Tag Archives: indonesia

The world’s oldest known cave painting in Indonesia shows a chonky wild pig

The lush environment of Indonesia harbors some of the oldest known cave art. Now, it can officially boast having the oldest known cave art. Dated to 45,500 years ago, this prehistoric figurative painting depicts a Sulawesi warty pig — and researchers say there should be more like it in the area.

Dated pig painting at Leang Tedongnge. Maxime Aubert Credit: Maxime Aubert

Sulawesi is an Indonesian island east of Borneo. Rich in lush vegetation and karst environment, it would have been an excellent home for early humans. Unsurprisingly, then, the island has a long history of human occupation, with stone artifacts dating up to 194,000 years ago, possibly from a yet-unidentified ancient human species.

The Leang Tedongne cave, where the painting was discovered, lies in a narrow valley, enclosed by steep limestone cliffs — exactly the type of karstic landscape you’d expect to find caves in. Doctoral Student Basran Burhan came across the painting during 2017 surveys carried out with local authorities and members of the local Bugis community.

The cave is only accessible during the dry season as the valley gets flooded during rainy season. In fact, it’s so inaccessible that Bugis members told researchers the cave had never been seen by Westeners before.

Leang Tedongnge cave. The cave is located at the foot of a limestone karst hill. Credits: Brumm et al / Science Advances.

Measuring 136 by 54 centimeters (53 by 21 inches), the Sulawesi warty pig is painted in a single dark red color. It has a short crest of upright hair and a pair of horn-like warts, which help researchers identify the species of the pig. There are also two hand prints near the pig, as well as two partially preserved pigs, suggesting that it could have been a larger narrative scene.

The painting also features an artistic technique often found in ancient cave paintings, the researchers note in the study.

“It should be noted that the artists portrayed preorbital warts in the so-named twisted perspective. This is a common method of graphical representation in prehistoric art that entails using a single outline profile image of an animal to depict how it appears to an onlooker when observed from different viewpoints.”

“The pig appears to be observing a fight or social interaction between two other warty pigs,” said co-author Adam Brumm.

Sulawesi warty pigs have been hunted for tens of thousands of years in Indonesia, and have even been domesticated in some regions. It’s unsurprising then that these creatures feature prominently in cave art.

The researchers also analyzed a couple of other cave paintings, dating them and identifying the depicted species. The previous oldest cave art was dated from 43,900 years ago, also from Indonesia.

Could be even older

Since the maximum age that can be dated using carbon dating is 50,000 years, the cave painting was dated using another method: uranium dating. However, the team didn’t date the paint itself to prevent any damage, but rather the layer of calcite that formed on top of the painting. This means that the painting itself “could be much older because the dating that we’re using only dates the calcite on top of it,” they say.

Digital tracing of the rock art panel. Image credits: Brumm et al / Science Advances.

But even if the painting dates from so long ago, the people who made it were, by any definition, people. The team believes the artwork was made by Homo sapiens and not another, now-extinct human species like Denisovans (or another unidentified species) but cannot say this for certain at this moment. Regardless of what species made it, they were still people, researchers conclude.

“The people who made it were fully modern, they were just like us, they had all of the capacity and the tools to do any painting that they liked,” he added.

Since the depicted scene also features a couple of handprints, researchers are hoping to get some DNA samples and see what species created the art. In order to produce these handprints, the artists would have had to place their hand on the wall and then spit pigment over it — traces of that may yet be discovered, shedding new light on this ancient episode of human evolution.

The study has been published in Science Advances.

Indonesian volcano erupted twice last Sunday

Mount Merapi, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, erupted twice on Sunday sending clouds of ash some 6 kilometers into the air, according to Indonesia’s geological agency.

Mount Merapi before the eruption.
Image credits Aditya Ananta Parameswara.

The eruptions lasted for around seven minutes and caused local authorities to ask residents to stay outside a three-kilometer zone around the volcano. Mount Merapi is close to Yogyakarta, the capital city of the Special Region of Yogyakarta in Indonesia on the island of Java, one of the country’s most important cultural areas. However, so far no damage to property or life has been reported.

A rumbling display

The first reports of something going on with the volcano came from locals in the neighbouring areas hearing strong rumbling sounds in the morning, according to Deutsche Welle.

With the memory of Merapi’s last eruption in 2010 still fresh (the event claimed 300 lives and forced the evacuation of 280,000 residents), authorities immediately instituted the no-go zone and prepared for the worst. The geological agency even advised commercial planes to proceed with caution in the area.

However, it was luckily all bark and no bite, so the authorities didn’t need to raise the volcano’s alert status. No loss of life or property was so far reported, despite this being the most powerful eruption of Mt. Merapi since 1930.

