The Spice Islands in Prehistory

The Spice Islands in Prehistory

Archaeology in the Northern Moluccas, Indonesia

Edited by: Peter Bellwood orcid

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This monograph reports the results of archaeological investigations undertaken in the Northern Moluccas Islands (the Indonesian Province of Maluku Utara) by Indonesian, New Zealand and Australian archaeologists between 1989 and 1996. Excavations were undertaken in caves and open sites on four islands (Halmahera, Morotai, Kayoa and Gebe). The cultural sequence spans the past 35,000 years, commencing with shell and stone artefacts, progressing through the arrival of a Neolithic assemblage with red-slipped pottery, domesticated pigs and ground stone adzes around 1300 BC, and culminating in the appearance of Metal Age assemblages around 2000 years ago. The Metal Age also appears to have been a period of initial pottery use in Morotai Island, suggesting interaction between Austronesian-speaking and Papuan-speaking communities, whose descendants still populate these islands today.

The 13 chapters in the volume have multiple authors, and include site excavation reports, discussions of radiocarbon chronology, earthenware pottery, lithic and non-ceramic artefacts, worked shell, animal bones, human osteology and health.


ISBN (print):
ISBN (online):
Publication date:
Jun 2019
Terra Australis 50
ANU Press
Terra Australis
Arts & Humanities: Archaeology, History
Southeast Asia: Indonesia

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The Spice Islands in Prehistory »

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  1. The Indonesian–Australian Archaeological Research Project in the Northern Moluccas (PDF, 0.5MB)Peter Bellwood doi
  2. Investigations on Gebe Island (PDF, 4.7MB)Peter Bellwood, Geoffrey Irwin, Daud Tanudirjo, Gunadi Nitihaminoto, Joko Siswanto, and Doreen Bowdery doi
  3. Investigations on Morotai Island (PDF, 1.2MB)Peter Bellwood, Daud Tanudirjo, and Gunadi Nitihaminoto doi
  4. The excavation of Gua Siti Nafisah, Kecamatan Weda, south-central Halmahera (PDF, 0.6MB)Peter Bellwood, Gunadi Nitihaminoto, Gunadi Kusnowihardjo, and Agus Waluyo doi
  5. Excavations in the Uattamdi rockshelters, Kayoa Island (PDF, 1.6MB)Peter Bellwood, Rachel Wood, Geoffrey Irwin, and Agus Waluyo doi
  6. Other explored but unexcavated sites (PDF, 0.1MB)Peter Bellwood doi
  7. The earthenware pottery from the North Moluccan excavations (PDF, 1.7MB)Peter Bellwood doi
  8. Lithic and other non-ceramic artefacts (PDF, 2.4MB)Peter Bellwood, Geoffrey Irwin, and Daud Tanudirjo doi
  9. Worked shell from the Northern Moluccas (PDF, 1.9MB)Katherine Szabó doi
  10. Observations on the Northern Moluccan excavated animal bone and shell collections (PDF, 1.4MB)Jennifer R. Hull, Philip Piper, Geoffrey Irwin, Katherine Szabó, Annette Oertle, and Peter Bellwood doi
  11. Bioarchaeological analysis of the Northern Moluccan excavated human remains (PDF, 1.6MB)David Bulbeck doi
  12. Skeletal markers of health and disease in the Northern Moluccas (PDF, 0.3MB)Bronwyn Wyatt and Justyna J. Miszkiewicz doi
  13. The Northern Spice Islands in prehistory, from 40,000 years ago to the recent past (PDF, 0.5MB)Peter Bellwood doi


‘This new volume ties together multiple lines of evidence for the first time and presents a holistic reconstruction of culture history in the northern Moluccas. Overall, the monograph has been a long time in the making, yet could not come at a better time. The results are particularly relevant for renewed archaeological efforts to better understand how Pleistocene humans moved along the northern route into Sahul and how later Austronesian language speakers and pottery makers dispersed through Wallacea and the Pacific. The authors are to be congratulated for producing an essential text for regional specialists interested in human migration and adaptation in Wallacea, along with those working more broadly on Pleistocene and later Austronesian-speaking migrations from Asia to the Pacific.’
– Dylan Gaffney (2021), Asian Perspectives: The Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific, 60(1): 216–221.

‘In the 50th edition of Terra Australis Peter Bellwood edits a volume of 13 chapters, which meticulously present and greatly inform about the 40,000-year archaeological record in the Northern Moluccas (NM) … I highly recommend this 50th edition of Terra Australis. This edited volume provides a long-term, multidisciplinary scientific approach, to investigate and analyse materials found in the 40,000-year archaeological record of the NM … For those archaeologists who focus on Island Southeast Asia, Oceania, field archaeology, ceramics, lithics, glass beads, worked shell, faunal analysis, bioarchaeology and/or interaction studies, this volume is a must read.’
– Dale. F Simpson Jr (2019), Australian Archaeology, 87(1): 105–107.

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