Sulawesi (Part 2) The Discovery
Human Bones! Kalamba! Discovery!
The beauty of Sulawesi should not be left unsaid. At this point in the trip, we were overwhelmed with the humble nature of the residents, the vast and endemic wildlife, its natural beauty and the sheer volume of megaliths, which quite literally numbered in the thousands.
On the third day, we planned a hike into a mountainside megalithic site near the town of Watutu. We ate pancakes and soup while waiting for an accompanying park ranger in this quaint village. Water buffalo roamed along the roadside, church songs broke through the fog and the smell of brewed coffee filled the air.
The steamy jungle silence broke in metronomic rhythm as footfalls fell in and out of synchronicity. A bird called above as the party came to a halt and in the distance a waterfall rumbled. Directly on our path a highly finished kalimba stood, broken in three.
This Kambala contained a small cavity carved into its side. Moss and wear indicated the damage occurred long ago, however the opening had been exposed relatively recently. I used a blade to gently lift the layer of black mud over the opening. Almost immediately, a thin bone emerged.
“Looks like a human forefinger,” said Petrus.
“You can’t be serious,” I said. “How can you tell that from this little piece?”
“I’ve seen them before. We are always finding human remains around the sites of megaliths,” said the ranger.
"It’s all part of the job," Joked Petrus.
“Should we alert the local archaeology teams? What if this is the find we are after,” I said.
The ranger casually ran a finger over the bones in tacit indifference
“No,” he said. “These bones are far too young for the archaeologists to worry about.” 'Huh', I thought aloud. Steven and I looked at each other. “Should we…shouldn’t we call the police?” I said. Not one who usually welcomes authority in my travels, I thought this may be an exception. Perhaps some parent is still missing their child, or this is a clue to a serial killer. Fairly legitimate reasons to break my 'minimalist government intervention' travel rule.
“No need,” said the ranger. “They are older than the police would bother investigating.” He shrugged.
The silence that followed I remember as a black comedy moment that we all shared awkwardly. A person had died in an era too old to be a concern of police and too recent to be of value to archeologists. They were just some human bones in the mud, thats all.
'Sooo, we do nothing?' I finally said.
'Just don't desecrate anything, and everything's fine.' Replied Petrus.
'Sweet, a low bar.' I thought.
We covered the bones (assuming this wasn't desecrating anything) and continued up the mountain. During the hike, the ranger said a new creek had been made in the mountain and we should follow it to a crossing point. The creek was diverted from an existing stream over a small spur, to provide water to an unseen rice field, some kilometres below. A very simple irrigation system. The new creek quickly turned natural gullies into a 10 foot wide permanent creek.
As it traveled it carved a path deep into the jungle floor, polishing stones and uprooting trees. Like a wayward hydraulic knife, it wildly sliced through the mountains jungle wall. Its passage to the bottom seemed so erratic, like madness possessed it to re-join the ocean so distant to this mountain jungle.
Near the confluence of the diverted stream I noticed a small regular shape, washed clean on the sandy bottom, the way one can find a stranger looking at them in a crowd. It appeared to be a broken cylinder of clay, slightly larger in radii than a coke can, half the size of the palm of my hand. It reflected the sun like glass. Petrus was ahead walking towards the ranger, who was now engaged with Steven. I turned to Petrus and asked a question.
“Do you have clay sewer pipes running through here?” I asked.
Petrus stopped and thought for a moment. He is a considered man and not one to answer rashly.
“We are on the highest mountain in the area. We are eleven hundred meters above the nearest village, which is many kilometres away and does not have a sewer system,” he said.
“Not a sewer pipe” I mumbled sheepishly at the poorly thought out question.
Steven summoned me towards the creek, grinning from ear to ear.
“We found a pot,” he said. “You have to see this!”
The remains of a pot were embedded in the subsoil. It was barely visible without using one's imagination to picture the pot, but the geometric shape was clear. It had the classic shape of a large amphora with body two feet across. It was broken and washed clean by the recent creek diversion. Not much remained. What were the chances? This new creek, fuelled by a man-made diversion that now cut its own path through kilometres of jungle hillside and just happened to slice the earth and hit an ancient pot. It was a gift.
The ranger informed us a similar piece of pottery, in much better shape, had been found further up upstream by an archaeological group months earlier, but they hadn’t published findings yet. We hiked upstream to witness their find.
At the archaeological site we deduced what had unfolded. The new creek flow had sped up erosion under a megalithic kalamba. As workers had tried to brace the giant stone from within the creek, they noticed the ancient pot. Remarkable luck.
We navigated the creek to identify other pottery finds yet to be marked up by the archeologist, and potentially alert them to the find before they are washed into the unseen rice field.
On examination of the terrain surrounding the pots it was observed a noticeable topographic change occured at each site. The surrounding jungle floor was cut to the megaliths base immediately around the structure. Around this was a raised area in all directions, for about 50 meters, regardless of slope. We sketched this out and continued.
The mysterious nature of the pottery was its consistent relationship to the soil strata. The pottery was found at a depth, where the top of the pot represented a change in stratum. It is unlikely the pottery is located under the megalith by chance. It is also unlikely it was covered by a natural sediment without breaking. If the strata changes from sandy subsoil to topsoil at the top of the pottery, and the megalith is over this pottery and there is always a depression at the megalith sites, it would suggest;
1. A hole was dug and the pots were placed in the bottom of the hole then filled with sandy loam. For entirely unknown reasons, in the distant past.
2. The hole is filled with topsoil and the megalith, quarried from an unknown source, is placed upright (or erect in Palindo's case) above the pottery.
Megalith is used for astronomical discovery, spiritual teachings and wild solstice mushroom festivals (presumed with no evidence, obviously)
3. The site is covered. Possibly to protect the megaliths in a time of cataclysm, or from an invading force. Similar covering to Gobekli Tepe and Tiwanaku.
4. Millenia pass. Some megaliths are washed down into gullies, some remain covered, some are partially exposed where erosion has ceased at a sustainable level. In the meantime civilisation reforms, from agriculture, to snapchat.
5. The megaliths are uncovered in the the modern era. Weathering marks remain. The purpose of incredible structures entirely unknown, so are utilised for selfies.
The logical steps required to replicate the current real world situation lead to no logical explanation as to 'why?'. We had come to solve a mystery, but with each day the mystery grew. As the megaliths are possibly thousands of years old (predating the Hindu Kingdoms by thousands of years), it places the pottery culture, as a minimum, as one of the oldest in Asia. It was a constructive find, if for nothing else, to aid in the upstream research teams endeavours, and spark our curiosity further.
We had a theory now. A testable, falsifiable theory. We should be able to predict the next pottery site find by the signature contouring and batters.
Squatting on the jungles creek edge we pondered the find. Perhaps the pots once contained organic material such as offerings or remains, as they are always empty. Always. Even when freshly uncovered from meters the below the jungle floor, they were completely empty.
I commented that as a child I used to dream of discovery. Of travelling to distant lands like just Sulawesi and tracking down the lost knowledge of the ancients. To find empty pottery, under a megalith filled with human remains, deep in the jungle was, at least in some small part, that dream realised.
Only in the dream, I commented, the pots were filled with gold.
Petrus, in his considered manner, quietly remarked that it is actually fortuitous the pots are always empty, if otherwise, the sites would have been destroyed by looters generations ago.
[NEXT: Part 3 Tentena and the Harvest moon]