Air traffic is currently unrestricted across the region, but pilots are still advised to be cautious around the area.

Indonesia is made up of over 17,000 islands and islets created by tectonic movements across an active fault line on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”. This geological backdrop explains why the nation also has nearly 130 active volcanoes and lively seismic activity.

So while Indonesia will definitely see more eruptions like this in the future, we can only hope that they will all be just as harmless.

Coronavirus adds new threat to orangutans in Indonesia

Many threats such as land loss and degradation, poaching, and deforestation have turned orangutans into a critically endangered species over the years, with 80% of them living outside protected areas. Now, a new potentially deadly threat has been added to the list, coronavirus.

Credit Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation

No cases of transmissions from humans to orangutans have been confirmed yet, but chances are high as they share 97% of our DNA. That has made authorities in Indonesia, home to many orangutans in the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, to take measures to protect them.

The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, a rehabilitation center for orangutans in Borneo, closed its doors to all visitors and asked the caretakers to take precautions against passing on any infections, such as wearing masks and protective gloves — gear that is burned after the working day is over.

“There haven’t been any confirmed cases of direct transmission, but it’s caused other issues like a shortage of masks and disinfectant supplies for our orangutan caretakers,” said foundation veterinarian Agus Irwanto in a statement, asking for donations due to markups in pricing.

For the apes, however, there hasn’t been much change in their daily jungle jaunts. Their routine has not changed; they still depart for the forest early in the morning and return in the late afternoon after a day of discovery and learning. The feeding schedule continues the same, twice a day, as well as the cleaning of their enclosures.

“Our dedicated veterinarians, surrogate mothers, and technicians are working tirelessly to ensure that the orangutans in our centres remain safe and healthy,” the foundation said in a statement. “Every one of our team members is doing their best to make sure they stay in good health and follow all safety procedures, both to protect the orangutans in their care and their own loving families waiting for them at home.”

Similar protection measures are being taken in zoos that host orangutans across the globe, such as in France, with caretakers keeping their distance from them. At the same time, last month the forest-covered African nation of Gabon said it would stop allowing tourists to see apes over fears that humans could give them the virus.

The word orangutan means ‘person of the forest’ and orangutans are perfectly adapted to their habitat. Their long arms and palm-like- feet allow them to grasp branches and travel with ease through the forest canopy. Orangutans open up the forest canopy by breaking off branches and creating gaps, allowing light to reach the forest floor.

There are three species: the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus), the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii), and the Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis). The orangutan’s preferred habitat is a low-lying peat-swamp forest. Their distribution is influenced by fruit availability and is rarely found above 500m.

According to the Population and Habitat Viability Assessment (PHVA) in May 2017 there are an estimated 57,000 Bornean orangutans, 13,000 Sumatran orangutans, and 800 Tapanuli orangutan in the wild. By 2080, if current trends continue, it has been projected that the Bornean orangutan will lose 70-80% of its forest habitat.

Indonesia is the world’s largest palm oil producer. Palm oil is a type of vegetable oil produced from the kernels of oil palm trees. The local orangutan population is threatened because their habitat, low-lying tropical rainforest, has been cleared and converted to oil-palm plantations. In recent years, fires have been used to clear land for the development of oil-palm plantations. Fires have been traditionally used for slash and burn to clear areas for farmland. However, when the fires coincide with an El Nino year (which results in a longer than a normal dry season) they can burn out of control.

Mining in recent years has caused irreversible damage to Indonesia’s forests. Illegal open cast mining for gold and zircon in protected areas has turned the lush primary rainforest into a barren and lifeless desert. Mercury, used in the mining process, contaminates the river systems, killing fish and other wildlife.

New tweets: ten species of bustling songbirds discovered on Indonesian islands

An expedition off the coast of Sulawesi has come upon ten new songbird species. It’s a rare discovery that highlights once again the thriving Indonesian biodiversity — but also the threats this biodiversity faces.

The Wakatobi white-eye. Image credits: Seán Kelly.

Deep seas, unique birds

Although they are some of the most-studied groups of animals in the world, new birds are rarely discovered. Maybe it’s because we’ve found most of them, or maybe because birds are easier to spot than other creatures, but identifying new bird species is rare.

In the past two decades, an average of just six new bird species have been described every year. But 2020 is already different.

The expedition was carried out from late 2013 to early 2014. Three small, little-explored islands off the coast of Sulawesi were visited by a team led by Frank Rheindt at the National University of Singapore. The team tried to focus on the areas where they thought it was most likely to find new species. They analyzed geological trends that would have influenced the likelihood of finding birds, zooming in on one particular aspect: how deep the water around the islands is.

