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L’art rupestre de Kalimantan


Gua Masri, part of the composition of handprints.

The Bouquet of Hands, Ilas Kenceng

The shamanistic track, Ilas Kenceng

Bantengn, a wild cow on the roof of the Laminoir, Ilas Kenceng.

Handprint covered by a calcite drapery.
We get later the age of the calcite ±10.000 years by a cross dating U/Th and 14C (laboratoire LSCE, Gif/Yvette)

Ilas Kenceng, two hands overpainted.

1998 - Discovery of Gua Masri and Ilas Kenceng

Two new ornated caves in Borneo

(East Kalimantan)

Following a couple of ethno- and archaeo-speleological surveys carried out, in the Indonesian part of the Borneo Island and more precisely the Eastern Kalimantan Province, an expedition organized last September on behalf of Ministry of Tourism has just disclosed two sets of quite exceptional ornated caves.

Located in the upper levels of gigantic and steepy karstic outcrops, these two groups of caves provide prehistoric paintings which are remarkable for their number, their pictorial content inasmuch as their conservation state.

Gua Masri - The first group comprises two caves situated in the middle of a cliff about 30 meters one upon the other and containing roughly 60 hand stencils whose disposition, concentrated upon two to three panels only is obviously intentionally organized.

Ilas Kenceng - An other group, 80 km westwards, comprising three large rooms, is presenting a first amount of 200 figures including more than 140 hand prints.

More than 20 of them have anthropo-and zoo-morphic features inasmuch as linear or punctuated lines inside the stencils blanks. Moreover, painted on the roof of a "laminoir", about one meter high, three bovine figures larger than one meter are to be seen, which seems to be a clear representation of an almost vanished wild small cow. That representation at almost 1/1 scale, seems to be the first of that kind ever found. The next two features would be deer's implied in a hunting scene associating some par of hand stencils.

Paintings are located upon walls, alcoves or niches, from one meter to more than ten meters upon actual ground level. Depending on locations, some paintings are covered by a more or less thick calcite layer. For exempla, one hand print is covered by a calcite flow whose thickness is as large as 15 cm which, whatever the formation conditions would have been, is an indication of extreme age. Locations do not show yet any specific disposition related to the entry or more or less dark places.

Many anthropomorphic representations often appear inside hand prints blanks and sometimes in autonomous locations. In an especially remarkable case, anthropo- and zoo-morphic features are associated with a curvilinear track linking two hand stencils. The analogy with some expressions present within the Australian aborigines representations appears here to be very strong and ethnographic literature suggests to read there some "initiatic trek". Some hand prints have internal linear track evoking tattooing figures as still do the Mentawi communities in Siberut Islands (South Sumatra) or as the "X ray" drawings, frequently present in the Aborigines pictorial expression.

Several superposition hand tracks show a strong evidence for a chronology which is also revealed through the variety of pigments. Apart the black color, we found at least four different colors varying from black-brown to light-red.

Within these two cave groups, the hand prints disposition appears to be well-organized expressing deliberated rhythms. One or more circular moves mixing right and left hands are to be seen, showing clearly that ritual efficiency was associated with artistically expression. That organization in the display of these negative hand prints provides a very different expression compared with what was known until now about Rock Art in Indonesia.

Let us recall that until 1994, when we discovered the first cave with unexpected prehistoric paintings, the whole Borneo Island was considered by specialists as totally lacking of Rock Art. It was thought that paintings would not appear "before" West Sulawesi (Leang Burung and Maros Caves mostly), eastward of Makassar Straits and Wallace Line.

That affirmation was based upon the fact that investigations had been carried out inside Sarawak, Sabah and Brunei areas only.

Years after years, caves we have discovered provided an enlarged display of pictorial expressions and attested by the way that their utilization was not for regular dwellings.

The discoveries which have been made until now extend upon an area comprised between the sea and the meridional bow of the Mangkalihat Range. This would enlarge the extension on the two sides of Wallace Line of the same influence area linking the eastern bottom of Insulinde. The formal analogy between pictorial expression found in Australia and those which have just been discovered reinforce at evidence that possibility.

As a matter of fact, the diachronic schemes of cultural influence between Continental Asia and the Australian sub-continent become more under discussion. In particular, the size of the extension but also the orientation of the trend on both sides of Wallace Line has to be more carefully approached and needs therefore more investigations.

Starting probably before the arrival of Austronesians into Borneo Island, that cultural impact or possibly "Rock Art Culture", would correspond to the period when climatic and marine changes occurred at the end of Pleistocene provoking the geographic isolation of the local insular communities.

The diversity and unicity of these new discovered paintings (displayed on Internet: www.speleo.com/borneo2.html) confirm that the huge size and the strategic location of Borneo require an attention and an investigation program much larger than what has been previously and almost randomly gained.

The different investigations which are currently carried out in the neighboring archipelagoes and especially Sulawesi, should benefit from the discovery of these Rock Art expressions which affords a new feature for the space occupation and dwelling process in South East Asia Island.

Jean-Michel Chazine



Textes et images © Le Kalimanthrope - 2011 - Reproduction interdite sans autorisation préalable.

Textes et images © Le Kalimanthrope - 2009 - Reproduction interdite sans autorisation préalable.