Javanese Gold – The Wonoboyo Hoard

One of the treasures on display in the National Museum in Jakarta is a priceless collection of golden jewellery and ceremonial objects found at Wonoboyo near Yogyakarta in Central Java.

The hoard was discovered as recently as October 1990 on the slopes of Mount Merapi by five farmers while digging a paddy field to lower its surface.  One of their hoes struck a hard object which turned out to be a large Chinese jar of Tang origin filled with ancient objects, many made of gold. Further digging uncovered four similar jars and a bronze box all containing a treasure of gold and silver objects weighing a total of 35 kilograms.

The hoard was discovered only 5 kilometres from the ancient Prambanan Temple Complex in Central Java and is considered to be one of the greatest archeological discoveries found in Indonesia this century.

bowl (6)

Golden Armband decorated by a Kala face

Among the hoard objects is an armband decorated with a kala face for protection. Armbands like these were worn by people of the highest rank, or by the king himself, and can be seen on the stone statue of Shiva Mahadeva in the Shiva Temple of the nearby Prambanan Temple Complex.

The objects demonstrate the mastery of the Javanese goldsmiths. From the design, inscriptions, and quality of the objects found in the Wonoyobo hoard the owner is thought to have been a king or at least a person of the highest rank and the hoard is estimated to date from the reign of King Balitung (899–911). 

0024 Mount Merapi

The eruption of Mount Merapi, by Basuki Abdullah

Based on the presence of a gold begging bowl, the site is thought to have been a Royal Hermitage possibly for a King who had abdicated the throne. The hoard was covered by 3 metres of lava and volcanic ash from nearby Mount Merapi.  This would have occurred after the catylasmic eruption of the volcano around 929 CE, which ended many lives in Central Java and forced the shift of government and culture to East Java.

Merapi from Prambanan

Mount Merapi is still active and can be seen from the Prambanan Temple Complex

The Ramayana bowl is considered to be the most significant object in this discovery because it is the first known bowl decorated in relief with scenes from the Ramayana. The same scenes which line the inside of the balcony balustrade of the Shiva Temple at the Prambanan Temple Complex. The Rama story is depicted on the bowl in panels on each of the four lobes. Each panel shows two scenes which are read from the right to the left in the manner of the clockwise circumambulation of a sacred site.

Ramayana Bowl

The Ramayana Bowl showing the Ramayana story

Many of the works of art are inspired by nature and here is a beautiful necklace comprised of thirty-eight golden mollusc shells. The shells were made by the lost-wax casting technique. Where a clay core is covered with wax which is then shaped into the shell before being covered again in clay.  Liquid gold is the poured into a hole in the top of object and replaces the wax which drains out the bottom.

shell necklace

Golden Mollusc Shell Necklace

Another work inspired by nature is this miniature gold palm leaf bucket which was probably used in temple ceremonies.

palm bowl (8)

A Golden Palm Leaf Bucket

The handle of this beautiful golden ladle curves upwards and its top is in the form of a palm leaf in bud. An inscription in Old Javanese on its rim indicates the ladle was used as a ceremonial object.

serving ladle (7)

A Gold Ceremonial Ladle

Wonoboyo_Hoard 2

Replica Items on display at the Prambanan Museum

This large crescent shaped pendent is covered in decoration. It is too large to have been worn by a person and together with two elephant size golden anklets which are also on display, could have been worn by the royal elephant as the royal procession paraded through the streets.

elephant necklace

Large Golden Pendant – to be worn by the Royal Elephant?

Information and images of the objects are from the book, Indonesian Gold – Treasures from the National Museum, Jakarta and exhibited by the Queensland Art Gallery and the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1999.

We will be visiting the National Museum in Jakarta to view this collection and also the Prambanan Temple Complex during our ‘Journey Across Java’ this August 2017. For more details please go to the Heritage Destinations website at:



About ianburnet

Author of the book, Spice Islands. Which tells the History, Romance and Adventure of the spice trade from the Moluccas in Eastern Indonesia over a period of 2000 years. Author of the book, East Indies.Which tells the history of the struggle between the Portuguese Crown, the Dutch East India Company and the English East India Company for supremacy in the Eastern Seas. Author of the book 'Archipelago - A Journey Across Indonesia'. Author of the book 'Where Australia Collides with Asia' Author of the book 'The Tasman Map'. Author of the book 'Eastern Voyages'.
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3 Responses to Javanese Gold – The Wonoboyo Hoard

  1. Toni Pollard says:

    I remember these exquisite objects on display in Australia some 20 or so years ago . My favourite for its simplicity and beauty is the Lontar basket. What a find it was!

  2. ianburnet says:

    Yes, an amazing find and amazing that it has been preserved and documented

  3. Randall Rutledge says:

    I’m living in Jakarta and wasn’t aware that these items are housed in the National Museum. I’ll make a special trip to view them. Another great article with beautiful photos.

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