Profile of John Guy of the Met

A profile of Dr John Guy, curator of South and Southeast Asian Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

John Guy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Source: The Hindu 20150214

John Guy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Source: The Hindu 20150214

A detective across centuries
The Hindu, 14 February 2015

The remarkable object on the screen is one of these clues — a yupa stone found in Eastern Borneo that dates back to the fourth century AD. The Sanskrit inscription describes the sacrifices performed by a local king called Mulawarman. “The inscription is in grammatical, perfectly good Sanskrit,” says John Guy, while delivering the Vasant J. Sheth Memorial Lecture during which he uses antiquities to offer a glimpse into the world of the intrepid Tamil traders who ruled the waves before the Gujarati merchants arrived on the scene.

“The Sanskrit inscriptions indicate that local rulers in Southeast Asia employed South Indian Brahmins as advisors and counsellors. The Brahmins were the mechanisms through which the inscriptions and objects of Vedic ritual landed up in these improbable, remote places. There was clearly an Indian presence in Southeast Asia, not just of ideas and religion but of people as well.”

John Guy should know. He is the curator of the Arts of South and South East Asia at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Besides building collections and organising blockbuster exhibitions, he acts as a detective across centuries. “I try to reconnect an object with its forgotten history,” he says, pointing out that sometimes all that remains of kingdoms and cultures are a handful of coins and seals, or a few crumbling sculptures. “We can read the past only on the basis of what has survived.”

Full story here.

The Thang Long Citadel

A Xinhua feature on the Thang Long Citadel in Hanoi.


Thang Long Imperial Citadel stands as historical testament to Vietnam’s power center
Xinhua, via Global Post, 27 February 2015

The Thang Long Imperial Citadel, located at the heart of Vietnam’s capital city Hanoi, has borne witness to the long history of the country as it has been a continuous seat of political power for almost thirteen centuries.

The Thang Long (Ascending Dragon) Imperial Citadel was built in the 11th century by the Vietnamese Ly Dynasty (1010-1225), to mark the independence of the Dai Viet, as Vietnam was known at that time.

It was built on the remains of a Chinese fortress dating from the seventh century, on drained land reclaimed from the Red River Delta in Hanoi. The Imperial Citadel and the remains of the 18 Hoang Dieu archaeological site reflect a unique South-East Asian culture, specific to the lower Red River Valley, cites the introduction of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on its website.

Full story here.

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Roundup: Naked tourism in Angkor

An AP story rounds up the recent spate of incidents involving tourists taking nude photos of themselves and talks about Cambodian reaction to the affairs (Naturally, they are offended). One of the perpetrating Frenchmen who was deported for taking nude photos made a puzzling statement by saying that the case demonstrates the “endemic corruption” in Cambodia – I fail to see how that is connected to his inability to keep his pants on.

Angkor Wat

Anger at Angkor: Cambodians upset over naked western tourists at temples
AP, via The Guardian, 27 February 2015

Cambodia’s most popular tourist attraction – the complex of ancient temples that includes Angkor Wat – is suffering from a form of overexposure. At least five foreign visitors have been arrested and deported this year for taking nude photos at the sacred sites.

Authorities have no tolerance for people stripping off at Angkor archaeological park, a sprawling Unesco World Heritage Site that drew 2 million visitors last year. The incidents are also upsetting to ordinary Cambodians, for whom the Khmer-era complex, built between the ninth and 15th centuries, holds enormous spiritual and historical significance.

“Angkor Wat is the most famous sacred … temple in Cambodia, where everyone, not only tourists but also Cambodians themselves, has to pay respect,” said Rattanak Te, an administrative assistant who lives in Phnom Penh, the capital. “It definitely upsets me and all Cambodians, because outsiders will think we Cambodian people are careless and do not take good care of this World Heritage [site] by allowing these tourists to do such an unacceptable act.”

Full story here.

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Public Lecture: The Tombstones of Lamreh (Ancient Lamri)

Readers in Singapore may be interested in this talk by Dr. E. Edwards McKinnon at ISEAS.

The Tombstones of Lamreh (Ancient Lamri): Their relevance to the arrival of Islam according to the Sejarah Melayu
Venue: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies Singapore
Date: 4 March 2015

The Lamreh headland adjacent to the Krueng Raya bay in Aceh Besar regency, Aceh province of Indonesia, known locally as Ujong Batee Kapai or the Ship-rock headland is one of the most important early Islamic settlement sites in northern Sumatra. The headland, some 300 ha in extent and the site of an ancient harbour has recently proved to have been devastated by one, if not two, pre-modern tsunamis and is a mediaeval settlement marked by numerous Islamic grave markers. The Lamreh site may be related to the Lan-li or Lan-wu-li of mediaeval Chinese texts, and in all probability the Chola ‘Ilamuridesam’ of the 11th century Tanjore inscription.