Taliabu Myzomela, one of the newly-identified species, carefully watching its surroundings. Image credits: James Eaton / Birdtour Asia.

Sea depth is a surprisingly important factor in determining how distinct an island’s biodiversity is. As the Earth has undergone over 20 glacial periods in the past 2 million years, sea levels have repeatedly risen and dropped, connecting and disconnecting islands with other areas. Islands surrounded by shallow waters would have had periods of communication with the mainland or other islands, producing a gene flow between populations, which slows down the emergence of endemic creatures.

But islands which are surrounded by seas deeper than 120 meters would have remained isolated throughout this period, increasing the likelihood of unique species.

This was exactly the case with Peleng and Taliabu, two of the surveyed islands. In addition, these islands have rarely been explored by biologists, making them an excellent target.

Hill forest in Peleng. Image credits: Philippe Verbelen.

The researchers’ efforts were rewarded as 10 new species were identified — 9 of which on Peleng and Taliabu.

Two of the newly discovered animals are leaf warblers — small, insect-eating songbirds. Others include a type of honeyeater that feeds on nectar and fruit and the Peleng fantail (which, as the name implies, fans its tail feathers when is alarmed), as well as two flycatchers. It’s a fairly diverse group, the majority of which was discovered in the islands’ highlands, over 1,000 meters (3,200 feet) high.

Problems already

As it is so often the case, threats to these new species have already been identified. It already seems like a trope: we’ve found some new species, but they’re at risk. In this case, rampant deforestation on the islands is threatening the survival of the birds. Logging is the main cause of deforestation, although forest fires (exacerbated by climate change) also play a role.

It’s an important reminder that life needs to be protected — even life that we haven’t discovered yet.

Thousands of species have been described in recent years, but most researchers agree that thousands more still remain undescribed. Although Sulawesi has been populated by archaic hominins since before the time of Homo sapiens, its zoology still has surprises to offer.

Holotype of one of the newly-described species. Credits: Rheindt et al (2020) / Science.

This study, just like many others analyzing species of birds, leaves behind another pressing ethical question.

This sort of specimen-collecting expeditions involve, as the name implies, collecting specimens — killing them. In this case, nets were placed at strategic points on the island, and whichever unfortunate birds flew into them are harvested and sent to the lab for later analysis.

Establishing that an animal is a new species cannot be done without this analysis — and yet, it involves killing specimens from a population that may very well be threatened. This has been done for centuries, but the ethics of it are being debated more and more in recent times.

Does the end goal of conservation and study justify this process?

The study was published in Science.

Artwork in Indonesia might be the new ‘oldest’ hunting scene by modern humans

Indonesia may be the home of the oldest cave paintings of hunting bands found in the world.

A section of the cave painting.
Image credits Griffith University via Gizmodo.

A new study reports on what appears to be a depiction of human-like figures hunting wild buffalo and pigs at the Leang Bulu’ Sipong 4 site in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. It was dated to be approximately 43,900-years old. If this estimate is true, it would make the artwork the oldest known example of figurative art drawn by modern humans.

For now, exactly what the scene is meant to represent is still up for debate, but it could also be the oldest depiction of a hunting scene to date.

Hunting or myth-telling

Cave art that precedes this one has been discovered both in Europe and Africa. However, the cave drawings in Europe, featuring animals, dots, geometric signs, and hand stencils, were almost certainly made by Neanderthals. The art-piece from Africa, a 73,000-year-old cross-hatched pattern drawn onto a smooth rock, is not a figurative work (i.e. not meant to represent a real scene or place).

The oldest known hunting scenes that we know were made by modern humans date back between 21,000 to 14,000 years ago and were found in Europe — including the famous drawing at The Shaft in Lascaux France. The new scene found in Sulawesi shows that the tradition of figurative cave paintings wasn’t necessarily born in Europe.

Due to the ravages of time, the 4-meter (13 ft) wide artwork isn’t fully visible. However, it seems to have been a single composition depicting tiny humans with spears and ropes hunting buffalo and pigs.

The oldest known hunting scenes that were made by modern humans date back somewhere between 21,000 and 14,000 years ago and were found in Europe — including the famous drawing at The Shaft in Lascaux France. The new scene found in Sulawesi shows that the tradition of figurative cave paintings wasn’t necessarily born in Europe.

The team was able to date the drawings using calcium carbonate growths that form naturally in limestone caves — the same growths that now obscure parts of the artwork. The tests returned an age of 43,900 years ago but, as these bits of mineral grew over the paints, the drawing itself could be much older.

