Volume 58 1949 > Volume 58, No. 4 > The Archaeological Service in Indonesia, by A. J. Bernet Kempers, p 185-192
                                                                                             Previous | Next   

- 185

OWING to its geographical situation Indonesia (the Indian archipelago) is one of the world's most interesting culture areas. Various migrations and influences in the course of time have left tangible traces: antiquities of all kinds, which in broad outline, may be divided into four groups, viz.:—

Prehistoric remains, partly dating back from the earliest history of man (including remnants of human and pre-human skeletal parts like Pithecantropus, Javanthropus soloensis), partly from comparatively recent times (Austronesian antiquities). They comprise loose finds of stone (palaeolithic, mesolithic and neolithic) and bronze artifacts, megaliths, ancient cemeteries with urn burials, caves, rock pictures, etc.

Hindu-Javanese (often incorrectly called “Hindu”) antiquities, dating back from the first centuries A.D. to the 16th century. They are found exclusively in those islands of the archipelago which have been influenced by India, such as Java, Sumatra and Bali. They consist of stone and brick temples and other buildings, stone and metal images, inscriptions on stone, copper-plate records, bronze implements, etc.

Muslim antiquities, from about the 13th century A.D., consist mainly of tombs which preserve data of historical interest concerning the arrival of Islam in several parts of Indonesia.

Foreign” antiquities, Chinese and European; the former consist of a few old houses and temples, particularly in Batavia, Cheribon and Semarang; the latter of houses, country-houses, fortresses, and tombs, principally in Batavia and the other coast-towns and on the Moluccas. In the Museum of the Royal Batavia Society of Arts and Sciences, - 186 and in the Museum “Old Batavia” are rich collections of furniture and other household articles from these houses.

In the beginning, attention was paid exclusively to the Hindu-Javanese antiquities, mentioned in European literature for the first time in the middle of the 18th century. In 1778 the Batavia Society was founded, the first institute of its kind in the East. It took the initiative in various measures on behalf of archaeological research and the care of monuments in the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.

In 1886 an Archaeological Society was established in Jogjakarta (later on replaced by the Java Institute) which attended to matters of archaeological interest. Furthermore, many private travellers, including Civil Service Officers, collected Hindu-Javanese antiquities or published articles on the subject. The first treatise on Hindu-Javanese history and antiquities was compiled by Sir Stamford Raffles and published in 1817.

In the beginning of the 19th century antiquarian enthusiasm unfortunately resulted in the removal of many sculptures from their original sites.

Even when they were eventually incorporated in museum collections, very little is known about their origin. Although there were some legal provisions against appropriation and export of monuments and sculptures, nothing could actually be done for the care of the antiquities as long as there was no special archaeological service.

In 1901 a “Commission in the Netherlands Indies for archaeological research in Java and Madura” under the presidency of Dr. J. L. A. Brandes was established. It was instructed to describe, photograph, and survey the ancient Hindu-Javanese monuments, as well as to suggest measures for their conservation, although no mention was made of the carrying out of these provisions nor of exploration. This Commission also compiled monumental works about the Djago and Singosari temples (East Java) and published a series of reports besides other information, containing lists of antiquities in the districts of Java.

In 1913 the Archaeological Commission of 1901 was replaced by the Archaeological Service in the Netherlands Indies under the direction of Dr. N. J. Krom, who had - 187 recently acquainted himself with the organisation of archaeological research in India and Indo-China.

The task of the Archaeological Service now included the carrying out of explorations, excavations, photography, registration, and description of the ancient monuments, the supervision (in concert with the local authorities) of these monuments, the planning and executing of measures for their preservation, c.q., reconstruction, in general archaeological conservation and research including epigraphy.

The Archaeological Service no longer occupied itself exclusively with the Hindu-Javanese monuments, but with Muslim, Chinese and European antiquities as well, and since about 1920 with prehistoric and indigenous remains in Indonesia.

In consequence of its limited means and staff the Service still occupied itself mainly with the Hindu-Javanese antiquities in Central and Eastern Java and only at times with remains in Madura, Bali, Celebes and the Moluccas.

