After Thailand and East Malaysia, Indonesia - and particularly Java - has probably revealed more of Southeast Asia's prehistory than any other country in the region. Most significant was the discovery of hominid fossils in Central Java in 1890, when Eugene Dubois uncovered the bones of so-called 'Java Man' near the village of Trinil. He named his ape-man Pithecanthropus erectus, since changed to Homo erectus. These, and other discoveries - particularly at Sangiran, also in Central Java and Mojokerto - indicate that Indonesia was inhabited by hominids as long as 1,800,000 years ago. Excavations in Central Java have also revealed other fossils of early Man - Pithecanthropus soloensis and P modjokertensis. Among the skulls of P soloensis, a number have been found to have had their cranial bases removed, leading scientists to postulate that the species practised anthropophagy - less politely known as cannibalism - which involved gouging the victim's brains out through the base. Alternatively, the surgery might have been part of a post mortem ritual.

Following the end of the last Ice Age 15,000 years ago, there began a movement of Mongoloid peoples from the Asian mainland, south and east, and into the Southeast Asian archipelago. As this occurred, the immigrants displaced the existing Austro-melanesian inhabitants, pushing them further east or into remote mountain areas.

The practice of
settled agriculture
seems to have filtered into the islands of Indonesia from mainland Southeast Asia about 2500 BC, along with these Mongoloid migrants. Settled life is associated with the production of primitive earthenware pottery, examples of which have been found in Java, Sulawesi and Flores. Later,
ancestor cults
evolved, echoes of which are to be seen in the megaliths of Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi, Bali, Sumbawa and Sumba. These cultures reached their height about 500 BC. Among the various discoveries has been evidence of the mutilation of corpses - presumably to prevent the deceased from returning to the world of the living. In some cases, ritual elements of these megalithic cultures still exist - for example, on the island of Sumba in Nusa Tenggara, among the inhabitants of Nias Island off West Sumatra, and among the Batak of North Sumatra.

The technology of
bronze casting
was also known to prehistoric Indonesians. Socketed axes have been discovered in Java, several islands of Nusa Tenggara (eg Roti) and in Sulawesi. But the finest bronze artefacts are the magnificent kettledrums of East Indonesia. It is thought these were made in Vietnam, not in Indonesia, and arrived in the archipelago when traders used them as barter goods. Later, locally made equivalents such as the
of Alor were produced, but they never achieved the refinement of the originals.

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