Both modern and several kinds of archaic humans — including Homo erectus and the Denisovans — lived in the area at this time. While any one of them could have created the work, we know for a fact that modern humans would paint similar (and unrelated) scenes at later dates all over the world, making them the most likely candidate.

Ochre, hematite, and other natural pigments were used to paint the figures, the team explains. It showcases several therianthropes hunting or subduing six animals: two Sulawesi warty pigs and four dwarf buffaloes known as anoas, both of which were common to Sulawesi at the time.

“Although these animals were depicted in outline profile with irregular patterns of infill the figures were executed with a relatively high degree of anatomical realism and certain [anatomical features] of these species are clearly represented, such as, in the case of Sulawesi warty pig, its distinctive head crest, and, with the anoas, their characteristic straight, dagger-like horns,” corresponding author Adam Brumm told Gizmodo.

He adds that “we can’t ever know the real meanings of this cave painting,” the team is “fairly convinced” that it showcases a hunting scene; it could also be a depiction of myth or religious story due to the presence of the therianthropes.

The paper “Earliest hunting scene in prehistoric art” has been published in the journal Nature.

A researcher analyzes pieces of pottery found near Banda Aceh, Indonesia. Credit: Patrick Daly.

Ceramics Trace a 14th Century Indonesian Tsunami

Archaeological evidence suggests that communities on the northern coast of Sumatra devastated by a tsunami roughly 600 years ago opted to rebuild in the same area, a process repeated in 2004.

A researcher analyzes pieces of pottery found near Banda Aceh, Indonesia. Credit: Patrick Daly.

A researcher analyzes pieces of pottery found near Banda Aceh, Indonesia. Credit: Patrick Daly.

The first waves rolled ashore in Banda Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra, barely 20 minutes after a magnitude 9.1 megathrust earthquake struck the Indian Ocean on 26 December 2004. After the last of a series of tsunamis slammed the community, the death toll in Indonesia exceeded 150,000.

Following the so-called Boxing Day tsunamis, survivors opted to rebuild their lives within the inundation zone rather than abandon the exposed coastline. Now, scientists have used archaeological evidence from the coast of Sumatra dating back to the 14th century to show that returning to a tsunami-devastated region has a long historical precedent. Their results were published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

No Shortage of Tsunamis

Patrick Daly, an archaeologist at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and lead author of the new study, works just across the Strait of Malacca from the Indonesian island of Sumatra. He remembers visiting Banda Aceh, the capital of Indonesia’s Aceh Province and the site of some of the worst destruction from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, in 2006.

Seeing the extensive wreckage firsthand got Daly thinking about how frequently tsunamis strike the region. “Have there been other societies that have dealt with similar things?” he remembers wondering.

The answer, Daly and his colleagues soon realized, was a definitive yes. In a study published in 2017, a team of researchers, including Daly, found evidence that 11 tsunamis had struck near Banda Aceh between 7,400 and 2,900 years ago. Other research teams analyzing sand deposits and growth patterns of corals suggested that tsunamis also struck the area more recently, in about 1394 and 1450. Daly and his collaborators set about looking for archaeological evidence from the 14th and 15th centuries to determine the impacts of these more recent tsunamis.

Sherds, Sherds Everywhere

The scientists examined a 40-kilometer section of the Sumatran coastline near Banda Aceh.

Working with a team of over 60 Acehnese individuals recruited through the International Centre for Aceh and Indian Ocean Studies, they collected more than 30,000 pieces of broken ceramic pottery (sherds). The team found the roughly 5- to 15-centimeter fragments, which had been exposed by erosion and the 2004 tsunamis, both on the ground and in beach-facing cliff faces. These pieces were trade ceramics, the researchers concluded, and were originally made in places as far-flung as China, India, Syria, Thailand, and Vietnam. They were “the type of stuff you’d find in museums of Asian art,” said Daly.

On the basis of the style and design of the pottery, the team grouped the sherds into five time periods ranging from pre-1400 to 1650–1800.

The researchers found that the ceramics tended to be clustered in sites, implying geographically distinct settlements engaged in trade. These settlements, 10 in total, likely corresponded to modest-sized fishing villages, the researchers concluded. Nine were located within the inundation zone of the 2004 tsunami, and the 10th was situated on a promontory roughly 60 meters above sea level.

Trading from a Hill

Mining through their extensive database of age-dated, geographically tagged sherds, Daly and his collaborators noted a curious result: The settlements contained over 3,800 sherds confidently dated to before 1400 but only 70 sherds confidently dated to 1400–1450.

This fiftyfold decrease was consistent with the occurrence of a tsunami in 1394 that temporarily wiped out trading, the team reasoned.

