Seized Kapoor treasures include a large number of Cambodian and Thai artefacts

The treasure trove of disgraced antiques dealer Subhash Kapoor was seized by the authorities in New York and the list of antiquities recovered were made public. Among them are a number of Cambodian and Thai artefacts, amounting to millions of dollars in value.

New York Authorities Seek Custody of Stolen Artifacts Worth Over $100 Million
New York Times, 14 April 2015

Major US Seizure Included Cambodian Artifacts
Cambodia Daily, 16 April 2015

At least $3 million worth of Cambodian artifacts are part of a massive cache of smuggled antiquities that have been seized by New York authorities after being smuggled into the U.S. by an art dealer, The New York Times reported on Tuesday.

After a two-yearlong investigation into the assets of New York City art dealer Subhash Kapoor, the Manhattan district attorney’s office on Tuesday asked a judge for permission to take custody of 2,622 relics worth more than $100 million that were stolen from various Asian countries, the Times reported.

The relics were confiscated from six of the art dealer’s galleries and storage spaces in a series of raids that began in 2012 known as “Operation Hidden Idol.” Altogether, the pieces uncovered during the raids represent the largest art seizure in U.S. history, according to the Times.

The cache includes several major Cambodian artifacts, including a $1.2-million Naga statue found in Mr. Kapoor’s Art of the Past gallery on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, according to court documents released by the newspaper.

Full stories here and here.

466-year-old chapel to be restored

An ancient chapel built during the 16th century Portuguese colonial period in historic Malacca will finally be restored by the local authorities.

Source: The Star 20150325

Source: The Star 20150325

466-year-old chapel set to undergo restoration
The Star, 25 March 2015

Lent 2015 brought cheer to thousands of Catholics here with news that the ancient Rosary Chapel (Ermida de Rosario) will be restored, ending its days of neglect.

Malacca Museum Corporation (Perzim) has received the go-ahead from the management of St Peter’s Church of Malacca to start work on the 466-year-old building and the land it stands on in Jalan Bunga Raya Pantai along Malacca River.

“With the permission granted, work will begin very soon,” Perzim general manager Datuk Khamis Abas said yesterday.

Joseph Sta Maria, a representative of minority ethnic communities under the state Barisan Nasional’s social service unit (Pembela), said the announcement brought joy not only to Catholics in Malacca but also nationwide.

Full story here.

National Heritage, but vandalised and under-maintained

Locals bemoan the lack of maintenance of the Gua Tambun rock art site, despite having been designated as a national heritage site. I recorded the site as part of my MA research several years ago and there was very little or promotion of the site then and it is sad to hear that this is still the case.

Vandalism at Gua Tambun. The Malay Mail 20150411

Vandalism at Gua Tambun. The Malay Mail 20150411


National heritage lost to ravages of time and vandals
Malay Mail, 11 April 2015

In another country, a drawing dating back thousands of years ago would have become the pride of the nation, a major tourist attraction and a well-guarded heritage.

Such an artifact would have been flaunted to the extremes, ensuring it would never be lost and continue to generate as much tourist dollars as possible.

But, sadly, that is not the case for the drawings on the walls of a collapsed cave in Tambun, a five-minute drive from the centre of Ipoh town.

Believed to have been discovered by British soldiers in 1959, the drawings are said to be at least 3,000 years old although there have been claims they could even be 12,000 years old.

Full story here.

Empress Place excavation wraps up

The excavations at Singapore’s Empress Place wraps up over last weekend, and the excavation team gave a press conference to show some of the major finds.

Finds from the Empress Place excavation in Singapore. Source: Today 20150416

Finds from the Empress Place excavation in Singapore. Source: Today 20150416

‘Excavation jackpot’ at Empress Place archaeological dig
Today, 16 April 2015

Empress Place dig turns up proof suggesting ancient Temasek had an established chief
Straits Times, 16 April 2015
Subscription required

Singapore’s biggest archeology dig has unearthed an estimated two tonnes of artefacts, the country’s largest haul ever, the National Heritage Board (NHB) said today (April 16).

The two-month project at Empress Place, in front of the Victoria Concert Hall, wrapped up last Sunday.

It’s an “excavation jackpot”, said Mr Alvin Tan, assistant chief executive officer for Policy and Development at the NHB, with some pieces dating back to the 13th Century.

Some of the more significant artefacts uncovered, he said, will be put on display in museums once cataloguing and research work has been completed.

Full story here.

