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Pasveer, Juliette 2003 The Djief Hunters: 26,000 years of lowland rainforest exploitation on the Bird's Head of Papua, Indonesia, PhD Dissertation, University of Groningen.
    © Juliette Pasveer, 2003. Use of any part of this thesis for any purpose must be acknowledged.


In 1995, two cave sites were excavated on the Bird's Head, the westernmost peninsula of the Indonesian province of Papua. These are the only two systematically excavated and fully documented sites in the entire western half of New Guinea. The stratigraphy, dating and recovered materials are presented and thoroughly analysed in Pasveer’s PhD thesis from Groningen University, the Netherlands.

The sites, Kria Cave and Toé Cave, are located in a heavily karstified, lowland area in the interior of the peninsula and have overlapping sequences, together spanning a period dating back to 26,000 BP. They are situated on either side of the Ayamaru Lakes, at c. 12 km distance from each other. The faunal analysis shows that the area was covered in rainforest through time, although the lower temperatures during the late Pleistocene produced a forest with structural similarities to a lower montane environment. Analyses of the stone and bone artefact assemblages suggest that the two sites were used for different purposes through time.

The faunal assemblages of both sites consist predominantly (75-80%) of remains of the forest wallaby Dorcopsis muelleri (or Djief in Meybrat language). This raised the question how one species could be hunted sustainably over thousands of years. A detailed analysis of the remains and a reconstruction of the age structure of the hunted Dorcopsis population through time showed that the caves were actually rarely visited and that the species has never (until recent times) been under serious hunting pressure. Interestingly, this pattern remained virtually unchanged in Toé Cave, south of the lakes, while the faunal composition and age structure of the Dorcopsis sample from Kria Cave, north of the lakes, suggest that this area was slightly more exploited, which gradually intensified around c. 5000 BP.

The results of these analyses form an important contribution to the debate (initiated by Bailey and Headland in the late 1980s) on the possibilities of rainforest occupation without access to cultivated plants. Clearly, people did occupy rainforest well before the advent of agriculture in variously parts of Southeast Asia and the Pacific. But the Bird’s Head evidence suggests that lack of carbohydrates may have been one reason why human population densities in these environments remained low.

The thesis will be available in April 2004 as:
Pasveer, J.M. 2003 The Djief hunters. Late Pleistocene to Holocene rainforest exploitation on the Bird’s Head of Papua, Indonesia, Modern Quaternary Research in Southeast Asia 17. Lisse: A.A. Balkema.


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