TIMOR, an island of the Malay Archipelago, the easternmost and largest of the Lesser Sunda Islands, stretching S.W. and N.E.
for 300 m. between 8 40' and 10 40' S., and between 123 30' and 127 E. It has a mean breadth of 60 m., and an area of about 12,500 sq. m. Politically its north-eastern half is Portuguese, as are two small enclaves in the south-western half, the remainder being Dutch. Timor lies in deep water a little to the west of the hundred fathom line, which marks in this direction the proper limit of the shallow Arafura Sea, extending between it and northern Australia. It differs considerably from the other members of the Sundanese group both in the direction of its main axis and in the prevalence of old rocks and slighter volcanic character. It comes, however, within the great volcanic zone which stretches from the north of Sumatra, through Java and the other Sundanese islands, round to Amboyna, Tidore, Ternate, Halmahera and the Philippines. There appear to be volcanic centres in both the east and the west of the island, and the surface is everywhere extremely rugged, with ridges from 4000 to 8000 ft. high, forming a confused orographic system, which is by no means fully understood. Mount Kabalaki in the north rises above 10,000 ft.; the culminating point appears to be Mt Alas (over 12,000 ft.) near the east coast. Owing to the prevalent dry easterly winds from the arid plains of north Australia, Timor, like Ombay, Flores and other neighbouring islands, has a much drier climate, and a poorer vegetation, than islands further west, and has few perennial streams and no considerable rivers. Hence, apart from almost untouched mineral wealth, such as iron, copper and gold, the island is poor in natural resources. Coal and petroleum have been found. At Kupang, on the south coast, the number of rainy days per month in the six months May to October dwindles from 4 to o, while the monthly rainfall gradually sinks from a little less than 2 in. to nil; the northern districts are better watered. Though the mineral products are varied, the supply of ores has hitherto proved scanty; besides which* their exploitation is rendered difficult by the lack of labourers, water and wood. The uplands yield fairly under cultivation, while the woodlands, which nowhere form true forests, contain much excellent sandalwood. This and a noted breed of hardy ponies form the chief articles of export. Owing to the deep water between Timor and the Arafura Sea, the fauna of Timor presents scarcely any Australian types beyond a marsupial cuscus. The few mammals, such as deer, civet, pigs, shrews and monkeys, as well as the birds and insects, resemble ordinary Malayan forms.
Timor consists of a core of ancient rocks (Archean?) upon which rest Permian and later deposits of sedimentary origin. Volcanic rocks are also present but they are not so extensively developed as in the islands of the Jayan arc. The Permian beds consist chiefly of limestone and contain numerous fossils similar to those of the middle and upper divisions of the Productus limestone of northern India and the Artinsk stage of the Urals. The best-known locality is the bed of the Ayer Mati near Kupang. These rocks were originally referred to the Carboniferous system, and similar limestones have been recorded in many parts of the island. Triassic beds with Halobia and Monotis are well-developed in Rotti and appear also to occur in Timor. The fauna is similar to that of the Mediterranean Trias. Fragments of Jurassic rock have been found amongst the volcanic material on the island of Rotti, but they have not yet been discovered in silu. The Tertiary deposits form a fringe around the older rocks, and in some places this fringe extends far up into the interior of the island.
The bulk of the population is certainly Papuan, but intermingled with Malayan, Polynesian and other elements; hence it presents an extraordinary diversity of physical types, as is clearly shown by the portraits figured in H. O. Forbes's Naturalist's Wanderings in the Eastern Archipelago. The natives, still mainly independent of their nominal Dutch and Portuguese rulers, are divided into many hostile tribes, speaking as many as forty distinct Papuan and Malayan languages or dialects. Some are addicted to headhunting, at least during war, and to other barbarous practices. In their uma-luli, or sacred (tabooed) enclosures, rites are performed resembling those of the Polynesian islanders.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)