Site of Ampat Island, the Iron Civilization Drowning at the Bottom of Lake Matano – All Pages

Nationalgeographic.co.id—Sulawesi with its name meaning ‘island iron‘, is known for its iron production for a long time in the archipelago. Based on the 14th century Majapahit manuscript Nagarakertagama, Luwu area, is suspected to be a producer of iron which is exported to Java because of its high quality.

Recently, archaeologists reported on the site iron ancient lost since the eighth century. The site is located in Ampat Island approx. Lake Matano, South Sulawesi. Shinatria Adhityatama from the National Archaeological Research Center who is now a researcher at the Griffith Center for Social and Cultural Research, and his team published it in the journal Archaeological Research in Asia, Friday (11/19/2021).

“Research conducted in 2016 and 2018 by the Indonesian National Archaeological Research Center confirmed previously reported evidence that the main source of Pamor Luwu was smelting ore from the Lake Matano environment,” wrote Shinatria and team.

“Supplementing the remains of iron production at the ground surface site, we found evidence of it at an underwater site called Ampat Island. This research is the first underwater archaeological study of iron production in Asia.”

They write that the iron age in Indonesia, especially Sulawesi, is similar to the bronze and gold age, which scientists call the Iron-Bronze Age, Paleometallic Period, or Early Metal Age. These conditions make it different from Eurasia where the Bronze Age existed centuries before the Iron Age.

It is estimated that the Early Metal Age in the archipelago existed from 600-500 BC, or later than in Eurasia. Because there is a lot of evidence at other sites such as in Bali, which uses imported metal processing. The use of local metal raw materials is estimated to have occurred in the first century BC and the first century AD.

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While at Lake Matano, Shniatria and the team had to dive to find out what the relics were at the bottom.

The dives were carried out so that the base was scanned in three dimensions and could perform radiocarbon dating, which was then analyzed. They also examine the existing heritage of the surrounding culture, in order to understand the people who lived at that time.

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The Ampat Island site turns out to have many human remains that are at a depth of three to 15 meters from the surface.

“We suspect the site is from the Early Metal Age, based on the discovery of stone chips, pottery fragments decorated with various geometric patterns, animal bones, and some metal tools,” they explained.

When they dived back in 2018, they found even more remains such as an accumulation of iron slag and charcoal scattered at the bottom, and tuy’eres–a smelting furnace. The extent of these findings illustrates that here there are settlements or villages that have sunk, explained Shinatria and his team.

Also Read: Recent Findings of Transitional Civilizations at Lake Matano: When the Neolithic Age Meets the Iron Age


Arkenas Research Center 2018

Objects found at the Ampat Island site, Lake Matano, South Sulawesi. All of them relate to iron production activities that have been going on for a long time there.


“It’s very interesting to explore what happened at this site. Why are there so many pieces of pottery scattered on the bottom of the lake, nestled among the rocks? What about other remains such as stone chips and iron slag remnants from iron processing?” they continued.

“Looking at the context of the discovery these finds, it seems that they are interrelated. The distribution of pottery and processed iron remains are mixed and closely correlated. Also some pottery remains show traces of iron, charcoal and ash, indicating combustion at high temperatures, including semi-complete vessels with signs of burning at the bottom.”

In addition to the production material, the teeth of animals such as Bovidae and bones that are thought to be Anoa (Bubalus depression) were also found. It is estimated that these bones are the remains of the consumption of people living in the Ampat Island location.

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“Based on the identification in this study, we conclude that the location of this settlement is associated with a large iron production industry,” they explained. “We suspect this large iron production industry developed around the 5th to 10th centuries AD. Therefore, we collected samples to determine the exact age of the site.”

After further investigation of the Bovidae teeth, it turned out to be from the end of the middle of the VII century and the middle of the VIII century AD.

Also Read: Geologists and Archaeological Findings on the Iron Civilization of Lake Matano

Diving at the site of Ampat Island, Lake Matano, South Sulawesi.  There are many traces of iron production which characterize Sulawesi as the Iron Island.

Arkenas Research Center 2018

Diving at the site of Ampat Island, Lake Matano, South Sulawesi. There are many traces of iron production which characterize Sulawesi as the Iron Island.

The National Archaeological Research Center found patterned pottery at the bottom of Lake Matano.  In recent years archaeologists and geologists have tried to unravel the mystery of this lake.  Check it out in the October 2020 issue of National Geographic Indonesia magazine.

Rahmad Azhar Hutomo/National Geographic Indonesia

The National Archaeological Research Center found patterned pottery at the bottom of Lake Matano. In recent years archaeologists and geologists have tried to unravel the mystery of this lake. Check it out in the October 2020 issue of National Geographic Indonesia magazine.

Meanwhile, at that time on the island of Java, it was only in the process of establishing important monuments such as temples that were not made of andesite. It is suspected that metal, especially iron, was the main material used in the construction.

This historical study is in line with the team’s interview with the head of the Matano adat, who said that Matano was once controlled by a large kingdom that controlled the production and trade of iron. There are also pre-Islamic texts that mention Matano as a tributary of the Luwu Kingdom which was famous for controlling the iron trade in the 14th and 16th centuries. Previously, there have been many other studies that reveal the use of iron, such as spearheads found around the shores of lakes.

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However, the research results of Shinatria and his team show that the Matano iron civilization was already produced long before the Luwu Kingdom was founded.

Map and information on the findings of Lake Matano in the October 2020 edition of National Geographic Indonesia. Excavations have uncovered thousands of artifacts, from lakes that were formed one to four million years ago.

National Geographic Indonesia

Map and information on the findings of Lake Matano in the October 2020 edition of National Geographic Indonesia. Excavations have uncovered thousands of artifacts, from lakes that were formed one to four million years ago.

A researcher found pottery crumbs at the bottom of Lake Matano.  From the pattern of pottery, it seems that the Matano civilization has had high technology to express its artistic taste.

National Archaeological Research Center

A researcher found pottery crumbs at the bottom of Lake Matano. From the pattern of pottery, it seems that the Matano civilization has had high technology to express its artistic taste.


The sinking of the Ampat Island site

So, what made him sink? Shinatria and his team also carried out geological observations that indicated the possibility of a natural disaster causing this site to sink to the bottom of the lake.

“Lake Matano was formed by tectonic activity and the area is still very tectonically active. Thus, it appears that a large earthquake submerged this blacksmith/iron producing settlement into Lake Matano.” they said.

However, it is suggested that the geological understanding of the Matano fault should be studied more carefully by archaeologists and geologists, the team suggested. This understanding of tectonic activities can be used as a basic reference for disaster mitigation that can occur at any time in the future. Considering that iron production and industry is still carried out around Matano.

Sharp weapon fragment found by the National Archaeological Research Center at the bottom of Lake Matano.  Now researchers are still looking for answers to why the settlement was submerged in lake water.

Rahmad Azhar Hutomo/National Geographic Indonesia

Sharp weapon fragment found by the National Archaeological Research Center at the bottom of Lake Matano. Now researchers are still looking for answers to why the settlement was submerged in lake water.

Also Read: The Concurrent Process of Christianization and Islamization of South Sulawesi


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