The Java Man, his Life and Surroundings

Conservation Office of Sangiran Early Man Site

Sangiran Early Man Site is situated about 15 kilometers north of Solo, Central Java, Indonesia, covering an area of 5,600 hectares. According to a UNESCO report (1995) "Sangiran is recognized by scientists to be one of the most important sites in the world for studying fossil man". It became famous after the discovery of Homo erectus remains and associated stone artifacts (known as Sangiran flake industry) in the 1930s. There is a very significant geological sequence from the upper Pliocene until the end of Middle Pleistocene by depicting the human, faunal, and cultural evolutions within the last 2.4 million years. Excavations here from 1936 to 1941 led to the discovery of the first hominid fossil. Later, 50 fossils of Meganthropus palaeo and Pithecanthropus erectus/Homo erectus were found – half of all the world's known hominid fossils and 65% of findings in Indonesia. Inhabited for the past one and a half million years, Sangiran is one of the key sites for the understanding of human evolution.

Human evolution
Traces of physical human traits were already found on jaw fragments and some teeth of Ramapithecus, dated from the Miocene era around 14 million years ago, but human characteristics started to become more obvious on Australopithecus, Homo habilis, Homo erectus, and finally very clearly seen on Homo sapiens. The fossils discovered in Sangiran were Homo erectus from different varieties. Sangiran Homo erectus was a hominid who left Africa 1.8 million years ago and settled in different corners of the earth. They were able to adapt to cold, temperate and hot environments. Their migration tracks were found in Ethiopia, Tanzania, China, India, Dminasi, France, Spain, Germany, and Sangiran (Indonesia). Homo erectus had developed the ability to make stone tools and fire.
Archaic <i>Homo erectus</i>
Archaic Homo erectus was found in the black clay layer of Pucangan Formation, grenzbank in Sangiran, and the volcanic layer in northern Mojokerto (Perning).  

Sangiran 4 (S4) is an archaic Homo erectus found in the Glagah Ombo village in 1938.

This skull fragment consists of the upper jaw and part of facial bone. Discovered by Suherman and Toto Marsono on the banks of irrigation canals, Bapang, Krikilan Village in 1978. Being observed from the morphology and stratigraphy, the specimen is identified as archaic Homo erectus, dated about 1.5 million years ago.

The back of the skull fragments and upper part of S 31 specimen was found in 1980 in the Pucangan Formation, dated about 1.5 million years ago. The cranial capacity is approximately 800-900 cc and identified as archaic Homo erectus, that lived in Sangiran at 1.5 million to 900,000 years ago.

Found by a resident in Perning at 1936 on the conglomerates sand layer of Pucangan Formation. Skull morphology which is not fully developed indicates that the individual is a child between 3-5 years old. The physical aspect of the findings clearly shows the characteristics of Homo erectus, with a protruding forehead, narrowing in the orbit of the eye, or the tapering of the back of the skull. By potassium-argon testing on samples of pumice found near the skull, obtained a very old dating, 1,9 - 0.4 million years old. By Argon method, is obtained the .81 million years old dating.

Typical Homo erectus
S17, S2, and Pithecanthropus erectus (Trinil) are examples of Typical Homo erectus.

Sangiran 17 (S17) is the Homo erectus skull found by Towikromo, the villager of Pucung at 1969. Its replicas are displayed in many prominent Museums around the World.

There were also female findings identified in Sangiran, for instance Sangiran 2 (S2). The skull structure is relatively smooth/flat as its muscular insertion was not developed and its skull formation is thinner compared to that of a male individual.

The structure of this Pithecanthropus Erectus from Trinil is very short but elongates to the back, with a 900 cc cranial capacity. The brow bone is protruded and there is a significant constriction on the eye orbital area, showing undeveloped brain. The back part is pointy. It is a female, noted from no skull relief development where muscular insertion develops.

Progressive Homo Erectus
The Progressive Homo Erectus is the most developed type. Most of such type were found in the alluvial sediment in Ngandong (Blora), Selopuro (Ngawi), and the volcanic sediment in Sambungmacan (Sragen). It has 1,100 cranial capacity with a higher and rounder skull cap.

