The German Wat Ratchaburana Safeguarding Project

Over the weekend I went to Ayutthaya to see the restoration works by the German team working at Wat Ratchaburana. This 15th century wat, built in Khmer style, features a lotus shaped prang (tower) that sets it apart from most of the temples in the complex, and most readers familiar with Khmer temple architecture would recognise it immediately.

Wat Ratchaburana, Ayutthaya, March 2015

Wat Ratchaburana, Ayutthaya, March 2015

The German team, led by Prof. Hans Leisen, is just wrapping up their season this week, and I had a close look and appreciation for their work. The project began after the 2012 floods, and the focus started by looking at some of the stucco reliefs found at the lower levels of the temple. Remarkably, these reliefs were relatively undamaged as it turned out.

Prof. Hans Leisen, head of the German team working on the restoration of Wat Ratchaburana

Prof. Hans Leisen, head of the German team working on the restoration of Wat Ratchaburana

 

Stucco reliefs at the base of the temple.

Stucco reliefs at the base of the temple. These were the reliefs that were exposed to flood waters in 2012, but they seem to have survived relatively well.

The stucco on the upper levels of the building was another matter, and so the project has turned their attention there. At time of writing there was a scaffold built around the northern face of the main prang which gives researchers access to the features on the outside of the building.

View from the scaffold.

View from the scaffold.

Restoration on such a building is always a patchwork process. Various restoration works have been carried out over the years, by different agencies. This means there are several layers of restoration that can be seen in different parts of the building.

The face was restored the season before. Previous restoration have used concrete, while new processes now require that surfaces be cleaned extensively before any treatment. This leads to the building looking like a bit of a patchwork.

The southwest face was restored the season before. Previous restoration have used concrete, while new processes now require that surfaces be cleaned extensively before any treatment. This leads to the building looking like a bit of a patchwork.

Identical garuda, different corner. This one is located ion the northeast corner, and still has traces of the (presumably) original stucco on it, making its stabilisation even more important.

Identical garuda, different corner. This one is located ion the northeast corner, and still has traces of the (presumably) original stucco on it, making its stabilisation even more important.

Earlier restoration efforts have relied on cement to restore some of the features, with mixed results. Concrete is much harder than the brick and lime that the temple has been originally built, so this has caused more problems as the materials expand and contract at different rates, causing more fissures in the structure. Like Angkor, plants are also a problem as they can take root between the cracks and as they grow force the cracks to widen. This Garuda in the northeast corner is one such example.

These rubber bands anchoring the base of the northeast garuda are to prevent is from toppling - the cracks are formed by plants taking root between them and it takes a fair bit of work to get rid of all the plant matter.

These rubber bands anchoring the base of the northeast garuda are to prevent is from toppling – the cracks are formed by plants taking root between them and it takes a fair bit of work to get rid of all the plant matter.

Getting up the scaffold was a really cool experience (I haven’t done so since my MA research) and it was a real treat to see some of the architectural features up close. I also too the opportunity to give my quadcopter another spin and get a quick aerial video of the site.

Standing Buddha in the northern alcove. If you look carefully, you can see some of the red and gold pigments that have survived the passing of time.

Standing Buddha in the northern alcove. If you look carefully, you can see some of the red and gold pigments that have survived the passing of time.

Ayutthaya is about an hour away from Bangkok and a great day trip if you’re ever there, although, there are more than enough temples to make it more than a day.

Cambodia offers lessons on antiquities repatriation to China

Cambodia’s recent successes in repatriating a number of Khmer antiquities from the US is of interest to China, because of the recent news of a 1,000 year old statue containing the mummified remains of a monk going on sale in the Netherlands.

Koh Ker warrior, VOA 20120306

Koh Ker warrior, VOA 20120306

Interview: Cambodia shares successful story on repatriation of stolen antiquities
Xinhua, 28 March 2015

Cambodia successfully reclaimed five antiques that were looted by the United States during the country’s civil war, after effective diplomatic and legal work, a senior government official told Xinhua in a recent interview, in which ways other countries may reclaim stolen artifacts was shared.

The five ancient statues, which were looted from Cambodia during the time of the country’s civil war in the 1970s, had been repatriated from the United States to Cambodia between June 2013 and June 2014.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Office of the Council of Ministers, which represented the Cambodian government to reclaim the cultural objects, said international law, close cooperation between Cambodia and the United States, and concrete evidence, had led Cambodia to successfully retrieving its looted artifacts.

Full story here.

Indonesian archaeologists discover ancient settlement in West Papua

Archaeologists in West Papua have discovered archaeological remains on a settlement site situated on a strategic location overlooking the Cendrawasih coast. Finds include numerous colonial period artefacts – European and Chinese ceramics. [Many thanks to Hari Suroto, who is also quoted in the article, for the heads up].

