Patiayam Fossil Finds: Kudus, Central Java

Rosida Asmi never thought she would find the fossil of a prehistoric animal while doing her laundry in Gandu River, close to her home in Terban village, Jekulo district, in the Central Java town of Kudus. On Dec. 20 last year, a dull-colored white piece of wood protruding from the river caught her attention. She poured some water on it and was surprised. Half convinced, the 14-year-old high school thought she had found a fossil.

She was quite familiar with fossils because her father, 43-year-old Buchori, an elementary school teacher, had previously found some as Suherdjoko reports.

“She saw only part of the fossil but it was enough for her to conclude that it was a fossil she had found. She reported it to me.

“I did some digging at the site and found the fossil of a prehistoric water buffalo. The fossil was
complete enough … the two horns, when put side-by-side, are equal to the distance between an adult’s outstretched arms,” Buchori said.

Other people have also found fossils in the area. On Feb. 2 this year, Jasminto, a 33-year-old farmer, by chance found the fossil of a tusk of an ancient elephant (Stegodon trigonochepalus) measuring 70 centimeters long and with a diameter of 20 cm.

“I was helping (my friend) make an irrigation canal in his rice field. My hoe struck something like a piece of white stone. I dug deeper and found it to be the tusk of an elephant. I knew right away it was a fossil. Locals here often find the fossils of prehistoric animals,” Jasminto said.

He previously discovered 22 teeth of an ancient animal and had reported his find to Buchori.
Buchori might be a teacher, but he is also chairman of the Association for the Conservation of Patiayam Site. About 37 people in Terban village have joined the association.

Patiayam is a mountainous area in Mount Slumprit, which is a part of Mount Muria territory. It is located about 70 kilometers east of the Central Java capital of Semarang.

“We joined the association and asked other locals to conserve the Patiayam site. Some of us had previously taken part in an excavation of prehistoric fossils by the Yogyakarta Archaeological Center. That’s why we have some experience and knowledge about fossils,” Buchori said.

He said residents in the area often found fossils of prehistoric animals, such as ancient elephants, deer, rhinoceroses, pigs, water buffaloes, crocodiles and seashells.

All these fossils are believed to be between 700,000 and 1 million years old.

Most of the fossils are kept in a room in the home of Mustofa, one of the association’s members. The room is referred to as the village’s museum.

In the house, the fossils — ranging from large fossils like the tusks of ancient elephants to seashells and small bones — sit in the open air on three large shelves.

Buchori and Mustofa said local residents had been finding fossils in the area for quite some time, but several had thrown them away.

The residents called these fossils balung buta (giant bones). Only after being informed the bones were historically valuable did they slowly round up the fossils they had discarded.

“We have collected no fewer than 600 fossils,” Mustofa noted.

The villagers said some Dutch people in the past had stayed in the residents’ homes when they came to Patiayam in search of fossils.

A serious search was conducted by Indonesian researchers in 1979. At that time, Prof. Yahdi Yaim and Dasri from the geological department of Bandung Technology Institute (ITB), found the lower-jaw teeth and seven broken skulls of ancient human beings. These finds are kept in the Archaeological Museum of ITB in Bandung.

In April 1981, an archaeological team from Yogyakarta discovered two tusks of a prehistoric elephant, each measuring 2.5-meters long with a diameter of 15 cm. The tusks are now kept at the Ronggowarsito Museum in Semarang.

Head of the Yogyakarta Archaeological Center, Siswanto, said there were 20 sites in Patiayam where fossils were usually found. Mount Slumprit and its surrounding areas are where most fossils have been discovered.

“We did an excavation again on Nov. 13-22 last year and found a complete fossil of an elephant skeleton. We found its ribs, scapula, femurs and backbone. We are yet to lift this fossil.”

He said this was the first time the fossil of a complete animal skeleton was found in the country. Usually, the bones are spread over a large distance.

“The fossil indicates that from the time the elephant died, there has been no shift in the soil layer,” he added.

“It is true that illegal fossil traders have come to this area. However, we leave security to the police as this is not within our authority. We can only provide information that these fossils are very valuable to the history of the local people and to Indonesia in general.”

Buchori said he knew which residents had found fossils but who had failed to report their findings to the association.

“We do nothing to them other than watch them … we also know that some illegal fossil traders have come here,” he said.

The archaeological team from Yogyakarta has also discovered three prehistoric stone axes used by prehistoric man.

According to Siswanto, the Patiayam site is a hominid site as the fossils of human beings, fauna and stone implements have been found there.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that many fossils have been discovered, the Kudus regency administration is yet to pay attention to the Patiayam site. Many fossils are kept in the homes of locals without proper conservation procedures.

Chairman of the Forum for the Conservation of Patiayam Site, Suprapto, complained of the regency’s lack of attention.

He said when the tusk of a prehistoric elephant went missing, not a single official from Kudus regency administration came to investigate.

“In fact, Patiayam Site could be turned into a tourist attraction and a center of research, just as the Sangiran site in Sragen has,” Suprapto said.