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Indonesian Association of Geologists

37 Annual Conference and Exhibition, Bandung 26-30 August 2008


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Sangiran Dome, Central Java : Mud Volcanoes Eruption,


Demise of Homo erectus erectus and Migration of Later Hominid
Awang Harun Satyana 1)
1)

BPMIGAS (Badan Pelaksana Kegiatan Usaha Hulu Minyak dan Gas Bumi)
Patra Office Tower, 22nd Floor, Jalan Jenderal Gatot Subroto, Kav. 32-34, Jakarta 12950
Telp : 021-52900245, Fax : 021-52900118, E-mail : aharun@bpmigas.com

ABSTRACT
Sangiran Dome, located 12 kms to the north of Surakarta (Solo), Central Java is a famous site
in the Quaternary geology due to the exposures of Pleistocene rocks and fossils of hominids
and vertebrates.
Sangiran Dome is a remnant shale diapir and mud volcanoes complex. This is based on the
nature of deformation, presences of several saline water and methane gas seeps, and erupted
materials including exotic blocks of metamorphic basements to Pliocene rocks. Based on the
deformation and age dating, the diapiric deformation and eruption is considered took place
between 0.7 and 0.5 Ma million years ago (middle Pleistocene) and could repeat until 0.12
Ma (base late Pleistocene).
Hominid (early human) called the sub-species Homo erectus erectus lived in the Sangiran
Dome. Their fossils were found in the upper part of Pucangan and lower part of Kabuh
Formations. They lived in the Pleistocene (ages remain in dispute as 1.7-1.0 Ma, 1.3-0.7 Ma,
or 1.0-0.5 Ma). The termination of the sub-species between 0.7-0.5 Ma could be
contemporaneous with the eruption of the Sangiran mud volcanoes. The eruption possibly
affected the demise of Homo erectus erectus.
The eruption of Sangiran mud volcanoes could also affect the migration of later hominid
(sub-species Homo erectus ngandongensis / soloensis). The sub-species did not live in
Sangiran area possibly the area was in-habitable due to the eruption. The sub-species
migrated eastward downstream of the Solo River into the areas of Sambungmacan, Ngawi,
and Ngandong where they lived until the latest Pleistocene (0.05 Ma).

SARI
Kubah Sangiran, terletak 12 km di sebelah utara kota Surakarta (Solo), Jawa Tengah
merupakan tempat terkenal untuk geologi Kuarter karena tempat ini menyingkapkan
kompleks batuan dan fosi-fosill hominid serta vertebrata berumur Plistosen.
Kubah Sangiran merupakan sisa struktur diapir dan gununglumpur berdasarkan pola
deformasi kubah, keberadaan rembesan air asin dan gas metana di tengah kubah, serta
kehadiran fragmen dan bongkah batuan ganjil dari batuandasar malihan sampai batuan
berumur Pliosen. Berdasarkan umur deformasi dan pentarikhan mutlak, deformasi diapirisme
dan erupsi gununglumpur terjadi pada 0,7-0,5 Ma - juta tahun yang lalu (Plistosen tengah)
dan mungkin berulang lagi sampai 0,12 Ma (bagian bawah Plistosen akhir).

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Indonesian Association of Geologists


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Kubah Sangiran pernah menjadi habitat hominid sub-spesies Homo erectus erectus, fosilfosilnya ditemukan di lapisan bagian atas Formasi Pucangan dan bagian bawah Formasi
Kabuh. Hominid ini hidup dalam kala Plistosen (periode tepatnya masih diperdebatkan
antara 1,7-1,0 Ma, 1,3-0,7 Ma, atau 1,0-0,5 Ma). Akhir periode sub-spesies ini (0.7-0.5 Ma)
kelihatannya bersamaan dengan periode erupsi kompleks gununglumpur Sangiran. Erupsi
gununglumpur ini mungkin saja mempengaruhi kepunahan Homo erectus erectus.
Erupsi gununglumpur Sangiran juga diperkirakan telah mempengaruhi migrasi sub-spesies
hominid selanjutnya, yaitu Homo erectus ngandongensis / soloensis. Sub-spesies ini tidak
pernah ditemukan di kubah Sangiran, mungkin kubah Sangiran tidak layak huni karena
menjadi tempat erupsi gununglumpur sampai Plistosen akhir. Sub-spesies Homo erectus
ngandongensis / soloensis bermigrasi ke arah timur sepanjang hilir Bengawan Solo menuju
daerah-daerah Sambungmacan, Ngawi, dan Ngandong - tempat fosil-fosil sub-spesies ini
ditemukan sampai ujung Plistosen (0,05 Ma).

