First discovery of archaic Homo from Taiwan

A fossil jawbone recovered from the seabed near Taiwan represents the first ancient hominid find from the region; dating is imprecise – anywhere from 10 to 190ka – but the form is more reminiscent of archaic hominids rather than recent ones. If so, it lends weight to the theory that there were multiple groups of ancient hominids that existed outside of Africa.

Jawbone of Penghu 1. Source: Ancient Origins, 20150128

Jawbone of Penghu 1. Source: Ancient Origins, 20150128

The first archaic Homo from Taiwan
Nature Communications, 27 January 2015
doi:10.1038/ncomms7037

Ancient Human Fossil Could Be New Primitive Species
Live Science, 27 January 2015

Taiwan Jaw Bone Connected to the Origins of Humanity, May Reveal Entirely New Prehistoric Species
Ancient Origins, 28 January 2015

Recent studies of an increasing number of hominin fossils highlight regional and chronological diversities of archaic Homo in the Pleistocene of eastern Asia. However, such a realization is still based on limited geographical occurrences mainly from Indonesia, China and Russian Altai. Here we describe a newly discovered archaic Homo mandible from Taiwan (Penghu 1), which further increases the diversity of Pleistocene Asian hominins. Penghu 1 revealed an unexpectedly late survival (younger than 450 but most likely 190–10 thousand years ago) of robust, apparently primitive dentognathic morphology in the periphery of the continent, which is unknown among the penecontemporaneous fossil records from other regions of Asia except for the mid-Middle Pleistocene Homo from Hexian, Eastern China. Such patterns of geographic trait distribution cannot be simply explained by clinal geographic variation of Homo erectus between northern China and Java, and suggests survival of multiple evolutionary lineages among archaic hominins before the arrival of modern humans in the region.

Read the full paper here.

Public Lecture: The Khmer Empire and its Road Network

Cambodian archaeologist Ea Darith will be giving a presentation in Singapore next month. Readers in Singapore may want to check it out.

The Khmer Empire and its Road Network
Date: 12 February 2015
Time: 3.00 – 4.30 pm
Venue: Seminar Room 2, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore

From the 9th to 15th century, the Khmer Empire ruled over a large area of Mainland Southeast Asia, which was bordered by China to the north; the Malay Peninsula to the south; the Mon state to the west; and Champa and Daiviet to the east. The empire’s capital was located in the Angkor area and consisted of a concentrated series of monumental structures. These included a large capital city complex which encompassed a 3×3 km area (now called Angkor Thom), and the state temple of Angkor Wat—the largest Hindu temple in the world to date. The Angkor complex also consisted of huge eastern and western water reservoirs, canal systems, hundreds of other smaller temples, as well as a road network from the Angkor capital to other provinces within its domain.

In order to solidify control over this vast area, the rulers of Angkor constructed many roads that connected the Angkor capital to its former capitals as well as new conquered territories. There were two roads to the east and northeast of Angkor which connected to the former capital cities of Sambor Prei Kuk, Kok Ker, and Wat Phu. To the west and northwest, there were two roads that had connections to Phimai, Sdok Kak Thom, and probably Lopburi. The late 12th century Preah Khan temple inscription tells us that there are 121 rest houses and 102 hospitals located along these roads and provincial cities. The inscriptions also clearly mentioned 17 rest houses along the 245-km-road from Angkor to Phimai, which was considered the northwestern region.

The Living Angkor Road Project (LARP), a Cambodian–Thai joint research project, has been conducting research along the said road since 2005. The team has already identified 32 ancient bridges, 385 water structures, 134 temples, 17 rest houses, 8 hospitals, a number of iron smelting sites, hundreds of stoneware ceramic kilns, and many habitation sites.

Registration details here.

Call for Papers: The Archaeology of Portable Art: South East Asian, Pacific, and Australian Perspectives

My alma mater is holding a symposium in May on portable art, focusing on Southeast Asia, the Pacific and Australian regions. Paper proposals are now being accepted and you are encouraged to contact Duncan Wright or Michelle Langley for more details.

archaeologyofportableart

The Archaeology of Portable Art: South East Asian, Pacific, and Australian Perspectives
Date: 23-24 May 2015
Venue: The Australian National University

This symposium aims to reignite the dialogue about portable art across Island South East Asia, the Pacific and Australia and by doing so review future directions for research. Specific themes are: object histories; use of ethnography/museum collections for informing archaeological research; use of ‘intangible technologies’ and organic artefacts for expressing community affiliation/identity; cognitive development, the role of portable art in Pleistocene and Holocene expansions; and experimental studies.