“A powerful tsunami in the middle ages around 1394, analogous with the 2004 event, does indeed give the best fit with the detailed archaeological data set, ” Hendrik J. Bruins, a geoarchaeologist at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, who was not involved in the research, told Eos.

Further support for this hypothesis soon emerged: 56 of the 70 sherds dated to 1400–1450 were found at the 10th settlement, the one atop the promontory and therefore presumably above the reach of tsunami waves. “Cluster 10 clearly retained connections to its international trading partners over this period,” the researchers wrote.

Daly and his colleagues went on to find that the hilltop settlement was abandoned by roughly 1550. Around the same time, trade started to increase at the low-lying villages, sites that would have likely been destroyed by the 1394 tsunami.  Researchers don’t know what caused the shift in trading patterns, but Daly and his team hypothesize that outsiders may have been moving into the low-lying settlements.

“You’re getting new groups of people taking advantage of the depopulation to set up a new trading infrastructure,” said Daly.

The area around Banda Aceh is an ideal meeting place for traders, he said, because it’s situated near the Bay of Bengal and therefore readily accessible from India, China, and Southeast Asia.

Accepting Risk

The results in the new paper show that there’s a long history of people moving back into tsunami-prone regions after a disaster, said Daly. That’s partially because there are “massive social and economic consequences to relocating people.” Humans are also remarkably good at accepting a certain degree of risk, particularly for rare events like tsunamis, Daly said.

The Acehnese coast will surely be hit by another tsunami in the future, said Daly, who notes that only time will tell if people will once again rebuild in such a disaster-prone area. He and his team are continuing to piece together the tsunami record in the area, particularly focusing on the last 2,000 years, he said. “We’re telling this big archaeological, environmental story.”

Story by Katherine Kornei, freelance science journalist. This article first appeared on EOS, and was republished here under a CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 licence.

China and India on track for world’s largest economies by 2030. US could lose first place as soon as next year

Many will be surprised to hear this but, for the better part of the last 2,000 years, China and India were the world’s largest economies. Up until the Industrial Revolution, output was directly proportional to population size, so these countries naturally came on top. It wasn’t until steam engines, railroads, and mass production entered the picture that industrialized countries with much larger productivity per capita overtook the populous Asian powerhouses.

For more than a century, not long after the Civil War ended, the United States has held the crown as the world’s foremost economy. Now, history is about to reach a new turning point, with China and India set to soon reclaim their previous positions on the world economic stage.

Data compiled by Angus Maddison, an economist who died earlier this year, suggest that China and India were the biggest economies in the world for almost all of the past 2000 years. Credit: The Economist.

Data compiled by Angus Maddison, an economist who died earlier this year, suggest that China and India were the biggest economies in the world for almost all of the past 2000 years. Credit: The Economist.

According to Standard Chartered Bank, China will likely become the world’s largest economy at some point in 2020, overthrowing the United States. By 2030, the standings of the world’s top 10 economies will look radically different from today: the United States will claim only 3rd place, and six of the top ten countries on the list will hail from Asia.

The researchers at Standard made their projections by combining purchasing-power-parity exchange rates — so-called GDP (PPP) — and nominal gross domestic product (GDP).

[panel style=”panel-success” title=”What is GDP (PPP)” footer=”Source: Wikipedia / Purchasing Power Parity.”]Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) is measured by finding the values (in USD) of a basket of consumer goods that are present in each country (such as pineapple juice, pencils, etc.). If that basket costs $100 in the US and $200 in the United Kingdom, then the purchasing power parity exchange rate is 1:2.

For example, suppose that Japan has a higher GDP per capita ($18) than the US ($16). That means that someone in Japan would, on average, make $2 more than someone in American. However, they are not necessarily richer. Suppose that one gallon of orange juice costs $6 in Japan and only $2 in the US; then $6 in Japan exchanges to only $2 worth of US goods.

Let’s use 1 gallon of orange juice as a reference basket of goods. Based on it, we can establish a PPP index of 1 to 3 between Japan and the US. Therefore, in terms of orange juice, the Americans are richer, and in this example, the US has a GDP (PPP) of $16, unchanged since it is the reference currency. Japan, however, has GDP (PPP) of only $6 since $18 in Japan can only buy 3 gallons of orange juice, which represents only $6 of US goods.

Source: Wikipedia / Purchasing Power Parity


By PPP alone, China is already the world’s largest economy. On a nominal basis, however, the US is still leading the pack.