Help Heritage Watch print new books for its education programme!

Heritage Watch is crowdfunding! They are looking to raise USD $10,000 to help reprint a series of books to be used as teaching aids for children in Cambodia. The books help to raise awareness about the importance of their heritage and why it is important not to sell them away. Dr Dougald O’Reilly, Heritage Watch’s founder who appears in the video is a personal friend of mine.


Heritage for Kids by Heritage Watch

Heritage for Kids involves developing a series of classes on historic preservation for teachers at primary and secondary schools in Cambodia. Part of the curriculum includes reading and reviewing “Wrath of the Phantom Army” and another of our popular children’s books ‘If the Stones Could Speak’. These books, together with a colouring book and the teacher’s guide, will help educate younger Cambodians about the importance and value of their cultural heritage. In the end, these younger Khmer will not only learn, but perhaps inform the rest of their communities, as well as their own families, on the importance of preserving their heritage.

We are seeking funds not only to reprint Wrath of the Phantom Army in the Cambodian language (Khmer), but also our children’s book and a colouring book. We are seeking support for project implementation as well.

Check out the Kickstarter page here.

Fossils found in Laos strengthen the idea of diversity amongst early humans

A new paper published last week in PLOSOne describes a second mandible found at Tam (Tham) Pa Ling in northeast Laos, a significant site because the age of the bones (63-46 thousand years old) provide the first evidence of modern humans in Mainland Southeast Asia. More importantly, the second mandible, is morphologically distinct from the one described earlier from there, leading the authors to suggest that early modern humans may already have been physically quite diverse.

Fossils from Tam Pa Ling, Laos. Source: EurekAlert 20150407

Fossils from Tam Pa Ling, Laos. Source: EurekAlert 20150407

Two ancient human fossils from Laos reveal early human diversity
EurekAlert, 07 April 2015

Early Modern Humans and Morphological Variation in Southeast Asia: Fossil Evidence from Tam Pa Ling, Laos
Demeter et al.
PLOS One, doi 10.1371/journal.pone.0121193

Little is known about the timing of modern human emergence and occupation in Eastern Eurasia. However a rapid migration out of Africa into Southeast Asia by at least 60 ka is supported by archaeological, paleogenetic and paleoanthropological data. Recent discoveries in Laos, a modern human cranium (TPL1) from Tam Pa Ling‘s cave, provided the first evidence for the presence of early modern humans in mainland Southeast Asia by 63-46 ka. In the current study, a complete human mandible representing a second individual, TPL 2, is described using discrete traits and geometric morphometrics with an emphasis on determining its population affinity. The TPL2 mandible has a chin and other discrete traits consistent with early modern humans, but it retains a robust lateral corpus and internal corporal morphology typical of archaic humans across the Old World. The mosaic morphology of TPL2 and the fully modern human morphology of TPL1 suggest that a large range of morphological variation was present in early modern human populations residing in the eastern Eurasia by MIS 3.

Article is Open Access (yay!) – find it here.

Website: The Cambodian Archaeological LIDAR Initiative

We’ve seen quite a few stories about the LIDAR imaging of Angkor that has revealed a host of new data about the urban sprawl of Angkor, and now the project is on to its second phase. You can read more about their effort on the website, the Cambodian Archaeological LIDAR Initiative.

The Cambodian Archaeological Lidar Initiative

The Cambodian Archaeological Lidar Initiative

Website link

Royal Vietnamese rickshaw comes home

A rickshaw used by a kind of the Nguyen Dynasty has returned to Vietnam this week, after having been won in an auction last year in Paris thanks to local funds.

King Thanh Thai's rickshaw. Source: Thanh Nien News 20150408

King Thanh Thai’s rickshaw. Source: Thanh Nien News 20150408

Hue bringing home royal rickshaw from France, hopes to retrieve plundered relic
Thanh Nien News, 08 April 2015

A royal rickshaw that Hue conservation authorities have retrieved from France after more than a century is coming home this month, and it might inspire more efforts to get back the other rickshaw and more lost antiques.

Phan Thanh Hai, director of the Hue Monuments Conservation Center, said the rickshaw would arrive in Vietnam on April 14 from the Vietnamese embassy in France which has the relic now.

The rickshaw was made by King Thanh Thai, the 10th emperor of Vietnam’s last dynasty, the Nguyens, who ruled in Hue, for his Mother Queen Tu Minh.

