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Archeology of Borneo

Gua Tengkorak seen from the sky and from the inside, where were conducted the first excavations in 2003 in cooperation with Puslit Arkenas. They confirmed the presence of a human settlement in the caves below the cliffs, 12,000 years old.; which is a very long time before the arrival of the first Austronesian migrations.

A : Examples of ceramics with a radial decoration (using a cardium shell). This type of ceramic was found in several different places in the Marang Mountains, although it is quite exceptional to find it in the northwest of Borneo. B : Neck of a great funerary jar (partially fired ceramics with traces of human bones) decorated with alternating curved lines, situated in an upper gallery at Gua Keboboh. C : he largest of the funerary jars found to date in Borneo (Ilas Kerim) with a group of striated designs that may relate to different stages of its owners initiation rite. These decorations are strangely reminiscent of the morphology of Lapita ceramics.

Excavations of a burial in Gua Keboboh in order to run DNA analyses and radiocarbon dating.

Burial of Liang Jon. The placement of the body here was located by three stones lined up on the surface, allowing them to come back again several years later to collect a long arm bone and the skull, which was replaced with a stone.

After years of prospecting surface which suggested a rich prehistoric past, a program of cooperation between France and Indonesia has been established in 2003 with the National Center for Archaeological Research Indonesia.

Eagle Eye , alias Jean-Michel Chazine, working in Gua Keboboh behind a decorated ceramic shard from an funeray urn. The inhabited sites are generally situated at the foot of cliffs, that is, below the decorated caves, as our mini-investigations had shown that the cavities with rock art paintings had not served as living places.

The zoomorphic figurine of Gua Unak, probably a decoration of the top of a funerary urn, restored by computer.

The excavations brought up many broken tortoise shells, mixed with deer and wild boar remains. In particular, we found an almost intact plastron, with traces of ochre inside, likely to be mortar or at least some type of container. This use of tortoise shells (as well as of freshwater bivalve shells) as a palette for ochre is listed in the ethnographic literature. Indeed, the turtle is ranked within the bestiary as either a sacred or, at least, an influential spirit, with whom one must maintain respectful relationships to ensure they remain beneficial. Very common in the petroglyphs of Oceania and in the eastern part of Insulinde, it also appears less frequently (only 5 samples) in the inventory of Borneo rock art.

The first excavations indicated that the occupations had lasted for significant periods of time, but were also marked by frequent interruptions, without significant changes in the technique and culture of the settlements.

In addition to this material data, dating confirmed human occupations as ancient as the end of the Pleistocene area (between 12,000 and 8,000 BP) and continuing beyond the appearance of ceramics (circa 3,500 BP), until the periods and cultures of proto-contemporary Austronesian type, such as Dayak and Punan. Most surprising is the updating of a burial of a new type in Borneo after having gathered a first characteristic shard, which shows a morphology nearest to the Lapita burial sites found only eastern of Papua New Guinea until now. Continuing and expanding the excavation will hopefully provide more answers to this enigma.