Early polities in Southern Sumatra: Some preliminary observations based on archaeological evidence
By E. Edwards McKinnon
While it is known from historical sources that certain polities existed in
southern Sumatra during the late first and early second millennium AD, it has
been difficult to establish conclusive archaeological evidence concerning them.
These circumstances have arisen for several reasons, among the most important
being lack of any systematic search for archaeological remains in the region,
the terrain itself, and insufficient knowledge of ancient demography.
Most archaeological sites in the area have been known since the nineteenth
or early twentieth centuries, when they were reported by travelers or colonial
administrators, such as John Anderson or L. C. Westenenk Since then, however,
much of the earlier evidence has been destroyed. Sites have been plundered for
building materials and have all but disappeared, and images have been removed
to museums for safekeeping without accurate records being made of their original
locations. There are a limited number of key sites in the Musi and Batang Hari
river valleys which have not been examined by professional archaeologists for
over half a century and which may still reveal valuable information about earlier
times. In addition, habitation sites have been recognized more recently in
the lower reaches of both rivers which will enable archaeologists to make a
much more comprehensive assessment of cultural interaction in the region than
has been possible hitherto. The first professionally conducted excavation was
carried out in Palembang only in 1974. Since 1982, however, there have been
limited but extremely useful excavations at Muara Jambi.
This article will attempt to bring together the archaeological evidence that
has been found thus far in the Musi and Batang Hari river valleys and suggest
what light these shed upon the nature of the polities existing in the region
from the seventh to the fourteenth centuries.