Attention to a sadly neglected burial ground at Lubhok was initiated by an Indonesian archaeological research team in 1996. The author was fortunate in being able to visit the headland site shortly after the Indonesian visit and discover an extensive cultural landscape which at that time was still largely intact. Two distinct types of grave marker, a small, plain proto-batu Aceh and a distinct so-called plang pleng tradition are to be found there. These grave markers and similar stones at three other contemporary coastal sites, Aru, Perlak and Samudera Pase, are seemingly of some importance in considering the legend of the arrival of Islam in the Sejarah Melayu and may help in understanding the arrival of Islam in the Aceh region.

The occurrence of the plang pleng tombstones that are found only in a very limited geographical area, may reflect the presence of a South Asian trading organization that had links to Sri Lanka, to Ayudhaya and to Quanzhou in south China in the 14th and 15th centuries. The plang pleng burial tradition seemingly disappears with the rise of the new sultanate in the late 15th or early 16th centuries.

More details and registration here.

Is it time for Singapore to have transparent heritage impact assessments?

An editorial in Singapore’s Straits Times by two scholars in Singapore’s ancient history discuss the need for heritage impact assessment to help mitigate the irretrievable loss of archaeology from construction work. Personally, it seems strange to me that most of the archaeological work in Singapore has been characterised as rescue archaeology, as opposed to systematic operations that should be required when constructing on what is known as an archaeologically rich and significant area. This suggests that there is little coordination between the heritage and public works agencies, and hence, a need for a transparent heritage impact assessment process.

Recent excavations at Empress Place, Singapore. Source: Straits Times 20150221

Recent excavations at Empress Place, Singapore. Source: Straits Times 20150221

Digging up Singapore’s history
The Straits Times, 21 February 2015

The archaeological excavation at Empress Place, which Minister Lawrence Wong visited last week, is the latest in a series of excavations started 30 years ago.

Other places recently excavated include the back of the Victoria Theatre before its renovation, and the space between the old Supreme Court and City Hall before it was built over to connect the two buildings for a National Art Gallery.

The driving force behind these excavations, 30 years ago and today, remains the same. It is to search for and recover any historical artefacts before redevelopment takes place. The limited, albeit detailed, Chinese and South-east Asian historical records suggest that a settlement existed at the mouth of the Singapore River since the end of the 13th century, which grew during the 14th century into a kingdom and port-city called Singapura, lasting for a century. Apart from Sir Stamford Raffles and John Crawfurd, the second governor of Singapore, who gave early 19th century eyewitness accounts of the remnants of this settlement, there has been no further confirming evidence.

It was only in 1984 that such evidence was recovered when the old National Museum invited Dr John N. Miksic, an archaeologist then teaching in Indonesia, to conduct a trial excavation on Fort Canning, a site which had been extensively developed and landscaped. Against the odds, an undisturbed layer of soil and earth datable to the 14th century was found around the old Keramat Iskandar Shah. Further excavations over the years have confirmed the conclusions drawn by historians from historical texts on Singapore’s 700-year legacy.

Full story here.

Symposium: The Belitung Shipwreck and the Maritime Silk Route

Readers in Toronto may be interested in a symposium on the Belitung Shipwreck held in conjunction with the exhibition at the Aga Khan Museum.

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The Belitung Shipwreck and the Maritime Silk Route – Symposium
28 February 2015
10am – 5pm
Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, Canada

The discovery of the 9th-century Belitung shipwreck in the Java Sea in 1998 revealed an astonishing cargo of close to 60,000 Tang period ceramic vessels as well as a rare collection of intricately worked silver and gold boxes, bronze mirrors, and silver ingots. It also revealed some of the belongings of an international crew that was once on board of this Arab trade ship.

The Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, and the Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore, are co-hosting a one-day symposium about the shipwreck’s discovery, excavation, its exceptional Tang period cargo, and the important narratives it provides of an active cultural and commercial maritime silk route. International experts discuss the maritime silk route, including the Belitung shipwreck and other recently excavated shipwrecks in the Indian Ocean. The symposium includes a round-table discussion of the historical and ethical implications of shipwrecks and the role of museums as venues for exploring and showcasing archaeological materials.

Details here.

