After we finished getting our permits in Jakarta, we were free to head east towards Ambon, the capital of the Maluku region. To give you a sense of the scale of Indonesia, flying to Ambon from Jakarta takes about five hours, or roughly the distance from Washington, D.C., to Seattle. In other words, the distance of the entire United States. Turns out, Indonesia is really big….
Ambon holds a special place in the history of Indonesia. After the Dutch forcibly took over the Banda Islands in 1620-21, the Dutch East Indies (VOC) based their spice trade empire out of Ambon city. Ambon city still has a colonial town feel to it in the layout of the streets and the occasional historic fort and other ruins scattered around town. We were lucky to visit one such fort on our first day in Ambon. Houses had sprung up around the fort over the decades since it was abandoned, bringing new meaning to the phrase “archaeology in your backyard”.
Ambon also holds a special place for all the US researchers on the team, as the majority of us are focused Ambon and Maluku with topics ranging from histories of ceramic and lithic trade (local and foreign), the initial settlement of the Maluku region during the past 40,000+ years, the European spice trade and Dutch colonization, and the role Maluku played in the Neolithic transition to agriculture during the past 3500 years.
We finally got to touch base with our Balai Arkeologi (BalAr) team members, who work for a branch of the government in Ambon that is roughly analogous to the Historic Preservation Office (SHPD) that each state in the US is required to have (I’m looking at you, Texas). Like the SHPD is the US, BalAr reviews archaeological reports, issues permits allowing researchers to do survey and excavation, and curates some artifacts, and in general works to preserve and manage archaeological sites in the Maluku region.
Our first night in Ambon was lovely. Unlike Jakarta with its hustle and bustle, big city lights, and accompanying pollution, Ambon is the island paradise you imagine when you think of warm Bali nights on a beach. We had wonderful fresh fish with spicy chilies and excellent views of the city from our cliff-top restaurant. Looking out over the peace of the city (disregard the moped horns), I think many of us finally realized we were definitely in a different country, something that’s hard to remember when you are in a city like Jakarta that is highly Westernized. We could tell then, that this was going to be a great field season. And if not, at least the food and the views were delicious.
For more detailed information about Maluku, Ambon, and the Banda Islands, feel free to comment. We’d be happy to share a list of books, articles, and web pages.