Stories tagged Indonesia

A substantial volcano on Maluku island in Indonesia (map) is threatening to erupt. The BBC reports that as many as 2000 people are still within the 5 mile danger zone around the volcano.


In 2003,
scientists discovered the skeleton of a fossil human
on the Indonesian island of Flores. Fully-grown but only 3 feet tall, the fossil set off a storm of controversy. Was it a new species of ancient human? Was it a pygmy – a member of a group genetically disposed to shortness? Was it an individual suffering from some rare disease?

Early reports claimed that it was a dwarf form of Homo erectus, an ancestor of modern humans. Animals will sometimes evolve pygmy forms when trapped on an island with limited resources. But some scientists disputed that theory. They noted that the skeleon is only 18,000 years old, whereas H. erectus went extinct at least 50,000 years ago. Also, the skeleton was surrounded by sophisticated tools. These scientists held that the skeleton represented an individual Homo sapiens who suffered from microcephaly, a rare disease which gives people small heads and sometimes small bodies.

But a recent re-examination of the fossil
supports a different theory.
Scientists at the University of Florida argue that the original interpretation was right. The structure of the brain, as imprinted on the skull, is different from H. erectus, microcephalics, and even from us. They believe this fossil represents a new species of ancient human, one more closely related to H. sapiens than to H. erectus.

This raises the possibility that, in the not-too-distant past, two separate species of humans lived on the Earth. (And if you count Neanderthals, which went extinct around 24,000 years ago, there would have been three.)

Scientists will continue to examine the fossils, and try to develop theories that best explain all the evidence.

The Hong Kong Observatory reported that an earthquake of magnitude 6.2 has struck central Indonesia. There are not yet any reports of casualties or damages.

11,000 people have been evacuated from the area surrounding Mount Merapi, as lava and superheated gas poured from the volcano. (This is the same area affected by last week's major earthquake.) Merapi is one of the world's most active and unpredictable volcanos, and some scientists have suggested that the earthquake contributed to this latest round of volcanic activity.


On May 27, a powerful earthquake—centered about ten miles southeast of Yogyakarta—shook Java, Indonesia. It destroyed more than 135,000 houses, leaving 200,000 people homeless, and it killed at least 6234 people, injuring another 46,000. And volcanic activity on nearby Mount Merapi has tripled since the quake, sparking fears of an eruption.

The "ring of fire"

The continents rest on large plates of rock that are slowly moving around the surface of the Earth. Indonesia, a nation of more than 18,000 islands, experiences a lot of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions because it sits along the “ring of fire”—the Pacific Ocean’s zone of active volcanoes and tectonic faults.

Just south of Java, the Australian plate is moving north at two and a half inches each year. Where the Australia plate collides with the Sunda plate—which includes Java—the Australia plate slips under the Java plate in a process geologists call subduction.

Pressure builds up along the fault lines where the plates meet. When the rocks separating the plates suddenly give way, the ground shakes and buckles in what we call an earthquake. Volcanoes are formed when the subducted rock melts and returns to the surface as magma.

How strong was this earthquake?

The United States Geological Survey says the quake measured 6.3 on the Richter scale. This quake didn’t cause tsunamis like the big earthquake in December 2004. But it was shallow—only 6 miles underground—which made the shaking on the surface more intense than other quakes of the same magnitude. And the quake struck at 5:54 am local time, trapping many people in their homes.

How did this earthquake compare to others?

  • October 8, 2005: Pakistani Kashmir
    Magnitude 7.6, 30,000 killed
  • March 28, 2005: Sumatra, Indonesia
    Magnitude 8.7, up to 1,000 killed
  • December 26, 2004: Sumatra, Indonesia
    Magnitude 9.0, more than 176,000 people killed by earthquake and resulting tsunami
  • December 26, 2003: Bam, Iran
    Magnitude 6.5, more than 26,000 killed
  • May 21, 2003: northern Algeria
    Magnitude 6.8, nearly 2,300 killed

An earthquake measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale has killed at least 2900 people in Indonesia. (This site has updates.)


Sumbawa: A map of Indonesia, showing the location of Sumbawa Island.

Scientist working in Indonesia have
found the remains of a civilization wiped out by a volcanic eruption.

Mount Tambora's cataclysmic eruption on April 10, 1815, buried the inhabitants of Sumbawa Island under searing ash, gas and rock and is blamed for an estimated 88,000 deaths. The eruption was at least four times more powerful than Mount Krakatoa's in 1883.

Interestingly, the culture wiped out by the explosion was very different from others in the area. Based on the language they spoke, some scientist had speculated these people originally came from Indochina. (Other Indonesian cultures are believed to have come from south China, via Taiwan and the Philippines.) The archaeologists have dug up pottery similar to that found in Vietnam, strengthening the possibility of a connection.