CFP: Emergence of Theravada Buddhism in Cambodia: Southeast Asian Perspectives

SOAS is organising a symposium on Theravada Buddhism in Cambodia in July and the call for papers is now open. Bursaries for living and travel expenses are available to selected applicants. Deadline is 15 March 2015.

SOAS Emergence of Theravada Buddhism

SOAS Emergence of Theravada Buddhism

The Southeast Asian Art Academic Programme at SOAS invites papers for a symposium entitled ‘The Emergence of Theravada Buddhism in Cambodia: Southeast Asian Perspectives’ on July 3 2015.

Mainland Southeast Asia underwent major civilizational transitions when the Hindu-Mahayana Buddhist Angkorian Empire met its end over the 13th-15th centuries and Theravada Buddhism emerged in its wake. While Angkor remained a reference for the new states that developed across the mainland, Theravada Buddhism structured the cultural, social and political forms which continue to define the region. Given the importance of these changes, astonishingly little is understood about how it actually happened, notably in the Angkorian heartland itself. By supporting interdisciplinary exchange on the Theravadin material heritage across the Southeast Asian region (including Sri Lanka) during this transitional period, the symposium aims to begin to redress this gap in our regional understandings.

More details here.

George Lyndon Hicks Fellowship for Southeast Asia Collections

While not archaeological, this fellowship may be of interest to readers doing library and archive research in Southeast Asia. A fellowship offered by the National Library of Singapore. closing date for applications is 8 April 2015.

George Lyndon Hicks Fellowship for Southeast Asia Collections
The George Lyndon Hicks Fellowship for Southeast Asia Collections (GLHF) aims to attract top tier professionals to work with the National Library, Singapore (NLS) to develop its collections on Singapore and Southeast Asia. Through the Fellowship, NLS also aims to foster partnerships with collectors worldwide.

We welcome talented librarians, researchers, curators, archivists and collectors to collaborate with us.

Full details here.

Nanhai No. 1 yields over 900 porcelain pieces

More images of the finds from the Nanhai No. 1 wreck have been recovered in the ongoing investigation of the wreck.

Finds from Nanhai No. 1. Source: ECNS 20150215

Finds from Nanhai No. 1. Source: ECNS 20150215

900 porcelain pieces found from shipwreck Nanhai No. 1
ECNS, 15 February 2015

Photo taken on Feb 3, 2015 shows a kettle uncovered from the wrecked ship Nanhai No. 1 at the Maritime Silk Road Museum in Hailing island of Yangjiang, South China’s Guangdong province. The 30-meter-long merchant vessel, built during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), sank off the coast of Guangdong province about 800 years ago. More than 900 pieces of porcelain, about 120 gold items and thousands of silver coins have been uncovered since the excavation began, according to Sun Jian, technical director of the Underwater Cultural Heritage Protection Center of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage. The discovered objects primarily are porcelain from Jingdezhen kiln in Jiangxi province, Dehua kiln in Fujian province and Longquan kiln in Zhejiang province.

More images here.

Indonesian shipwreck trove to be auctioned

The contents of a shipwreck found in the waters of the Riau Islands will be split between museums in Indonesia and sold to the domestic market. This might be an interesting case to follow as an alternative way to balance the illicit salvage of underwater cultural properties against state intervention and public partnership. The finds from the ship date to the Ming Dynasty, but I am unable to determine much from the archaeology of the ship as the article is in Bahasa Indonesia. (Thanks to Shu from the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre for the heads up).

Ming Dynasty jarlet from a shipwreck in the Riau Islands. Source: Detik 20150216

Ming Dynasty jarlet from a shipwreck in the Riau Islands. Source: Detik 20150216

Harta Karun Kapal Dinasti Ming di Batam akan Dilelang, 16 February 2015

Pemerintah akan mengangkat kapal karam dari Dinasti Ming bermuatan aneka harta di Perairan Bintan, Batam, Kepulauan Riau. Bagaimana nasib harta karunnya nanti?

Kasubid Pendayagunaan Sumber Daya Kelautan KP3K Kementerian Kelautan dan Perikanan (KKP), Rusman Hariyanto mengatakan, usai kapal diangkat proses selanjutnya adalah pengumpulan Benda Muat Kapal Tenggelam (BMKT) dan ditempatkan sementara di salah satu gudang penyimpanan di Bintan.

Beberapa BMKT akan dipilih dan dibagikan ke beberapa museum sebagai sumber pengetahuan sejarah. Setelah itu, BMKT yang tersisa akan dilelang di pasar dalam negeri.

Full story here.