In the future, emerging markets are expected to catch up with historically-developed countries, driven by the convergence of per-capita GDP. In other words, as a country’s output starts matching the size of its population, this can mean a lot as far as hugely populated nations are concerned. For instance, Indonesia, Turkey, Brazil, and Egypt are expected to experience massive growths in their economies. To get a better idea of the bigger picture, Visual Capitalist compared Standard’s 2030 projections with the IMF’s most recent data on GDP (PPP) for 2017. It’s a bit of a case of counting apples and oranges, since the Standard assessment also includes nominal GDP in its formula, but the table gets the job done.

Rank Country  —- Proj. GDP (2030, PPP) —- GDP (2017, PPP)  —- % change
#1 China $64.2 trillion $23.2 trillion +177%
#2 India $46.3 trillion $9.5 trillion +387%
#3 United States $31.0 trillion $19.4 trillion +60%
#4 Indonesia $10.1 trillion $3.2 trillion +216%
#5 Turkey $9.1 trillion $2.2 trillion +314%
#6 Brazil $8.6 trillion $3.2 trillion +169%
#7 Egypt $8.2 trillion $1.2 trillion +583%
#8 Russia $7.9 trillion $4.0 trillion +98%
#9 Japan $7.2 trillion $5.4 trillion +33%
#10 Germany $6.9 trillion $4.2 trillion +64%

According to economists from Standard Chartered, Asian GDP will account for about 35% of the world’s GDP, up from 28% in 2018 and 20% in 2010. That’s equivalent to the combined output of the US and the European Union.

3,500-year-old spiced latte? Archaeologists report earliest known usage of nutmeg

As the autumn season is settling in and the lines are drawn around the infamous pumpkin spice latte, scientists report the earliest usage of another popular spice: nutmeg.

Humans have been using nutmeg for more than 3,500 years, a new study suggests.

The findings were made at an archaeological site on Pulau Ay, a small island in central Indonesia. The nutmeg was found as residue on ceramic potsherds and is estimated to be around 3,500 years old — which is 2,000 years older than any previously known usage of the spice.

Pulau Ay is essentially a small limestone island which was occupied from 2,300 to 3,500 years ago. The archaeological site yielded numerous valuable findings, including animal bones, pottery, stone tools, and housing structures. The variety of artifacts discovered showcases how the local society changed century after century, and how their ability to use resources evolved over time.

[panel style=”panel-default” title=”Nutmeg” footer=””]Nutmeg is the name given to a spice made by grinding the seed of the fragrant nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) tree into powder. The spice has a very distinctive, warm, fragrance.

Another spice, called mace, is made from the reddish seed covering (aril) of the nutmeg seed. Its flavour is similar to nutmeg but slightly more delicate.[/panel]

A potsherd artifact found at the Pulau Ay archaeological site which contained traces of foods, including the earliest-known use of nutmeg. Credit: Peter Lape/University of Washington.

The earliest archaeological findings depict a society based on fishing, but after the first 500 years,  they had domesticated pigs and relied on them significantly for survival. The pottery style also evolved accordingly, from thin to thicker walls, which are better-suited for pig cooking.

Apparently, along with their taste for pig, the locals also developed a taste for nutmeg. Peter Lape, professor of anthropology at the University of Washington and one of the lead authors, comments:

“This site shows us how people adapted to living on these small tropical islands in stages, from occasional use as fishing camps to permanent occupation,” Lape said. “It’s also fascinating to see such early use of nutmeg, a spice that changed the world a few thousand years later.”

Image credits: Andrew Lawless.

Pulau Ay lacks both indigenous land mammals and surface water — so any population that wanted to inhabit it needed to have technological advantages such as animal domestication and water storage. But even before these were developed by populations, the archaeological evidence suggests that it was regularly visited by people targeting its rich marine reef resources for several thousand years before more permanent populations were established. Then, 2,300 years ago, it was almost completely abandoned.

Evidence of inhabitants re-emerge 1,500 years ago, but it’s not clear what happened on the island between 2,300 and 1,500 years ago.

As for the nutmeg, it shows that, back then, serious trade routes were established, offering a new perspective on an ingredient that’s still valued today.

Journal Reference: Peter Lape et al, New Data from an Open Neolithic Site in Eastern Indonesia, Asian Perspectives (2018). DOI: 10.1353/asi.2018.0015

Tsunami Warning Lifted After Magnitude 7.8 Quake Off Indonesia

Indonesian authorities lifted a tsunami warning issued after a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck off the island of Sumatra – the largest earthquake since the 2004 disaster.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the epicenter was about 500 miles west-southwest of Padang, Indonesia and 529 miles north-northwest of the Cocos Islands. Source: USGS

“There is no info on casualties or damages yet,” Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman at the national disaster mitigation agency, said via text message. “The tsunami warning is based on modeling, while tsunami buoys in Indonesian waters haven’t reported any existence of a tsunami. Many buoys are broken and not functioning, so we don’t know whether the potential for a tsunami in the waters is true or not.”

