By Prof. Heinzpeter Znoj

Date & Time

7 April 2022



hybrid lecture: TRAINEE CENTRE 2.40 (Třída Svobody) & online lecture via ZOOM


The highlands of Sumatra have at least four distinct megalithic cultures: those of Pasemah in the South, the Minangkabau in the West, the Batak in the North, and of highland Jambi in the Center. The highland Jambi megaliths are the least known of these, they are less numerous and widely scattered, and they have their own distinct style: huge cylinders carved with geometric and human figures. There are less than 20 known megaliths, spread over an area of several hundred square kilometers in highland Jambi. Despite their archaic appearance, these stones are less than a thousand years old or roughly contemporary with the great Buddhist empire of Srivijaya. Through a combination of archaeological, ethno-historical and geographical analysis I will demonstrate that these stones have been placed in their locations in the context of the diversion of the trade of gold found in the highlands from its older destination of the Melayu and Srivijaya trading emporia on the Straits of Malacca to a competing port of trade on the West Coast. They point to a moment in the history of Southeast Asia when lively trade in the Straits attracted Chinese, Indian and Arab powers who aimed to access directly the resources of the region, as did the European powers half a century later. In a sense thus, the setting of these megaliths was part of the emerging early-modern trade pattern and it pre-figured the colonial control of Southeast Asia.


Heinzpeter Znoj is Director of the Institute of Social Anthropology and President of the Board of the Center for Development and Environment at the University of Bern. He did his graduate studies at Bern University where he earned his PhD in 1992 and afterwards spent two years as a post-doc at Yale and Cornell. His main research interest is economic anthropology with a regional focus on Indonesia. He did his PhD on social transformations in the course of market integration in the central highlands of Sumatra, focusing on seemingly irrational monetary practices among the Rejang (Znoj 1998, „Hot Money and War Debts. Transactional Regimes in Southwestern Sumatra“). Later research was on the prestige economy related to endemic corruption in Java (Znoj 2007, „Deep Corruption in Indonesia – Discourses, Practices, Histories.“), on the history of highland Jambi (Znoj 2009, „Social structure and mobility in historical perspective. Sungai Tenang in highland Jambi.“), as well as on the political dynamics driving deforestation (Znoj H., R. Jud, and Y. Bachrioktora 2019). „Rain forest anomy. National parks, REDD+ implementation and the run to the forest in Jambi, Indonesia“). Presently he is carrying out research in West Papua where he investigates the political context of the exclusion of Papuans from the boom of export-oriented agriculture in West Papua.