Creating a rock-cut tomb in traditional Tana Toraja (Indonesia): An ethnoarchaeology of stone economy and ritual

Guillaume Robin, Ron Adams

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

Abstract / Description of output

The Toraja people from South Sulawesi (Indonesia) are well known ethnographically for their elaborate funerary ceremonies and conspicuous kinship houses. Less attention has been given to their liang pa’ (‘cut tombs’) monuments, which are costly collective graves executed by specialised stone workers for noble families. This tradition in all likelihood started in the late 17th century and is still living today, which offers a unique opportunity for archaeologists to investigate its material, social, ritual and economic dimensions. This paper is based on recent ethno-archaeological fieldwork in Tana Toraja, combining sites survey and interviews with tomb owners, stone workers and ritual specialists. It describes the different steps involved in the complex process of creating a tomb, from reserving a location on a rock face, to the negotiation of the costs, organising and carrying out the cutting work, and the use of the extracted stone material for other purposes. The research shows how economic, technical and ritual considerations are intertwined throughout the process. Creating a rock-cut tomb in Tana Toraja is not just a technical enterprise: it is also an expression of traditional beliefs, of the ritual relationship between the Toraja and their landscape, and the social value of stone as a material associated with death and status.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCarved in Stone
Subtitle of host publicationThe Archaeology of Rock-Cut Sites and Stone Quarries
EditorsClaudia Sciuto, Anais Lamesa, Katy Whitaker, Ali Yamac
PublisherBritish Archaeological Reports
ISBN (Electronic)9781407358086
ISBN (Print)9781407358093
Publication statusPublished - 29 Oct 2021

Publication series

NameBAR International Series
ISSN (Print)0143-3067

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • ethno-archaeology
  • rock-cut tombs
  • Toraja
  • chaîne-opératoire
  • ritual


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