Ngandong is a village on the Bengawan Solo riverbank that is located in the middle of teak forest in Blora Regency, Central Java. An excavation done by Ter Haar, Oppenoorth, and von Koenigswald in 1931 – 1933 contributed to the finding of 11 human skulls. They are described by Oppenoorth as Homo Soloensis. The skull cap is more rounded and higher, influencing a higher cranial capacity compared to those of Sangiran and Trinil, around 1,100 cc, a characteristic that shows it had developed to a later stage.

Sabungmacan is a small village on the banks of the Bengawan Solo river, and included in Sragen regency, Central Java. Starting from excavating the canal to flow Bengawan Solo, residents found a number of animal and human fossils.

Sangiran Geology
Sangiran topography had gone through a very long process, starting from 2.4 million years ago, when Sangiran was a deep ocean. Blue clay sediment of Kalibeng Formation was a dominant material in the Pliocene period. In Early Pleistocene, around 1.7 million years ago, volcanic lava of Early Lawu volcano was deposited in the form of black clay sediment of Pucangan Formation. Sangiran was transformed from marine into a swamp environment. Then, at around 900,000, the South Hills eroded, carrying limestones, while the erosion in Kendeng Hills carried volcanic gravels. Those materials gathered in Sangiran, forming a 1-4 metres hard layer called a grenzbank. Sangiran became a continental environment as a whole. Subsequently, tremendous eruptions occurred from the volcanoes around Sangiran. Those eruptions deposited millions of metre cubic of volcanic material through flowing rivers, forming Kabuh Formation. The upper sediment was Notopuro Formation that consisted of volcanic materials in the form of gravel-sized andesit and boulders. The next process was the formation of a dome. An erosion occured on its top, from where millions-year-old sediments were then emerged as Sangiran surface.
Tools of the Trade
Sangiran flakes industry is the oldest stone tools-making culture in Indonesia. It started in Sangiran 1,200,000 years ago and kept developing until about 250,000 years ago. A research at Dayu in 2002 found 220 flakes that were deposited in-situ in fluvial-volcanic sand sediment, under the black clay of Pucangan Formation. Such stone tool is characterised by how it was made and utilised. They are known for their unique manmade parts such as plain beating part, facets dorsal part, and smooth ventral part without facets. The tools had been used intensively, as indicated by the worn-out sharpened  edges called retouchment (reworking). Homo Erectus had been able to select suitable materials to make stone tools. They used chalcedony, silicified lime stone, silicified tuff rock, and silicified andesit. Such materials have high silica content that only needs little chipping to make a sharp edge. They made abundant lithic product like flakes, blades, scrapper, chopper, chopping tool, handaxe, and stone ball. Small stone tools were used for slicing, slashing, and cutting. The  bigger ones were used for cutting wood and bones, also breaking hard-shelled seeds.

Small-sized stone tools like flake, blade, and scrapper were used for simple work like scrapping, sharpening, finishing, and cutting small objects. The edges of those tools are similar to that of a knife and there was retouching on both sides to make a jagged edge, found on some tools. One of the prominent function of a flake was for flaying animals’ skin. Flaying, a process of separating skin from the flesh, eased the preparation of animal meat and skin for various purposes. Ethnography data shows that the skin was used as cloth-making material to cover their bodies and also as a container.

For a Sangiran Homo erectus, natural resources such as jasper and chalsedony needed for making big-sized tools like an axe were not easy to find. They had to wander for around 30 km to find good materials in Kendeng Hills just for small sized materials. Therefore, Homo Erectus used andesitic-basaltic stone that were abundantly found in the lower part of Notopuro Formation. The finding of chopper, chopping tool, and hand axe in the Kedungdowo River is believed to lead to big stone tolls-bearing layer in Sangiran.

Bone tools found in Ngandong are spatula and harpoon.

Credits: Story

The exhibition was curated by Iwan Setiawan Bimas.
Text and photos : Iwan Setiawan Bimas
Translate : Ike Wahyuningsih and Wuri Hatmani
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