INTRODUCTION
Sangiran area, 12 kms to the north-northeast of Surakarta (Solo), 6 kms to the west of the
Solo River, Central Java (Figure 1), is one of the most famous places of paleoanthropological discoveries in Southeast Asia. The Sangiran Early Man Site is one of 550
locales worldwide that UNESCO has recognized for its special cultural and natural value
(Huffman, 1998). Here, the remains of early humans (hominids) called Homo erectus
(formerly was called Pithecanthropus erectus) that lived over a million years ago have been
discovered since the fieldwork of Koenigswald from 1936-1938 (Koenigswald, 1940)
(Figure 2). Sangiran today remains one of the most active sites for Plio-Pleistocene research
and is also an excellent location to study fluvial and volcanic sedimentation (Lunt et al.,
1998).
Geological fieldwork in this area was firstly conducted by Es (1931) and Koenigswald (1940)
who revealed that Sangiran is a four-way anticlinal structure forming a dome hence it is
usually called the Sangiran Dome in the geological literatures. The origin of the Sangiran
Dome has been interpreted in various ways. Intensive joint expedition of Indonesian and
Japanese team from 1976-1979 (reported in Watanabe and Kadar, 1985) concluded that the
Sangiran Dome is a remnant mud volcano. Regionally, Sangiran area is located at the central
depression of Java involving the Kendeng and Solo Zones in Central Java. Along the zones,
there are many occurrences of mud diapirs and mud volcanoes (Satyana and Asnidar, 2008).
One of the mud volcanoes is called Lusi in Sidoarjo area, East Java which has been
erupting since May 2006.
The eruption of Sangiran mud volcano is considered to be catastrophic based on the presence
of erupted materials found in the area including various exotic rocks. The exotic rocks were
the basement of mud volcano before eruption. The timing of the eruption is hard to
determine. However, the doming process of Sangiran was very young, to be from 07-0.5 Ma
(Lunt et al., 1998). This period was contemporaneous with the upper limit of Homo erectus
(sub-species Homo erectus erectus in Zaim, 2006) fossils based on fission track age dating
which is 0.71 Ma (Suzuki et al., 1985).
The aim of this paper is to discuss the possible relationship between the eruption of Sangiran
mud volcano and the demise of Homo erectus erectus in Sangiran area. Further sub-species
development of Homo erectus, namely Homo erectus ngandongensis/ soloensis did not
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develop in the Sangiran area, but migrated eastward following the downstream of the Solo
River in Sambungmacan to Ngandong areas (Zaim, 2006). The migration could be related to
un-habitable Sangiran area after the eruption.

REGIONAL GEOLOGY
In the map of physiographic zones of Java (Bemmelen, 1949), Sangiran area is located at the
overlapping physiographic zones of southern limit of the Kendeng Zone and northern limit of
the Solo Zone (Ngawi sub-Zone). The area is also at the northwestern foot of the Quaternary
Lawu volcanic cone (Figure 1). The Kendeng and Solo Zones are the central depression of
Java into which Miocene to Pleistocene volcanic-clastic sediments were rapidly deposited
(Satyana and Armandita, 2004). The rapid sedimentation and high geothermal gradient due to
proximity to the Miocene-Quaternary volcanic arcs has generated elisional condition
causing many mobile overpressured clays piercing upwards as diapiric flow and mud volcano
eruption (Satyana and Asnidar, 2008).