According to the United States Geological Survey, the earthquake struck at 19:49 local time (12:49 GMT). It said the epicentre was 805km (500 miles) south-west of the city of Padang, and 24km deep.

Thankfully, there seems to be no damage caused by the earthquakes and any tsunamis should have already hit by now, so the coast seems to be safe for now. Telephone communication was reported to be down in the Mentawai island chain, which is closer to the epicenter.

The tectonics of Indonesia are very complex, as it is a meeting point of several tectonic plates, which makes it one of the most active earthquake hotspots in the world. In 2004, a massive 9.1 magnitude earthquake struck Indonesia, with the resulting tsunami killing 230,000 people in 14 countries, and inundating coastal communities with waves up to 30 metres (100 ft) high. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history.

A scene of devastation is captured in an aerial survey mission by Greenpeace on Indonesia's Borneo island. Photograph: Bay Ismayo/AFP/Getty Images

P&G is driving massive deforestation and an orangutan graveyard in Indonesia

A year long investigation by Greenpeace reveals grim palm oil harvesting practices in Indonesia, where suppliers are currently engaging in massive deforestation, which severely threaten the already endangered Sumatran tigers and orangutans, shady PR tactics and intentionally lighting up forest fires. Among the findings is a horrific graveyard where  the buried remains of several orangutans were discovered just outside the land owned by two major suppliers. Greenpeace, in its report, urges the American giant Procter&Gamble to clear up its supplier’s act and only buy palm oil from companies that have a proven record of sustainable palm oil production.

Palm oil is the world’s most ubiquitous vegetable oil and a main driver of deforestation in Indonesia. The oil accounted for roughly 40 percent of the world’s vegetable oil production from 2012-2013, and it is a key ingredient in many household products, such as Procter & Gamble’s Head & Shoulders shampoo and Gillette shaving gel. In 2013 P&G bought about 462,000 tonnes of palm oil, including some from some of the world’s largest processors. Less than 10% of the palm oil used by the company is certified sustainably sourced, Greenpeace said.

“The maker of Head & Shoulders needs to stop bringing rainforest destruction into our showers,” Bustar Maitar, head of the Indonesian forest campaign at Greenpeace International, said in a press statement. ”It must clean up its act and guarantee its customers that these products are forest friendly.”

“Procter & Gamble should follow the lead of other palm oil using companies like Unilever, Nestlé and L’Oréal, which have already promised to clean up their supply chains,” Bustar said.

Perverse incentive

In a report issued in 2012 Procter & Gamble promised to achieve zero net deforestation, in accordance with the Consumer Goods Forum.  In this report, the company pledges to supply all its palm oil purchases  from responsible and sustainable sources by 2015. We’re a quarter in 2014 and apparently P&G is way off.

“Greenpeace contacted P&G about its palm oil sourcing practices in May 2013, which means it’s nearly had a year to react with a robust ‘no-deforestation’ policy that would stop exposing its customers to forest destruction,”  said a Greenpeace senior campaigner, Reece Turner, told Guardian Australia.

“In the meantime, other big palm oil consumers such as Unilever, Ferrero, L’Oreal, Delhaize, Kellogg and the world’s biggest palm oil trader, Wilmar International, have committed to no deforestation.”

One of P&G suppliers is BW Plantation, a Jakarta-based firm that is a third-party supplier for Asian Agria, a palm oil company owned by Sukanto Tanoto’s RGE Group. BW Plantation is currently watched by local authorities for the recent clearance of orangutan habitats in Central Kalimantan.  Other companies marked in the Greenpeace report are Singapore-based Musim Mas, which owns one of Asia’s largest palm oil refineries, along with two other suppliers Globalindo Alam Perkasa Estate II (GAP II) and Multipersada Gatramegah (MPG). All of these are linked with deforestation and orangutan habitat destruction in Central Kalimantan and Papua.

An orangutan graveyard


photo: Greenpeace

The most startling find is that of what can only be referred to as an orangutan graveyard, as several remains have been discovered scattered on the edge of an oil palm plantation belonging to PT Bumi Langgeng Perdanatrada (PT BLP). It’s unlikely these orangutans died of natural causes since these were found buried deep into the ground – like we all know, only humans bury the dead.

orangutan graveyard indonesia

Photo: Greenpeace

Police investigations are now in process, and it is up to them to determine how these orang-utans died and who is responsible. However, the local NGOs that originally exposed the existence of this graveyard cite local community witness reports that the orang-utans buried here were ‘murdered’, according to the Greenpeace report.