Full details here.

Belitung Shipwreck shows up in Canada as the Lost Dhow

Remember the Belitung Shipwreck, whose finds were controversially recovered by commercial salvage operators and then sold to the Singapore Tourism Board? Whose planned exhibition at the Smithsonian was cancelled after an uproar over the circumstances the finds were recovered? The finds are now on display at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, Canada. As a museum showcasing the Islamic arts, the exhibition is packaged as the ‘Lost Dhow’, while previous exhibitions have been marketed as treasures from the Tang Dynasty.

The Lost Dhow exhibition at the Aga Khan Museum. Source: Living Toronto Journal 20150121

The Lost Dhow exhibition at the Aga Khan Museum. Source: Living Toronto Journal 20150121

The Lost Dhow: A Discovery from the Maritime Silk Route
Living Toronto, 21 January 2015

When you enter the latest Aga Khan Museum exhibition ― The Lost Dhow: A Discovery from the Maritime Silk Route ― you are literally aboard a 1200-year-old Arab trading ship, a dhow. On the floor, marked off in tape, is the outline of this ancient craft, 6.4m (21ft) wide, and 18m (59ft) stem to stern. You immediately feel the cramped quarters of this cargo vessel and you realize, especially after seeing a large model of this boat, how courageous these sailors and their captain were to sail nearly 2000 miles due south across the South China Sea, to the Strait of Malacca (modern day Singapore), thread their way through this pirate-infested bottleneck, or perhaps to sail around Sumatra on its way across the Indian Ocean to the Middle East.

But the dhow sank a few miles off some islands in the west end of the Java Sea, off the usual trade routes. All that separated the crew from the sea were wooden planks, curved by steam, stitched together with rope and wadding, then coated with a caulking compound made from lime. We can only hope the crew was able to swim to the islands.

Full story here.
You can follow all the previous stories on the Belitung Shipwreck found on this site here.

Phu Phra Bat Historical Park to be nominated for world heritage

Phu Phra Bat Historical Park in Udon Thani Province Thailand is to be nominated at Thailand’s next World Heritage site. This ridge in northeast Thailand is reminiscent of Cambodia’s Phnom Kulen, and contains a long history of human occupation from prehistoric rock paintings, to remains of Dvaravati, Lopburi/Khmer and recently Lan Xang cultures. It is a beautiful landscape and I was really fortunate to have investigated some of the sites there as part of my PhD research.

U-sa's Tower in Phu Phra Bat Historical Park. Source: The Nation, 20150127

U-sa’s Tower in Phu Phra Bat Historical Park. Source: The Nation, 20150127

Phu Phra Bat Park nominated for Unesco Heritage Site list
The Nation, 27 January 2015

Phu Phra Bat Park chosen for Unesco Heritage list
The Nation, 28 January 2015

The Culture Ministry has decided to nominate Udon Thani’s Phu Phra Bat Park as a Unesco World Heritage Site and will put the plan up for consideration at Parliament tomorrow.

Situated in Ban Phue district, the park features ruins and objects dating back to pre-historic times as well as to the Dvaravati, Lopburi, and Lan Xang periods.

The 1,200-acre site is located in the lush Phu Phra Bat Buabok Forest Park, where there are many peculiarly shaped rocks owing to slow-moving glaciers millions of years ago. Also, many of the ruins and objects – such as a rock shaped to look like a stupa and another chiselled to the shape of a foot – were not made entirely by hand.

Visitors can also admire the pre-historic paintings, sandstone images and idols. The Fine Arts Department declared the site a historical park in 1991.

Full story here and here.

Photoshoot featuring topless woman in Angkorian temple raises uproar

Photos of a topless woman posing in an Angkorian temple appeared in the internet over the weekend, drawing many protests and comments about propriety in what are essentially religious sites. The creators of the photos are thought to be a group based in China, although the specific parties have not been identified.

Topless woman at Banteay Kdei. Source: Phnom Penh Post 20150126

Topless woman at Banteay Kdei. Source: Phnom Penh Post 20150126

Nude photos draw Apsara Authority’s ire
Phnom Penh Post, 26 January 2015

Apsara Authority Slams ‘Pornographic’ Photos
Cambodia Daily, 26 January 2015

Hindus Upset At Pornographic Filming At Angkor
Updated news, 26 January 2015

Protest against shooting of pornographic pictures near Angkor Wat Temple
Bihar Prabha, 26 January 2015

Racy photos depicting a topless Apsara dancer reclining amid Angkorian ruins have incensed the government agency responsible for Angkor Park.

