' Wanderings in the Eastern Archipelago (reprinted, Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 178.

30 E. Edwards McKinnon, "A Note on Spurmarked Yueh-type sherds at Bukit Seguntang", Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 52, 2 (1979): 40-47; E. Edwards McKinnon and B.S. Dermawan, "Further Ceramic Discoveries at Sumatran Sites", in Transactions of the Southeast Asian Ceramic Society, no. 8 (1981): 2-17; S. Adhyatman, Notes on Early Olive Green Wares Found in Indonesia (Jakarta: Himpunan Keramik Indonesia, 1983); P-Y. Manguin, "Palembang and Sriwijaya: An Early Harbour City Rediscovered", Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 66, part 1 (1993): 23-46.

31 Ho Chui-mei, Pisit Charoenwongsa, Bennet Bronson, Amara Srisuchat, and Tharapong Srisuchat, "Newly Identified Chinese Ceramic Wares from Ninth Century Trading Ports in Southern Thailand", SPAFA Digest 11, 3 (1990): 12-17. 32 O.W. Van Orsoy de Flines, "Onderzoek naar en van keramische schervenin de bodem in Noordelijk Midden-Java, 1940-42", Oudheidkundige Verslag, Bijlage A (1941-47): 66-84.

33 BPA No. 33, p. 40.

34 Ibid., pp. 38, 40.

35 See also Bronson's suggestion that the Pasemah megalithic tradition may be contemporary with Sriwijayan activity. Bennet Bronson, "The Archaeology of Sumatra and the Problem of Srivijaya", in R.B. Smith and W. Watson (eds.), Early South East Asia (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), pp. 315-36.
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Author:McKinnon, E. Edwards
Publication:Journal of Southeast Asian Studies
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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