The headquarters of the Archaeological Service are in Batavia. Before the war there was a Conservation and Excavation Branch at Prambanan near Jogjakarta. When complete, the staff comprises besides the Head (Director of Archaeology) the following officers: archaeologists (Hindu-Javanese and Dutch antiquities), epigraphist, prehistorian, engineers and architects, overseers and sub-overseers, draftsmen and other technical and clerical staff. Connected with the Service are advisers for Ceramics and Palaeoanthropology.

After the war Central Java and consequently the main part of the staff as well as the office of the Conservation and Excavation Branch up to the present day could not be reached. The resumption of archaeological research in these parts had to be postponed.

Owing to the establishment of the State of East Indonesia as a separate government, the Archaeological Service established a branch in Makassar where one of the engineers and a prehistorian are carrying out conservation and research.

In consequence of the circumstances sketched in the preceding sentences, at the present time the staff of the Archaeological Service is limited. It includes: Head, - 188 Architectural Inspector and Assistant Inspectors, Officer for the Hindu-Javanese antiquities, Epigraphist, Prehistorian, several assistants and clerical staff.

In 1931 an Ancient Monuments Preservation Act was introduced, 1 summarizing and supplementing the existing regulations concerning the care of Monuments. This Act makes provisions to this effect: that finds of possible archaeological importance have to be reported, while digging for and excavating antiquities, violation or alteration as well as export of antiquities without consent of the Head of the Archaeological Service is forbidden. On the suggestion of the H.A.S. particularly important antiquities can be entered in the Central Register of Protected Monuments by the Governor-General or by the Director of Education. This means that, e.g., the owner of an old house which has been entered in this Register cannot have it pulled down, nor may he rebuild it nor change its destination. In practice, without the consent of the Archaeological Survey only very few antiquities have been classified in this manner, not even the most important Hindu-Javanese monuments, because these are considered to be public property and receive protection as such. Many difficulties and financial consequences hamper the registration of private buildings. On the whole there are many objections against the existing regulations, but it is practically impossible to make satisfactory arrangements which injure neither archaeological nor private interests.

In the autonomic states of Indonesia the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act is relevant only where Government orders are applicable or where parallel regulations for the protection of monuments have passed.


In the middle of the 19th century lists were made of Hindu-Javanese antiquities in Java, the foundation for the present inventories being laid by a geologist, Dr. Verbeck, about 1886. The Archaeological Commission of 1901 continued these activities and in 1914–1923 an inventory for - 189 Java and Madura was published by the Archaeological Service as well as provisional lists of antiquities on the other islands of the archipelago. For this purpose Sumatra, Bali, Celebes and the Moluccas were visited by officers of the Service.

In 1938 eight assistants were appointed for the checking and supplementing of the inventory of Java and Bali; they worked these parts from village to village and kept records of the rediscovered antiquities.


The most important monuments in Java and some on the other islands are protected with fences and are watched over by keepers, paid by the Archaeological Service of the local authorities. Before the war, two overseers visited the monuments and cleaned them thoroughly twice a year. Regular supervision is urgent in this country, because of the luxuriant tropical vegetation, all the more while the Hindu-Javanese temples are no longer used nor cared for by the population itself. The Muslim mosques, etc., are still employed and many old graves are frequently visited. Principally their preservation has to be entrusted to the Muslims themselves.


Owing to the fact that all antiquities in Indonesia were either buried in the earth, concealed by thick jungle, or covered with shrubs, lava, or debris, they had to be brought to light by means of excavation. Excavation was carried out already in the last century, e.g., in behalf of the first survey of Borobudur and was continued by Civil Service officers as well as private persons, though not always successfully.

The Archaeological Service started systematic excavations and, especially in the last twenty years, the investigation of the soil has had an important part in its activities. Discovery of buried antiquities is either accidental or intentional (by means of excavation of sites on evidence). Accidental finds, mostly made in the fields, especially when tilling the soil, have to be reported as per regulation included in the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act. These can be - 190 bought in behalf of the Museum of the Royal Batavia Society, which also takes care of antiquities which are public property.

Antiquities found in the Sultanate of Jogjakarta are kept in the Sana Budaja Museum in Jogja, those found in Surakarta in the Sriwedari Museum in Solo.

