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Published on February 27, 2015

An important and most interesting prehistoric artifact of Ancient Man found on the island of Bintan, that has so far been kept under wraps, has finally been revealed: here is a Shells Midden that dates back some 3,000 to 5,000 years ago nestled among cool coconut groves.

A shells midden, otherwise known by archeologists as  Kjökkenmöddinger is a hill of  mollusk shells originally a prehistoric kitchen dump of domestic waste that on Bintan reaches 4 meters high, that scientists believe have been thrown by ancient man. This shells midden, originally one among three,  is located at Kawal Darat in the sub-dsitrict of Kawal at Gunung Kijang near Trikora Beach.  Unfortunately the other two middens have meantime been destroyed by the population to make way for palm oil groves, completely unaware of their most precious value.     

At a glance, the site at Kawal Darat looks like any ordinary hill but on closer inspection one sees that it consists primarily of shells, which is  odd, since the site is located inland and 12 meters above sea level.  The entire site is approximately 100 sq meters while the mound itself measures 18 m by 24 m. Among the shells are also found stones to crack the mollusks, spoons or picks to remove the meat, made from deer horn, and pottery shards.  It is estimated that the mound dates back to the Mesolithiicum Age or the Middle Stone Age which is a transition period  from  the period when ancient man lived from hunting and gathering to settling down and working the fields in agriculture.

According to archaeologists H.R. van Heekeren and R, Sukmono, Kjökkenmöddinger in the Indonesian islands date back to the Bacson-Hoabin culture, an important culture that thrivied during the Mesolithicum Age and spread in Indonesia 3,000 years BC. Kjökkenmöddinger  are artifacts of prehistoric man who gathered different species of mollusks  for food from the coasts around them.  While the shells that families threw away during hundreds or even thousands of years became a hill that gradually grew to 4 meters high. Scientists believe that ancient man on the island of Bintan lived in communities along beaches and close to river mouths residing in houses on stilts, similar to many types of houses still found today around the archipelago.     

The Shells Midden at Kawal, Bintan, is one of a chain of similar mounds scattered along the east coast on the large island of Sumatra. In Indonesia, the existence of Mesolithicum man was first discovered along the East Coast of Sumatra, from East Sumatra north to Langsa in today’s province of Nangro Aceh Darussalam at the top of the island of Sumatra. This discovery was first published in 1907 after the first find of a Midden by the Tamiang River near Seruai. In 1924 a similar midden was discovered by JH Neuman at Batu Kenong in Aceh. In 1927  LC Heyting also reported another find at Serdang Hilir along the East Coast of Sumatra.   

The Kawal Darat shells midden is known by the local population as Kota Batak or Benteng Batak, or even Benteng Lanun (Lanun meaning pirates, therefore, the word means  Pirate Fortress) .  While the word ‘batak’ has no connection whatsoever with the Batak ethnic group living in North Sumatra.

For, in the Old Malay language, as used in the traditional play of Makyong”, the word “batak” means “villain”.  And, as told by the forefathers of the present population, their ancestors built the Shells Midden at Kawal Darat to protect themselves from these villains who regularly attacked villages along the north coast of Bintan.

According to records at the  Indonesian Archaeological Research Institute, BALAR, in Medan, in 2009 there were three such middens along the Kawal river in Bintan Unfortunately, two smaller sites have now been razed and converted to plantations.

Today, the Shells Midden at Kawal Darat is under the auspices of the Office of Tourism and Culture of the District of Bintan and is strictly protected under the Law on Cultural Treasures. The plan is to make this historic site into a tourist attraction together with the protected mangrove forests on Bintan Island. Nonetheless, considering its importance as historic proof and artifact,  the site is tightly protected for further research into the life of ancient man who lived in the Bacsonian culture that spread from the Asian peninsula to North Sumatra and on to the island of Bintan in the Riau archipelago. It is even conjectured that these may well have been the ancestors of the Ancient Malay race.  

To visit and get real close to the Kawal Darat Shells Midden at Gunung Kijang on Bintan, you must rent a car from Tanjung Pinang, as there is no public transport to the site since it is located in the midst of palm oil groves. It is situated around 40 km from the city of Tanjung Pinang in the direction of Trikora Beach. From the main road you must still pass unpaved  dirt roads into plantation areas, some 5 km. from Trikora Beach.