Sangiran: Man, Culture, and Environment in Pleistocene Times: Proceedings of the International Colloquium on Sangiran, Solo-Indonesia, 21-24 September 1998 (review)
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Sangiran: Man, Culture, and Environment in Pleistocene Times: Proceedings of the International Colloquium on Sangiran, Solo-Indonesia, 21–24 September 1998. Truman Simanjuntak, Bagyo Prasetyo, and Retno Handini, eds. Jakarta: Yayasan Obor Indonesia. 442 pp. 78 b/w photographs; 10 tables; bibliography. Softcover. ISBN 979-464-382-7.

Sangiran, a truncated dome of Plio-Pleistocene sediments in the Solo Depression of Central Java, is a prolific source of fossils, which span about one million years and include the majority of the world's Homo erectus finds. The site is rightly listed with the World Heritage as an area of great geological, paleontological, and archaeological significance.

There has been a long history of scientific work at Sangiran beginning in 1893 with the visit of Eugene Dubois, who had just previously found the type specimen of Pithecanthropus (now Homo) erectus at the nearby site of Trinil on the Solo River. But the person who really put Sangiran on the map was Ralph von Koenigswald, who between 1934 and the coming of the Second World War in 1941, found the first Middle Pleistocene hominid remains and associated stone artifacts, used fossils from Sangiran to help describe the biostratigraphic sequence for Java, and was the first to apply the Kalibeng, Pucangang, Grenzbank, Kabuh, and Notopuro Stratigraphic sequence to the site.

Since then, many prominent researchers have worked at Sangiran right up to the present day. Jacob, Soejono, and Sartono, for instance, have all made significant contributions, as have many younger generation researchers, including Fachroel Aziz, Hisao Baba, Tony Djubiantono, Francois Semah, Anne-Marie Semah, Truman Simanjuntak, and Harry Widianto, to name just a few. Many of these have authored papers in this volume, which resulted from an International Colloquium on Sangiran held in Solo, Java on 21–24 September 1998. The aim of the International Colloquium, organized by the Indonesian National Research Centre of Archaeology, was to make Sangiran better known, to take stock of research results from a range of disciplines, and to provide a platform for further work.

The book comprises thirty papers divided into seven sections: Introduction, Early Man, Culture, Environment, Dating, Site Conservation and Museum Management, and Research Perspective. The papers range from general syntheses to very specific descriptions of individual finds. It is the former that are particularly useful. For instance, Harry Widianto's description of the morphological characteristics of Indonesian Homo erectus and how these change over time includes a tabulation of all major Homo erectus finds up to that time, as well as information on stratigraphic context and evolutionary implications. It has long been known that the Indonesian H. erectus sequence is characterized by an increase in cranial capacity, more rounded contour, and decreased robusticity over time, but there is a major advantage in seeing the relevant evidence laid out so clearly and authoritatively. Similarly, the summary by François Semah, Anne-Marie Semah, and Tony Djubiantono—of the sedimentary [End Page 364] and paleoenvironmental history of the region, as well as at different sites, integrates a wealth of information from multiplet disciplines. In fact, this paper exemplifies the strength, in fact the necessity, for a multidisciplinary approach when dealing with the complexities of landscape transformation, taphonomy, and their archaeological implications over such a time depth—but is it correct, as they claim (p. 202), that at Kedung Cumpleng, a conglomerate bed within the blue clays of the Kalibeng Facies contains mammal fossils and artifacts?

Although most of the information presented in overviews has appeared previously—for instance, the revised faunal sequence for Java, as outlined by Fachroel Aziz and the chapter on paleomagnetic dating by Masayuki Hyodo—having it all in a single reference source makes access much easier and allows for comparison between different lines of evidence. It is also useful to see differences of factual presentation and interpretation, some of which, though, could have been sorted out during the colloquium (or by the editors?). Dates given by Widiasmoro, for the Kabuh Facies, for instance, do not fit well with dates given elsewhere in the book—an important difference since this unit has yielded the majority of fossil hominid remains at Sangiran.

Other papers are concerned with evidence from areas far...