In his seminal work on the archaeology of East Timor, Ian Glover (1986) notes that there appeared to be little archaeological evidence for change in the nature of cave use as a focus for settlement, despite the subsistence changes that occurred with the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture. Looking to the ethnographic record for hunter-gatherer groups, he found little evidence to support the expectation that caves served as "permanent home bases" and commented that "at a time when stable village settlements existed in Timor it is inevitable that the caves provide an even more biased sample of the total Timorese way of life ..." (1986:206). In this paper we revisit the issue of contemporary cave occupation in East Timor with the purpose of providing a more detailed ethnographic discussion of the caves' various uses and meanings. These encompass both the sorts of secular uses described by Glover as well as the social status of caves as sacred or in other ways significant natural formations in the cultural topography of local and national landscapes. The implications some of these observations on contemporary cave use hold for the interpretation of the archaeological record are briefly explored. We also review the sparse literature on contemporary cave use for tropical and tropical semi-arid regions and conclude that the notions of "permanent home cases" and "stable village settlements" are probably not very meaningful, either in contemporary horticultural or past hunter-gatherer contexts.
|Published - 2005