Possible obsidian sources for artifacts from Timor: narrowing the options using chemical data

Wallace Ambrose, Charlotte M Allen, Susan O'Connor, Matthew Spriggs, Nuno Oliveira, Christian Reepmeyer

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    Measurements made at the Australian National University using laser ablation ICPMS show that none of the 88 analyzed obsidian artifacts from East Timor match either the known Papua New Guinea or the five Island SE Asian source samples in our ANU collections. There is a coastal journey of more than 3000 km between the occurrence of obsidians from the Bismarck Archipelago volcanic province of Papua New Guinea and the Sunda-Banda Arc volcanic chain, yet obsidian artifacts from the two important PNG sources of Talasea and Lou Island are found at coastal Bukit Tengkorak in eastern Sabah at a similar distance along with material that has no known source. Timor lies south of the eastern section of the active volcanic Banda Arc island chain but it is within range of possible rhyolite sources from there. Although there is a continuous chain of around 60 active volcanoes stretching from west Sumatra to the Moluccas most are basaltic to andesitic with few areas likely to produce high silica dacite-rhyolite deposits. This does not exclude the possibility that the volcanic landscapes may contain obsidian, but without detailed survey and chemical analysis of sources from the Sunda-Banda Arc the attribution of the Timor obsidian artifacts remains to be demonstrated. Timor may seem to be an unlikely source for the presence of obsidians as it lacks reports of the silica-rich rhyolite volcanic centers necessary to produce this material. Despite the absence of detailed survey and analysis of Indonesian obsidian sources, especially from the volcanically active Banda Arc, this paper presents evidence that one of two obsidian sources is clearly from Timor while the other, with less certainty, is also from an unknown local source.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)607-615
    JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2008


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