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Ancient trade between India and Indonesia

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Science  12 Sep 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6202, pp. 1255
DOI: 10.1126/science.345.6202.1255

In his News feature “Sailing Sinbad's seas” (27 June, p. 1440), A. Lawler describes the development of the Indian Ocean trade from the 5th century B.C.E. to the 8th century C.E. The map (p. 1441) indicates that Indonesia and Island Southeast Asia joined these networks in the 8th century C.E. Archaeological data from the islands of Bali, Java, and Sumatra show that sea trade in this region began 900 years earlier.

Excavations at the late prehistoric sites of Sembiran and Pacung on the northern coast of Bali (1, 2) have produced high counts of fine Indian pottery with specific parallels from the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C.E. in India, Sri Lanka, as far west as the Red Sea in Egypt (3, 4), and in Southeast Asia, including peninsular Thailand (5), the Indonesian island of Java (6), and Vietnam (7).

Simultaneous contacts with India and mainland Southeast Asia some 2000 years ago have been documented since the first excavations at Sembiran and Pacung, and 2nd century B.C.E. to 1st century C.E. dates were later obtained from Pacung burials (8, 9). (My team's recent excavations seem consistent with these results.) These dates match the 2nd century B.C.E. to 3rd century C.E. dating of burial layers containing fine Indian pottery at the site of Batujaya in northwestern Java (6).

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