SANGIRAN DOME
The Sangiran area is a hilly area around the Krikilan village. Its maximum altitude is 183 m,
and a structural dome trending SSW-NNE occupies its central part (Figure 4). This structure
which is called the Sangiran Dome is approximately 8 kms long and 4 kms wide. It has been
dissected by tributaries of the Solo River, namely the Cemoro, Brangkal, Pohjajar Rivers and
many smaller streams. Consequently, the strata around the dome are well exposed. The
Sangiran Dome has been geologically mapped since 1930s (Es, 1931; Koenigswald, 1940,
Sartono, 1961; 1970; 1975; Itihara et al., 1985a).
The origin of the Sangiran Dome has been interpreted in various ways. It is an anticline
forming a dome at the southern margin of the Kendeng Zone, a compressive feature related
to collapse of the old Lawu volcanic cone, an incipient volcano, or a diapiric shale flow.
The stratigraphic summary of Sangiran area is as follows (based on Itihara et al., 1985a; Lunt
et al., 1998) (Figure 3). The oldest horizon (fission-track dating shows 2.99 Ma middle
Pliocene) (all equivalent geologic time used in this paper are based on Geologic Time Scale
2004 Gradstein et al., 2004) exposed in the middle of the Sangiran Dome. It is a part of the
Kalibeng Formation. Most of the formation is composed by bluish-grey marine clay with six
thin tuff beds. The upper part of the Kalibeng is shallow marine Turritella beds, Balanus
limestone, brackish to fresh Corbulina bed, and again the uppermost bluish-grey marine clay.
Overlying the Kalibeng, is there volcanic breccia at the top of Pliocene (dated as 2.1 Ma the
latest Pliocene) called the Lower Lahar composing the lowermost part of the Pucangan
Formation (latest Pliocene to early Pleistocene). Lower part of the Pucangan Formation is
composed of bluish grey clay with brackish water mollusks, benthic forams and ostracods
(estuarine or related setting). Upper part of the Pucangan Formation is made up of lacustrine
Black Clays with freshwater mollusks, ostracods, and some vertebrata fossils (including
hominids). Throughout the formation, there are thin tuff layers and locally reworked marine
foraminifera.
Overlying the Pucangan formation is the Kabuh Formation (early-middle Pleistocene). The
lower part of the formation is called the Greenzbank consisting of calcite cemented

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conglomerate rich in vertebrate fossils (mammals and hominids). The upper part of the
Kabuh Formation is composed of fluvial channel conglomerates and sand clays. Middle-late
Pleistocene Notopuro Formation is the youngest rock formation of the Sangiran Dome. The
formation is composed of volcaniclastic conglomerates and sands called the Upper Lahar.
Unconsolidated strata of the Solo River terrace and alluvial deposits are the modern
sediments in Sangiran area.
The stratigraphy of the Sangiran Dome shows that marine conditions (Kalibeng) persisted in
the area until the end of Pliocene. There was then a rapid regression through brackish
conditions (lower Pucangan) to lacustrine muds (upper Pucangan) which are the Black Clays
outcropping over much of the dome. It is in the upper part of the Black Clays and the base of
the overlying Grenzbank fluvio-deltaic clastics (lower Kabuh) that the hominid fossils are
found. Based on the fission track ages (Suzuki et al., 1985), the extent of the hominid finds
are from 1.16 to 0.71 Ma (upper early Pleistocene to lowermost middle Pleistocene).

Homo erectus OF SANGIRAN DOME


Sangiran is among the most important paleo-anthropological sites anywhere for addressing
questions about the ecology of early humans (Huffman, 1998). The remains of dozens of
Homo erectus have been discovered over the last 60 years, making Sangiran the most prolific
source of early human fossils in Java. Eastern Java (Sangiran to Mojokerto areas) is the only
part of Southeast Asia where such remains have been recovered.
Homo erectus lived in the Solo area for several hundred thousand years in the Pleistocene
(Figure 2). What part of the Pleistocene is a controversial matter. Most experts place early
humans at Sangiran from 1.3 to 0.7 or even 0.125 Ma (e.g. Watanabe and Kadar, 1985)
(Figure 3). This viewpoint is based primarily upon fission-track dates and paleomagnetic
stratigraphy. On the other hand, the age of habitation has been placed at 1.7 to 1.0 Ma on the
basis of 40Ar/39Ar radioisotopic dates (Swisher, 1997). Using the 40Ar/39Ar dating, Larick et
al. (2001) dated the hominid bearing- Greenzbank of the lower Kabuh and found age of 1.51
Ma. This is much older than that reported by Watanabe and Kadar (1985) which is 0.9 Ma.
Larick et al. (2001) reported that the life period of Homo erectus in Sangiran area lasted from
1.6 to 1.0 Ma. Which is right for the dates is difficult to determine since each dating method
has a problem (Huffman, 1998). There are problems with the application of paleomagnetic
studies in some parts of the section, some researchers suspect that key fission-track dates are
unreliable, and while 40Ar/39Ar determinations are generally a dependable indication of age of
the material dated.
The development of Homo erectus in Sangiran area was started by sub-species Homo erectus
paleojavanicus (Meganthropus paleojavanicus) (started at 1.6 Ma, lower part of early
Pleistocene Zaim, 2006) (Figure 2) where their fossils were found in Black Clays of
Pucangan. This is an evidence for the first arrival of early hominid and vertebrates from
mainland of Asia to Java through the Sundaland. In upper part of early Pleistocene to lower
part of middle Pleistocene (1.0-0.5 Ma) (Zaim, 2006), a wide corridor across the Sunda Shelf
and SE Asia brought sub-species of Homo erectus erectus.
The date when the first hominids arrived in Java is widely disputed (Huffman, 2001).
According to most estimates, Homo erectus was present by mid-Early Pleistocene (about 1.0
Ma) (Watanabe and Kadar, 1985; Itihara et al., 1994). Significant evidence also has been

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advanced for occupation in the latest Pliocene and earliest Pleistocene (1.7-1.8 Ma; Swisher
III et al., 1994). Older than 1.8 Ma is impossible since older than 1.8 Ma marine conditions
persisted in eastern Java causing inhabitable ecology for hominids.

