The 'Sangiran Museum'

Sangiran is an archaeological excavation site in Java in Indonesia. According to a UNESCO report (1995) “Sangiran is recognized by scientists to be one of the most important sites in the world for studying fossil man, ranking alongside Zhoukoudian (China), Willandra Lakes (Australia), Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania), and Sterkfontein (South Africa), and more fruitful in finds than any of these.”

The area comprises about 56 km² (7 km x 8 km). It is located in Central Java, about 15 kilometers north of Surakarta in the Solo River valley. Administratively, Sangiran area is divided between 2 regencies: Sragen (subdistricts of Gemolong, Kalijambe, and Plupuh) and Karanganyar (subdistrict of Gondangrejo). An important feature of the site is the geology of the area. Originally a dome was created millions of years ago through tectonic uplifts. The dome was then eroded exposing beds within the dome which are rich in archeological records.

A modern, well-functioning museum and visitors’ centre was opened in December 2011. The new building, a modern museum, contains three main halls with extensive displays and impressive dioramas of the Sangiran area as it was believed to be around 1 million years ago.

Java Man

Java Man (Homo erectus erectus) is the popular name given to early human fossils discovered on the island of Java (Indonesia) in 1891 and 1892. Led by Eugène Dubois, the excavation team uncovered a tooth, a skullcap, and a thighbone at Trinil on the banks of the Solo River in East Java. Arguing that the fossils represented the “missing link” between apes and humans, Dubois gave the species the scientific name Anthropopithecus erectus, then later renamed it Pithecanthropus erectus.

The fossil aroused much controversy. Less than ten years after 1891, almost eighty books or articles had been published on Dubois’s finds. Despite Dubois’ argument, few accepted that Java Man was a transitional form between apes and humans. Some dismissed the fossils as apes and others as modern humans, whereas many scientists considered Java Man as a primitive side branch of evolution not related to modern humans at all. In the 1930s Dubois made the claim that Pithecanthropus was built like a “giant gibbon”, a much misinterpreted attempt by Dubois to prove that it was the “missing link”.

Eventually, similarities between Pithecanthropus erectus (Java Man) and Sinanthropus pekinensis (Peking Man) led Ernst Mayr to rename both Homo erectus in 1950, placing them directly in the human evolutionary tree. To distinguish Java Man from other Homo erectus populations, some scientists began to regard it as a subspecies, Homo erectus erectus, in the 1970s. Other fossils found in the first half of the twentieth century in Java at Sangiran and Mojokerto, all older than those found by Dubois, are also considered part of the species Homo erectus. Estimated to be between 700,000 and 1,000,000 years old, at the time of their discovery the fossils of Java Man were the oldest hominin fossils ever found. The fossils of Java Man have been housed at the Naturalis in the Netherlands since 1900.

After the discovery of Java Man, Berlin-born paleontologist G. H. R. von Koenigswald recovered several other early human fossils in Java. Between 1931 and 1933 von Koenigswald discovered fossils of Solo Man from sites along the Bengawan Solo River on Java, including several skullcaps and cranial fragments. In 1936, von Koenigswald discovered a juvenile skullcap known as the Mojokerto child in East Java. Considering the Mojokerto child skull cap to be a closely related to humans, von Koenigswald wanted to name it Pithecanthropus modjokertensis (after Dubois’s specimen), but Dubois protested that Pithecanthropus was not a human but an “ape-man”.

Von Koenigswald also made several discoveries in Sangiran, Central Java, where more fossils of early humans were discovered between 1936 and 1941. Among the discoveries was a skullcap of similar size to that found by Dubois at the Trinil 2 site. Von Koenigswald’s discoveries in Sangiran convinced him that all these skulls belonged to early humans. Dubois again refused to acknowledge the similarity. Ralph von Koenigswald and Franz Weidenreich compared the fossils from Java and Zhoukoudian and concluded that Java Man and Peking Man were closely related. Dubois died in 1940, still refusing to recognize their conclusion, and official reports remain critical of the Sangiran site’s poor presentation and interpretation. (Source: Wikipedia)