Archaeologists working at the Mosandurei  site in West Papua. Source: Tempo 20150329

Archaeologists working at the Mosandurei site in West Papua. Source: Tempo 20150329

Archaeologists Discover Ancient Settlement in Papua
Tempo, 29 March 2015

Archaeologists in Napan District, Nabire Regency, Papua Province, have discovered a Mosandurei site which is an ancient settlement.

“The ancient village Mosandurei was discovered during the process of an archaeological research, said researcher staff of Jayapura Archaeological Station, Hari Suroto, in Jayapura, Papua, on Saturday, March 28, as quoted by Antara News.

According to Suroto, stone tools beads, Chinese ceramic from Ming and Ching Dynasty (XVI-XVII, XVII-XVIII centuries), European ceramic wares, bottles, and earthenware.

“Manufacturer stamps are found on the European ceramics, namely Fregout & Co Saastrusht Dragon Made in Holland and Petrus Regout & Co Maastricht made in Holland,” Suroto added.

Full story here.

Feature on Gua Harimau

Jelajah.com carries a feature on the Neolithic site of Gua Harimau in South Sumatra. Even if you can’t read Indonesian, it’s worth a visit for the pictures – Gua Harimau is the only known painted rock art site on Sumatra, and it features a number of other prehistoric burials.

Gua Harimau in South Sumatra. Source: Jelajah 20150325

Gua Harimau in South Sumatra. Source: Jelajah 20150325

Keunikan Gua Harimau di Padang Bindu, Sumatera Selatan
Jelajah, 25 March 2015
Article is in Bahasa Indonesia

Dari kota Palembang di Sumatera Selatan rombongan kami bergerak ke baratdaya menuju kota Baturaja. Jarak tempuhnya sekitar 6 jam dengan menggunakan kendaraan beroda empat. Kali ini saya bergabung dengan rombongan para arkeolog dari kota Jakarta, Jambi dan Palembang untuk mengunjungi Gua Harimau di desa Padang Bindu, kecamatan Semidang Aji, kabupaten Baturaja.

Kami bermalam di kota Baturaja dan mulai melanjutkan perjalanan keesokan paginya. Hanya butuh 30 menit kami tiba di desa Padang Bindu, lokasi terdekat dari Gua Harimau. Kendaraan roda empat tak bisa masuk lebih jauh, rombongan harus berjalan kaki. Tapi sebelumnya kami sempatkan membeli makanan dan minuman untuk bekal selama di Gua Harimau. ”Tak ada warung di sana,” begitu kata Agus Sudaryadi, arkeolog asal Jambi, yang kebetulan sekamar dengan saya di hotel.

Full story here.

Visit the Ban Don Thong Chai Archaeological Site

The newly-opened Ban Don Thong Chai Archaeological Site is an open air museum and situated relatively close to the famous Ban Chiang archaeological site.

Ban Don Thong Chai Archaeological Site. Source: Bangkok Post 20150326

Ban Don Thong Chai Archaeological Site. Source: Bangkok Post 20150326

Digging ancient history
Bangkok Post, 26 March 2015

At first glance, Wat Chai Mongkol in Sakon Nakhon looks like a typical Buddhist temple. But it houses a recently-discovered archaeological site dating back 1,800-4,500 years.

Called the “Ban Don Thong Chai Archaeological Site”, the museum has been open to the public since the beginning of the year. The site is about 19 rai with the entrance behind a prayer hall of Wat Chai Mongkol.

Visitors are initially greeted with a blueprint of the temple’s grounds with markings of the 40 pit sites. Brief information is included about the ancient people who lived in this area, outlining three major periods which can be segmented the same way as Ban Chiang.

Full story here.

Vacancy: Lecturer in South East Asian Art

A lectureship in Southeast Asian Art is open at SOAS – although specialists in modern and contemporary art are sought after. Closing date 20 April 2015

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Lecturer in South East Asian Art
School of Oriental and Asian Studies

The Department of the History of Art and Archaeology at SOAS, University of London, invites applications for a Lectureship in South East Asian Art. The post holder will be part of the exciting new development in South East Asian Art made available by a transformational donation from the Alphawood Foundation, Chicago, in 2013.

The post is intended for a dynamic scholar at a Lecturer level. The post is tenable from 1st September 2015. Applications are invited from those working on the history of art of any geographical area of South East Asia. Candidates with a specialism in the modern and contemporary arts of South East Asia are strongly invited to apply. Candidates should have an outstanding international reputation demonstrated by an excellent publication record and knowledge of relevant languages.

The successful candidate will be a member of the Department of the History of Art and Archaeology and will be expected to develop and teach courses at all levels, supervise PhD students, assume administrative responsibilities, collaborate productively with colleagues, and play a major role in the further development of South East Asian Art.

