Sangiran Early Man Site
Fossil remains of some of our earliest human ancestors
Introduction to Sangiran Early Man Site
Sangiran is a well-known archaeological excavation site located on the island of Java in Indonesia. It is in the Solo River Valley about 15km north of Surakarta. During excavations first carried out in 1936, this unique site revealed a number of fossils of some of our earliest human ancestors, . The findings, known as ‘Java Man’ and Homo Erectus, and a further 60 human fossils were discovered on this 56km2 site along with the remains of many of the animals that these primitive humans are known to have hunted. In total, almost half of the world’s known hominid fossils have been found at this key site which is one of the most visited in the country. Sangiran holds vital evidence to further understand human evolution.
Sangiran Museum is a well visited attraction in Sragen. It consists of two small villages separated by the Cemoro River on the border of the Sragen and Karanganyar provinces. There are various fossils on display which were found in the area, dating back thousands of years. The Museum keeps the collection in 15 vitrines and is known as the Conservation Centre of Early Man Site. Details of each fossil are on each vitrine, although not in English. There are fossils of fish and water creatures including turtles, crabs, crocodiles and hippopotamus. Animal fossils include buffalo, ancient elephants, deer, tigers, pigs, rhinoceros and the Pithecanthropus erectus VIII fossil which is the most complete human skull fossil ever found.
The museum also has a section which describes the life of our cave-dwelling pre-historic Homo Erectus ancestors. There is also a watchtower overlooking the Sangiran site where the fossils were excavated. There have been a total of 50 finds of Meganthropus palaeo and Pithecanthropus erectus/Homo erectus.
The first fossilized cranium to be discovered by Eugene Dubois became known as Pithecanthropus I and later as Trinil 2. Although many of the features were worn flat, the cranium was distinctively elongated and the forehead was flat. A heavy browridge was evident along with a sagittal keel which was distinct from the sagittal keel of the Paranthropus species. It was only later reassigned as Homo erectus, the cranium of early man. The cranial capacity has been measured at approximately 815cc, which is significantly smaller than the Trinil individual was believed to be. Speculation suggests that the individual was a juvenile at the time of death, or perhaps a small female. The low, broad cranial vault and the ‘flexed occiput’, the nub-shaped part at the back of the skull are characteristic of Homo erectus.
Sangiran 2 is the fossilized upper cranium or braincase of early man which was discovered at Sangiran in 1937 by G.H.R. von Koenigswald. It is estimated to be 700,000 to 1.6 million years old. Its characteristics include a long low plane behind the orbits and inwardly sloping sides. It has a supraorbital torus or indentation over the left eye and is more complete than the Trinil braincase.
Dating the fossils at Sangiran is very difficult. Sediment ages based on different methods and localities place the dates of Trinil 2 somewhere between 700,000 years and 1.8 million years old, although an older limit of 1.6 million years is agreed to be more likely. Many scientists, including Von Koenigswald, believe the age is close to 700,000 years old.
The Site of Sangiran represents one of the most important human fossil sites in the world. Physician Eugene Dubois was the army surgeon for the Royal Dutch East Indies Army in Sumatra. Convinced that the evolutionary evidence of human history lay in East Asia, he had no success in finding any fossils in Sumatra and in 1890 he moved on to Java. His excavations brought him to Solo River where he discovered a heavily mineralized cranium or skull belonging to an early human. It became known as Trinil 2. In 1893 Dubois named the specimen Pithecanthropus erectus. Despite the finding, Dubois moved on to East Java where he discovered the skull and fossils of ancient men in Trinil.
In 1930 J.C. van Es studied Sangiran more seriously and his work was continued by Von Koenigswald, who found more than 1000 tools which would have been used to cut, spruce spear heads and trim objects and are termed ‘flake tools’.
Sangiran was initially excavated between 1936 and 1941 and again after the completion of World War 2 in 1945 by G.H.R von Koenigswald. In 1936 he found jaw fossils of Meganthropus paleojavanicus and the following year the skulls of Pithecanthropus erectus. To date the fossils of more than 40 individuals have been discovered there. Von Koenigswald initially followed Dubois in assigning most of the fossils to the species Pithecanthropus erectus. In the 1950s Ernst Mayr proposed that the Javanese Pithecanthropus erectus and the Chinese Sinanthropus specimens were not only the same species but were actually members of the human species. The fossils were then reassigned to the Homo erectus species. Trinil 2 is the type specimen of this same species. Research institutes then became involved including the American Museum of National History, the Biologisch Archeolosgisch Instituut Groningen, Netherlands, the Tokyo University, National d’Historie Naturelle Paris, the Centre for Research and Development of Geology, Bandung, the National Research Centre for Archaeology and the Archaeology Centre of Yogyakarta.
Koenigswald enlisted the help of local chief, Toto Marsono and the local villagers who uncovered many more fossils and bones and stored them in the village hall which was the beginning of the Sangiran Museum which was established in 1974. In 1977 the site became a cultural conservation area and in 1996 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The most recent discovery in Sangiran was when villagers found fossils of the skull of a pre-historic elephant of Stegodon trigonocephalus in Dayu village, Karanganyar regency. Early examination showed that the elephant lived between 700,000 and 800,000 years ago. The fossil was 1.02 meters high, 46 cm wide and 69 cm high. A total of 960 fossils of ancient elephants have been found to date.
Sangiran has some guesthouses built by the Sragen administration for researchers who want to stay there and for tourists who wish to see the site and enjoy the rural location.
Jakarta International airport is 63km away. There is a local international airport at Adisumarmo, 27km from Sangiran.
From Adisumarmo airport follow local signs for Jalan Laksamana Adi Sucipto. After 8km turn left at Jalan Boyolali to Karanf Anyar. After 3 km turn left at Jalan Kapten Piere Tendean and continue onto Jalan Solo – Purwodadi for a further 16km.
Take a Damri or BERSERI bus from Solo’s Jalan Riyadi to Kalijambe (Rp500), then either wait for a yellow angkuta (Rp200) or hire a motorcycle (Rp1500) to take you to the village.
- Site of the oldest human settlement in the world
- ‘Java Man’ Pithecanthropus erectus/Homo erectus
- Site of 60 hominid fossils
- Sangiran Museum and Conservation Centre
- Dome overlooking the Excavation area
- Discovery site of the upper cranium of Homo Erectus
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