ERUPTION OF SANGIRAN MUD VOLCANO AND DEMISE OF Homo erectus


erectus
The Sangiran Dome as a complex of mud volcanoes has been indicated since the fieldwork of
Es (1931) who explained the source of exotic Eocene blocks should be brought to surface by
a reverse position of the underlying Tertiary formations caused by an overthrust, and
Koenigswald (1940) as well as Bemmelen (1949) who reported the occurrence of exotic rock
fragments and foraminiferal fossils in Sangiran area. Itihara et al. (1985a, b) called the
Sangiran Dome is a mud volcano. It is inferred that the process of updoming resulting from a
diapiric rise of deepseated muddy sediments led to radial and concentric faults, eruption of
mud volcanoes and depression of central blocks (Figures 4, 5).
Four mud volcanoes are present in the central part of the Sangiran Dome (Itihara et al.,
1985a, b). Vents of these mud volcanoes range from 120 to 30 m in maximum diameter.
Several small saline water seeps and methane gas bubbles occur at the center of the dome.
Exotic rock fragments to boulders distribute in this area. They are erupted materials including
plastic muds with exotic blocks from the underlying Eocene Pliocene strata and igneous
rocks comprising marls, shales, sandstones, nummulitic limestones, andesites, monzonites
and phyllites. The erupted materials came from the considerable depths or basement of the
mud volcano.
The erupted materials belong to rock groups of the basement and its overlying beds in
southern Central Java. The phyllites correspond to pre-Tertiary metamorphic rocks in the
Jiwo Hills. The Eocene and Oligocene erupted rocks correspond to the Wungkal and
Gamping Formations in the Jiwo Hills, and the Nanggulan beds in the West Progo
Mountains. The lower Miocene-lower middle Miocene erupted rocks correspond to the
Pelang and Kerek beds in the western Kendeng Zone, and the lower and middle parts of the
Sentolo Formation in the West Progo Mountains. The Miocene-Pliocene erupted rocks
correspond to the Lower and Upper Kalibeng beds of the western Kendeng Zone, and
probably to the upper part of the Sentolo Formation in the West Progo Mountains.
The depressions of central blocks exist around the vents of mud volcanoes and was resulted
from subsidence after the eruption (Figures 4, 5). Materials erupted had decreased the
volume of rock materials supporting the level of ground surface. It is a usual phenomena in
other mud volcanoes in eastern Java. The depression is a crater of the mud volcano.
Based on a geologic schema constructed for Sangiran area, Itihara et al. (1985b) considered
that the Sangiran Dome and the mud volcano were formed after the deposition of Notopuro
Formation and before the deposition of the Terrace deposits. The diapiric flow of the mud
volcano they considered to be affected by collapse of the Old Lawu volcano (Bemmelen,
1949) at the end of the Notopuro period. This diapiric flow when reached surface became
mud volcano eruption. The mud eruption had taken place sometime between Notopuro and
Old Terrace (the uppermost part of middle Pleistocene - around 120,000 years ago).

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Geologic profile of the Sangiran Dome by Koenigswald (1940) (Figure 4) however, shows
that the youngest beds deformed by the dome is the Kabuh Formation. The Notopuro beds
rest on the deformed Kabuh. The central part of the Sangiran Dome also subsides. Based on
Koenigswald (1940)s profile, it indicates that the deformation (and mud eruption) was
earlier than that of Itihara et al. (1985b) at the end of the Kabuh Formation time (lower
middle Pleistocene around 500,000 years ago). Lunt et al. (1998) considered that the
Sangiran Dome is very young, -less than half a million years old, as is shown by the age
dating of the Kabuh Formation which was accumulated in a low area at about 0.7 Ma.
Taken into account the period of Sangiran Dome deformation (and eruption) from
Koenigswald (1940) and Lunt et al.(1998), the eruption was contemporaneous with the end
period of subspecies Homo erectus erectus which was at around 0.7-0.5 Ma. Did the eruption
of Sangiran mud volcano affect the demise of the subspecies ? It could be.
Evolution of hominids and vertebrates in Indonesia were might be influenced by the
development of geological condition (Zaim, 2006). Tectonic activities and glacio-eustatic
during Quaternary might also be related closely to the dispersal and evolution of the hominids
and vertebrates, as well as the modes of their migration. The middle Pleistocene seems
geologically was ended by strong tectonic and volcanic activities. All the middle Pleistocene
sediments and older in Java were gentle folded. Cyclical climatic change during the
Pleistocene relating to coeval tectonism might also a cause for demise of Homo erectus
erectus in Sangiran area (Dr. Herman Moechtar, personal communication, 2008). The
climatic change had caused extreme dry and flood seasons which might be harmful for the
sub-species.