Excavation can also be undertaken by private archaeologists with the consent of the Head of the Archaeological Service, but generally certain conditions are stipulated, a.o., an extensive report should be published and the H.A.S. shall decide as to the destination of the findings.

Owing to the vegetation, earthquakes, and other causes, the stone monuments are in a very dilapidated state. Practically nothing remained of the structures of wood and other light materials which are bound to have formed the greater part of buildings in these regions. Stone temples, often sepulchral monuments for Javanese kings, have to be either preserved against further decay or restored to their original form, as far as possible. In several cases reconstruction of temples in Java was feasible, because the surface of their walls was decorated with ornamental sculptures, which provided the indications for the reconstruction. The recomposition of the walls, using all kinds of stones and fragments, may be compared with solving a very complicated and often incomplete, jigsaw puzzle.

This method of reconstruction has been so successful that it was adopted by the Archaeological Service of the Ecole Française d'Extrême Orient in Indo-China.

In this way a number of Hindu-Javanese monuments, sometimes collapsed altogether, could entirely or for the greater part be reconstructed. The most remarkable reconstruction of this kind is that of the Ciwa temple of the Loro Djonggrang complex at Prambanan, which reached a height of nearly fifty metres. After many experiments and trial constructions since 1917 definite reconstruction started in 1937 and, but for the war, would have been finished in 1945. In 1942 the reconstruction reached the level just above the cornice. In the Archaeological Reports and in “Een oudheidkundig jubileum” are many photographs to show these and similar proceedings.

Except the restoration and the reconstruction of the Hindu-Javanese monuments, the Archaeological Service has - 191 occupied itself with the preservation of the more recent Muslim buildings such as mosques, tombs and royal residencies. As regards Chinese and European monuments the Service confines itself principally to advice. Restoration of these buildings is carried out by other Government Services or private contractors.


Monographs and detailed studies of a number of important monuments have been published, some of them through the intermediary of the Service, e.g., the Borobudur monograph consisting of two volumes, the archaeological description being written by Dr. N. J. Krom, the architectonic by Th. Van Erp, with three large portfolios of photographs.

The Archaeological Reports are published yearly, more detailed studies on special subjects appear at irregular times. Furthermore the Service brought out the first volume of Inscriptions of the Netherlands Indies (in Dutch) in 1940. Short guides were composed on the temples of Prambanan, Borobudur and some others. Besides, the members of the staff of the Service have published the results of their studies in periodicals such as Tijdschrift Bataviaasch Genootschap, Bijdragen Koninklijk Instituut, etc.


Since 1920 a prehistorian has been attached to the Archaeological Service (resp. Dr. P. V. van Stein Callenfels, Dr. W. Willems and H. R. van Heckeren).

About the same time a Prehistoric Section of the Royal Batavia Society was established. A comprehensive catalogue was published just before the Pacific War, as well as a short guide.

The present Curator is Dr. A. N. J. Th. à Th. van der Hoop, who carried out excavations in South Sumatra (the Pascmah), the results of which appeared in his thesis entitled: “The megalithic remains in South Sumatra.” In 1933 Dr. Van Stein Callenfels made investigations in North Sumatra, Java, Bali, South Celebes and the Malay Peninsula, Dr. Willems in Java, South Celebes and Sumba. Mr. van - 192 Heckeren devoted his attention to explorations in South Celebes. As a prisoner of war he undertook, though landestinely, similar work in Siam. He is now engaged in South Celebes.

The results of prehistoric research and studies have been conveniently summed up by R. Von Heine Geldern in the volume Science and Scientists in the Netherlands Indies, in 1945. Geologists of the Department of Mining have brought to light prehistoric remains, particularly remnants of skeletons of a very early date, during their operations. Private persons too, have occupied themselves with similar work.


The Archaeological Service possesses a collection of photographs (negatives and prints) taken by its officers since 1901 as well as series of photographs (prints only) taken by others. The collections contain about 17,000 items.


A collection of estampages, 2 paper prints of inscriptions, also is kept by the Archaeological Service.

1   One of the last projects for this Act was sent by request to the British Government in 1930 in behalf of the Monuments Legislation in New Zealand.
2   ca.1,000.