“Greenpeace believes palm oil must make a genuine contribution to Indonesia’s development,” Bustar said. “Progressive palm oil producers in the Palm Oil Innovation Group, along with ambitious commitments from big palm oil players GAR and Wilmar, prove that there is a business case for responsible palm oil.

“There is no excuse for companies like P&G, Reckitt Benckiser and Colgate Palmolive to delay immediate action on deforestation.”

Greenpeace: P&G’s dirty secret 


(C) Noyle

Trash waves in Indonesia look appalling. Surf’s up!

(C) Noyle

(C) Noyle

Indonesia’s Java is one of the world’s top surfing destinations, as well as a marvelous casual vacation spot, famed for its pristine waters, gorgeous beaches and ‘killer’ waves. Photographer Zak Noyle recently made a trip there to shoot Indonesian surfer Dede Surinaya while he would ride some waves. During one of their shoots they arrived in a remove bay of Java, but to their great dismay instead of being welcomed by the renowned crystal waters, they were appalled by a most depressing sight: plastic bottles, tree stumps and a myriad of all sorts of other trash and debris.

“It was crazy. I kept seeing noodle packets floating next to me,” Noyle told GrindTV. “It was very disgusting to be in there; I kept thinking I would see a dead body of some sort for sure.”

Most likely, the trash didn’t come from nearby, but was instead swept by currents. Indonesia is home to some 17,000 islands, where a culture and etiquette surrounding trash disposal is lacking. Locals typically dispose of their waste in the street or in river beds, after which it inevitably is washed out to sea. At the same time, authorities reportedly do not offer the means for residents to dispose of their trash. This is why it’s typically thrown in the water or – in some instances equally damaging – burn it. The stench of burned plastic is a familiar odor through out Bali.

Other parts are no different, make no mistake. A while back ZME Science reported how the Great Lakes, home to some of the most amazing freshwater ecosystems in the world, are actually more infested with plastic garbage and debris than the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”.

(C) Noyle

(C) Noyle


Mark Lukach, a writer for the surf website The Inertia, described his first time visiting the island of Lombok.

“My boyhood fantasy felt disappointingly ruined,” he wrote. “I couldn’t believe it. Trash in the lineup. And not any lineup. A lineup right out of my imagination – the perfect lineup … spoiled by trash.”


Mining sulphur in an active volcano

Photo by Jean-Marie Hullot.

Whenever you think you have the worst job ever, you definitely should think about the sulphur miners from Eastern Java, the men who treat poisoned lungs, burns, scars and constant danger as part of their everyday living. Each day, a few hundred men go deep in the heart of the Ijen volcano, with the sole purpose of collecting yellow lumps of sulphur that solidify beside its acidic crater lake.

Photo by Aditya Suseno.

Just in case you’re wondering, sulphur has numerous uses, both inside Indonesia and outside: it is used to vulcanise rubber, make matches and fertiliser and even bleach sugar. Each day, they go up the mountain and gather 90 kg loads from the toxic lake, which they then have to carry back to a weighing station at the base of the volcano; and they do this several times per day.

Photo by Aditya Suseno.

“There are many big mountains but only one gives us the sulphur we need,” says Sulaiman, 31, who has mined the crater for 13 years.

Photo by Matt Paish.

Photo by Matt Paish.

About protection, you really shouldn’t – gas masks or gloves would be nothing less than a luxury for these men, who get paid around 10-15$ per day. The only protection from the deadly gas is clothing. But deadly gases aren’t the only thing they have to be wary of. In the past 40 years, 74 miners have died because of fumes that can come from fissures in the rock, more specifically hydrogen sulphide and sulphur dioxide gases, which are so concentrated they can even dissolve teeth, let alone the other parts of the body.

This practice wasn’t so uncommon 200 years ago, but by now it is mechanized in pretty much every part of the world. Clive Oppenheimer, of Cambridge University explains:

“Until the late 19th Century, there were sulphur mines in volcanic countries such as Italy, New Zealand, Chile and Indonesia.”

Photo by Aditya Suseno.

The work they do takes a harsh toll on their bodies; few of them live to grow old. However, their bodies have adapted, and most of them can hold their breath for several minutes; they also tend to develop amazing shoulder muscles from carrying baskets twice their bodyweight.


“Our families worry when we come here. They say working here can shorten your life,” says Hartomo, 34, a sulphur miner for 12 years. “I do it to feed my wife and kid. No other job pays this well,” adds Sulaiman.