MIGRATION OF LATER HOMINID


In late Pleistocene time, from 0.125 to 0.05 Ma, river terraces of the old Solo River were
formed (Zaim, 2006). The Old Solo River terraces were formed in Sangiran, Sambungmacan,
Trinil, Ngandong and Ngawi areas (Sartono, 1976). The Old Solo River terraces at Ngandong
(dated about 0.05 Ma Zaim, 2006) contain sub-species of Homo erectus ngandongensis
(Homo erectus soloensis) (Sartono, 1986). Fossils of the type are also found in
Sambungmacan (Sartono, 1979) and Ngawi (Sartono, 1991) areas. The vertebrate fossils
from Ngandong area were grouped into Ngandong Fauna dated younger than 0.05 Ma (late
Pleistocene) (Vos and Sondaar, 1994) (Figures 1, 2).
There has been no Homo erectus ngandongensis (Homo erectus soloensis) discovered in the
river terraces of Sangiran. It indicates that this sub-species did not choose the Sangiran area
as a habitat. They preferred the downstream of the Solo River and lived in Sambungmacan to
Ngawi areas. Why the sub-species did not choose the Sangiran area is intriguing since the
Sangiran area had been the good place for living since the latest Pliocene. It is considered
that the Sangiran area was not a longer good place to live since the area had been a site for
eruption of mud volcanoes since 0.7-0.5 Ma and might continued until 0.12 Ma (Itihara et al.,
1985). Therefore, the later hominid Homo erectus ngandongensis / soloensis migrated
downstream away from the Sangiran area into the Sambungmacan to Ngawi areas (Figure 1)
where their fossils were found.

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CONCLUSIONS
1. Based on the nature of deformation, presences of saline water and methane gas seeps, and
erupted materials consisting of various exotic blocks from metamorphic basements to
Pliocene rocks , the Sangiran Dome is a remnant diapiric structure and mud volcanoes
complex. The diapiric deformation and eruption is considered took place between 0.7 and
0.5 Ma (middle Pleistocene) and could occur several times until 0.12 Ma (base late
Pleistocene) based on the nature of deformation and absolute dating.
2. Sangiran Dome was a home for Homo erectus erectus who lived there in the Pleistocene
(ages remain in dispute as 1.7-1.0 Ma, 1.3-0.7 Ma, or 1.0-0.5 Ma). The fossils of the subspecies were found in the upper part of Pucangan and lower part of Kabuh Formations.
The termination of the sub-species between 0.7-0.5 Ma could be contemporaneous with
the eruption of the Sangiran mud volcanoes. The eruption possibly affected the demise of
Homo erectus erectus.
3. Eruption of Sangiran mud volcanoes was probably also a reason why later forms of
hominid (Homo erectus ngandongensis / soloensis did not develop in the Sangiran area
but migrated eastward downstream of the Solo River into the areas of Sambungmacan,
Trinil, Ngawi, and Ngandong where they lived until the latest Pleistocene (0.05 Ma).

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I would like to thank : (1) Dr. Adi Kadar (Lapindo Brantas) for a discussion on several mud
volcanoes in eastern Java and providing me key references on Sangiran, (2) Prof. Dr. Yahdi
Zaim (Institute of Technology Bandung) for discussions on Javas hominids and providing
me recent publications on the subject, (3) Dr. Herman Moechtar (Geological Survey of
Indonesia) for a discussion on climatic changes and related sedimentology in Sangiran area.
The content of this paper is however, my sole responsibility. I acknowledge my affiliation,
BPMIGAS, who gives me sponsorship to present this paper. Cipi Armandita (BPMIGAS)
helped me providing 3D-diagram of Sangiran Dome for presentation material.

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Indonesian Association of Geologists


37 Annual Conference and Exhibition, Bandung 26-30 August 2008
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Indonesian Association of Geologists


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