Homo erectus, a distant ancestor of modern man, lived in a part of Indonesia between 350,000 and 800,000 years ago during the time of the great Ice Ages. Fossilized bones of "Java Man" from this period were found in Central Java in 1890, and stone axes and adzes have been discovered on Bali, in the northern village of Sembiran.
As the earth cooled during the Ice Ages, glaciers advanced from the Polar Regions and the levels of the world's oceans fell. Many of the islands of Indonesia became joined to the landmasses of Southeast Asia and Australia by exposed land bridges.
The early humans, as well as animals, moved through these areas across the land bridges linking the islands. It is thought there were two main routes into Indonesia from the Asian mainland; one led down through Thailand into Malaysia and then into the archipelago while the other came down via the Philippines with branches into Kalimantan and Sulawesi.
Homo sapiens first appeared around 40,000 years ago. These hunter-gatherers lived in caves and left their rock paintings on some of the Far Eastern islands of the archipelago. The Neolithic era, around 3000 BC, is marked by the appearance of more sophisticated stone tools, agricultural techniques and basic pottery.
Remains from this era have been found at Cekik Village, in the far west of Bali, where evidence of a settlement together with burials of around a hundred people are thought to range from the Neolithic through to the Bronze Age.
From the seventh or eighth centuries BC, the Bronze Age began to spread south from southern China. Important centers for Bronze Age skills arose in Annam and Tonkin in what is now northern Vietnam, famed for their bronze casting, particularly of drums, decorated with animal, human and geometric patterns. The drums have been found throughout the Indonesian archipelago, as have the stone moulds used in their production.
The most famous example in Bali, and the largest drum found anywhere in Southeast Asia, is the Moon of Pejeng, nearly two meters wide, and currently housed in a temple just east of Ubud. Discoveries of carved stone sarcophagi from this period have been concentrated in East Java and Bali. The most notable examples are on display in the Bali Museum in Denpasar and the Museum Purbakala in Pejeng.
Stone sarcophagi, seats and altars Though precious little is known about the long, formative stages of Balinese prehistory, artifacts discovered around the island provide intriguing clues about Bali's early inhabitants. Prehistoric gravesites have been found in western Bali, the oldest probably dating from the first several centuries BC
The people buried here were herders and farmers who used bronze, and in some cases iron, to make implements and jewelry. Prehistoric stone sarcophagi have also been discovered, mainly in the mountains.
They often have the shape of huge turtles carved at either end with human and animal heads with bulging eyes, big teeth and protruding tongues. Stone seats, altars and big stones dating from early times are still to be found today in several Balinese temples. Here, as elsewhere in Indonesia, they seem to be connected with the veneration of ancestral spirits who formed (and in many ways still form) the core of Balinese religious practices.
Also apparently connected with ancestor worship is one of Southeast Asia's greatest prehistoric artifacts the huge bronze kettledrum known as the "Moon of Pejeng." Still considered to have significant power, it is now enshrined in a temple in the central Balinese village of Pejeng, in Gianyar Regency.
More than 1.5 meters in diameter and 1.86 meters high, it is decorated with geometric motifs in a style that probably originated around Dongson, in what is now northern Vietnam. This is the largest of many such drums discovered in Southeast Asia.
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