Continuity in Tropical Cave Use: Examples from East Timor and the Aru Islands, Maluku

The Aru Islands and East Timor fall within the biogeographic region known as Wallacea and have lain within the tropics for the known history of human occupation. Recent research has identified archaeological sequences that parallel the older radiocarbon chronologies from Australia. Terminal Pleistocene huntergatherer assemblages recovered from at least six caves register the introduction of a Neolithic technocomplex after ca. 4000 B.P. in the form of pottery, domesticates, ovens, the industrial use of shell, and some endemic extinctions. However, there are also intriguing uniformities in the cultural assemblages: in the suites of artifacts discarded and assumed supply zones for those artifacts, in the economic faunal suites, and in the apparent level of intensity of occupation of the different sites. We concur with and extend the argument made by Glover (1986) that there was no substantial change in the nature of cave use in East Timor despite the possible subsistence changes that might have taken place. Their remarkable continuities reflect their similar placement within larger regional land-use systems through time: they represent diverse components of a larger domestic and totemic landscape, which appears to continue to this day. The scale of territoriality, degree of mobility, and extent of trade and exchange of groups must all be considered if the placement of caves within cultural landscapes is to be understood.