Shortly after the photos hit Facebook on Saturday, the Apsara Authority launched an investigation, and yesterday released a statement condemning the images as a tasteless affront to Khmer culture.

“Angkor is a religious, sacred site for Cambodian people. This kind of behaviour is very insulting not just to our religion but also to Khmer identity,” said Kerya Chau Sun, the spokesperson for Apsara Authority.

The controversial photos bear a watermark for “WANIMAL,” which Apsara Authority officials said they believe to be a Chinese company.

Full story here.

Indian mystic claims Angkoran temples made in India, and then shipped to Cambodia

A prominent Indian mystic has made some eyebrow-raising (read: ridiculous and laughably incorrect) claims that Angkorian temples were built thousands of years ago in India before being shipped to Cambodia.

Indian mystic Nithyananda Sangha. Source: Phnom Penh Post 20150124

Indian mystic Nithyananda Sangha. Source: Phnom Penh Post 20150124

Mystic claims Angkorian temples built in India
Phnom Penh Post, 24 January 2015

Nithyananda Sangha posted a series of YouTube videos making the assertion shortly before hosting workshops in Siem Reap

A prominent Indian mystic who claims some 10 million followers has argued in a series of YouTube videos that the earliest Khmer temples were built in southern India, and that Angkor Wat itself was constructed 3,000 years ago.

The videos by Nithyananda Sangha, also known as Swami Nithyananda, were posted in October and December last year, just before he visited Siem Reap to host a three-week, $10,000 meditation workshop at the Empress Angkor Hotel.

In the satsangs, or assemblies, he calls on his followers to “please understand” that the Cambodian temples are far older than the 900 or 1,000 years asserted by “cunning” Western historians, and that many of the temples were not built in the Kingdom at all.

Rather, he says the temples were first built and carved in Tamil Nadu in southern India, where the stones were then numbered, dismantled and taken by ship to Cambodia. There, they were re-assembled and re-carved.

Full story here.

Needless to say, the claims are ridiculous. There is a far more simpler answer:

IMG_3328

More rock art discovered in Ha Giang Province

More engraved boulders have been discovered in Vietnam’s northern Ha Giang province – unsurprising, as other engraved rock art have previously been reported there and in neighbouring Lao Cai province. I am a little irked about the ‘triangles symbolising female reproductive organs’. All the other shapes are described as shapes. Why do the triangles get special treatment?

Rock engravings in Ha Giang Province, Vietnam. Source: Viet Nam News 20150123

Rock engravings in Ha Giang Province, Vietnam. Source: Viet Nam News 20150123

Experts study ancient carvings found in Ha Giang
Viet Nam News, 23 January 2015

Archaeologists recently discovered more than 100 stone carvings on a high mountain in the northern Ha Giang province.

The carvings, believed to date back to the 10th century AD and made spontaneously on large stones with metal tools, comprise symbolic circles, spirals, rectangular patterns and parallel lines, besides triangles symbolising the female reproductive organs.

Full story here.

Public Lecture: Ban Chiang: a new perspective of Thai prehistory

Another one for Bangkok readers, a lecture at the National Museum by Charles Higham.

ban chiang flier

Ban Chiang: a new perspective of Thai prehistory
By Charles Higham
Venue: National Museum Auditorium, Bangkok
Date: Thursday February 19th, 2015
Time: 10:00 AM – 12:00 AM
Donation: Member 100 Baht / Guests 200 Baht

Although the Fine Arts/University of Pennsylvania excavations at Ban Chiang took place 40 years ago, the results have never been published. In this lecture, Charles Higham, who excavated at Ban Chiang in 1974-5, presents a new chronology for this site, based on radiocarbon dates taken from the bones of the prehistoric people themselves. This new dating framework necessitates a radical reappraisal of the place of Ban Chiang in the prehistory of Thailand, which comes into sharp focus when compared with new and dramatic archaeological discoveries in the upper Mun Valley that have uncovered princely Bronze Age graves and later, an agricultural revolution that stimulated the rise of early states, including that of Angkor. In this interpretation, Ban Chiang is seen as a provincial backwater, while the Mun Valley was a centre of seminal and rapid cultural changes.

Website

Public lecture: Preserving Heritage through Building Partnerships

For readers in Bangkok, Dr Joyce White will be giving a talk at Thammasat University at the end of the month.

Thammasat talk

Preserving Heritage through Building Partnerships
Date: 30 January 2015
Venue: Multipurpose Hall 3, 5th Floor, Room 513. Thammasat University, Bangkok
Time: 1 – 4pm
Register via this link: http://goo.gl/forms/pEsvv4tG0j