Thanh Thai, who ruled from 1889 to 1907, was known as a patriotic king and was one of three rulers – including his predecessor Ham Nghi and his son Duy Tan – to be dethroned and banished for opposing the French colonizers.

Full story here.

Lecture: Shipwreck Finds in the Spratlys and The Implications on Territorial Claims

Dr Michael Flecker will be speaking at the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre later this month on the shipwrecks and territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Shipwreck Finds in the Spratlys: The Implications on Territorial Claims
Venue: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies Singapore
Date: 28 April 2015
Time: 3 – 4.30pm

Way back in 1993, the speaker had the good fortune to investigate some of the Vietnamese-occupied reefs in the Spratly Archipelago, the Dangerous Ground marked on maritime charts. The aim was to discover Chinese, Southeast Asian and European shipwrecks that struck the western-most reefs while sailing downwind on the northeast monsoon. Plenty of shipwrecks were found, but none contained the dreamt of piles of glistening celadon or blue-and-white porcelain.

New evidence of ancient maritime trade was anticipated. Unfortunately, the late 19th century does not qualify as ancient. Fortunately, a lack of discoveries can be as important as an abundance. Such is the case in the Spratly ‘Archipelago’, a group of reefs and islets in the middle of the South China Sea, claimed in whole or in part by China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines. Many islets and reefs are occupied, and several are now being reclaimed. The quest for oil and fish may have been the driving force in the past, but the current push is strategic.

China has been more forceful than most. Their nine-dashed line encompasses pretty much all of the South China Sea down to Indonesia’s Natuna Islands. While words have been ambiguous, actions have not. It would seem that virtually the entire sea and seabed are being claimed, along with the reefs and rocks. And this claim is ‘indisputable’, largely on historical grounds. What other grounds could there be when the closest reef lies nearly 500 nautical miles from Hainan?

This lecture delves into the archaeological evidence that may support, or counter, a historical claim. Texts are subject to interpretation and can take us only so far. Shipwreck hulls and cargoes can be definitively identified. They can be reasonably accurately dated. They can tell us who was there, and often why they were there. As far as voyaging throughout the South China Sea is concerned, the Southeast Asians, and later the Arabs, were active well before the Chinese ventured beyond their southern shores in the 11th or 12th century. Having achieved a degree of maritime prowess, did the Chinese have any reason to risk the Dangerous Ground in the distant past? Let’s see.

Registration required, information here.

Panel in honour of Dr Nishimura at the Asian Association of World History Congress

The Asian Association of World History Congress held in Singapore between 29-31 May will have a special panel entitled “The Ancient Studies in Vietnam from the view of integration of Archaeology and History” in honour of the late Dr. Nishimura.

Via Prof. John Miksic:

This panel will focus on Vietnam from the viewpoint of integration of archaeology and history. The late Dr. Nishimura realized that the framework of ancient studies advocated by the late Prof Mori Koichi, would be one of the principal axes of Area Studies.

One of his books, “Ancient Archaeological Studies in Vietnam” published in 2011 won a prize from the Japan Society for Southeast Asian History studies. Although his ultimate goal was the investigation of the “site” as an archaeologist, he integrated a lot of different methods of analysis.

After introducing the trajectory of Dr. Nishimura’s framework, we chose 4 topics from his fields of interest to discuss how his work continues to inspire current scholars. Two of the four topics recognize his strong interest in Vietnamese ceramics.

The first topic is Lung Khe citadel in Bac Ninh Province, in Northern Vietnam. New discoveries of a stone coffin and inscription support Dr. Nishiura’s hypothesis that Lung Khe citadel was not the Luy Lau and the Long Bien citadel(s). We also discuss the relationship with Funan and Oc Eo culture. Pham Le Huy, Le Thi Lien and Noriko Nishino will speak on this topic.

The second topic concerns the Champa Citadels in central Vietnam which will be presented by Do Truong Giang (Alex Giang), Mariko Yamagata, Nguyen Van Quang and Tomomi Suzuki.

The third topic is the 9th century shipwreck found off Quang Ngai province coast by 4 Japanese scholars (Noriko Nishino, Toru Aoyama, Jun Kimura, Nogami Takenori) and 1 Vietnamese underwater Archaeologist: Dr.Le Thi Lien.

The last topic to be discussed is the Kim Lan, Bat Trang pottery Village studies [in Hanoi]. This will be developed in the context of commercial activities in the 17th century and the influence of immigration.

Each topic will be discussed by at least 2 scholars: one historian and one archaeologist.

More details about the conference here.