Full posting here.

The last potters of Vietnam

A feature on the traditional potters of Vietnam, a dying craft, and their long lineage.

Jars of My Thien pottery village in Quang Ngai Province. Source: Viet Nam Net 20150323

Jars of My Thien pottery village in Quang Ngai Province. Source: Viet Nam Net 20150323

Walking down Vietnam’s pottery lane, before time erases its fame
Viet Nam Net, 23 March 2015

The last artisan of the ancient Quang Duc pottery line died early last year at 90, and the only artisan still making My Duc pottery is already in his 50s.

It is time to take a journey back in time to learn about the heyday of the pottery lines that earned national and regional fame for central Vietnam before they die out for good.

Many pottery villages prospered in south central Vietnam thousands of years ago, but the most famous ones were My Thien in Quang Ngai Province, Quang Duc in Phu Yen and Go Sanh in Binh Dinh.

Pottery relics from the villages are evidence of strong cultural interaction and trade between countries in the region centuries ago.

Full story here.

Public Lecture: Buddhist Archaeology in Myanmar: International and Local Landscapes

A public lecture by Prof. Elizabeth Moore on her work in Bagan.

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Buddhist Archaeology in Myanmar: International and Local Landscapes
Elizabeth Moore
Institute of Southeast Asian Studies
13 April 2015, 3-4.30pm

With the 2014 UNESCO World Heritage inscription of the early Buddhist ‘Pyu Ancient Cities’, discussions are underway at the ‘Bagan Archaeological Area and Monuments’ included on the country’s Tentative List revised in 2014. Bagan’s arid environment, with less than 600 mm of rainfall per annum, has helped to preserve mural paintings in several hundreds of the thousands of brick structures of the ancient city. The temples and stupas are laid out across a broad floodplain between ranges on the opposite bank of the river and to the southeast. The traditional rural setting of the temples scattered between village fields has been sustained with cultivation of sugar palms, onions and beans relying on a delicate system of water management. There is the life of the Ayeyarwaddy River as well, with sand-cultivation and boats plying up and down at small jetties. Greening projects plus the infrastructure and water needs of expanding tourism have put increasing pressure on this extraordinary ecology and way of life. The living culture of Bagan includes at least 400 active monasteries. Bagan has a deep and long-lived significance as a pilgrimage destination, where the charitable donation underlying customary repair of pagodas often runs counter to international preservation norms. There is, in addition, the relationship of villages and monasteries to temple festivals and the most popular pilgrimage circuits. Both the rich archaeology and this living heritage of Bagan are part of current research as well heritage activities at international and local levels of Myanmar’s ancient landscapes.

More details here.

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Large sculpture found near Wat Phu

A large stone sculpture dating to the 7th century has been discovered near the Wat Phu complex of Southern Laos. The nature of the artefact is uncertain, but from the description of the shape it sounds like a lintel.

Wat Phu

Pre-Angkorian archaeological treasure sees light in southern Laos
Xinhua, 18 March 2015

A large 7th century artifact described as one of the most significant archaeological items ever found in Laos has been unearthed at a world heritage site in the country’s south, local media reported Wednesday.

The discovery was made during archaeological excavations at Phou Kao, a mountain site associated with the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Vat Phou complex in the southern province of Champassak, state-run media Vientiane Times reported.

The piece, featuring carvings of figures from Hindu mythology, measures 2.2 meters by 90 centimeters wide.

The 22-cm-thick sculpture was located under a 20-cm layer of debris

Full story here.

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Public Lecture: Koh Ker, the City of Linga during the Reign of King Jayavarman IV

For readers in Phnom Penh, a lecture by Dr Chen Chenratana on the ancient city of Koh Ker.

Koh Ker, Prasat Thom

Koh Ker, the City of Linga during the Reign of King Jayavarman IV
Chen Chenratana
Zaman University
21 March 2015, 9-11am
For online registration: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1YKRHe2QUEkqRhL2zenV7rf_W3O8Cd9DhH6j1xNAcuFc/viewform

In 10th Century Cambodia, King Jayavarman IV moved the capital city to Chok Gargyarin the greater Angkor area, now known as Koh Ker, where he was to stay for twenty years. It was there that Jayavarman IV built religious monuments dedicated to Hinduism as well as large scale infrastructure (i.e. irrigation system, roads) to support the local economy. The concept of urban planning was also developed fully during his reign since the capital was organized in such a way as to consolidate the king’s political power and ensure the country’s stability, security and prosperity.
This capital city lasted for 20 years, however. It was immediately abandoned after his death. Historians are still debating the underlying motivations behind Jayavarman IV’s choice of Koh Ker and the major political events that took place during his reign.

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