40 wrecks with antiques

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30 April 2007 (Vietnam Net Bridge) – A Q&A (ok, more like 4Qs and 4As) with the director of the Vietnam Museum of History about the proposed underwater archaeology centre.

Vietnam Net Bridge, 30 Apr 2007

40 wrecks with antiques

Why do you think of an aquatic archaeology centre?

Five ancient boats have been excavated in Vietnam, information released in newspapers, data of international agencies and the written history has shown the role and position of Vietnam’s sea on the silk and pottery road many centuries ago.

It proves the exchanges between Eastern and Western civilisations and urges us to have an aquatic archaeology agency to monitor research and excavations of ancient boats under the sea of Vietnam.

In recent years, many international organisations have called for cooperation to excavate ancient boats. We have more than 3,000km of coast so sea assets would be very valuable. Scholar Le Quy Don mentioned in his book that the people in O Cap (Vung Tau) lived by hunting items in the sea.

Where should the centre be built?

We can learn from the models of many countries like Thailand, the Philippines, China or the UK. Those centres are often located at favourable sites, which are not far from sea.

In Vietnam, I think we should base the centre in Vung Tau city. Along with the centre, we can build an underwater heritages or maritime museum, which will surely attract visitors.

Related Books:
Shipwrecks and Sunken Treasure in Southeast Asia by T. Wells

After the crocodile, comes a mammoth

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28 April 2007 (Jakarta Post) – In the heels of the fossil crocodile find near the Sangiran site, a fossil of a mammoth is found.

Mammoth fossil found in C. Java

A resident has discovered fossilized mammoth bones near where the fossil of a prehistoric crocodile was discovered at the Sangiran excavation site on April 20.

Gunawan, a staff member at the Sangiran Agency for the Preservation of Ancient Sites, said this latest discovery took place April 22, but was only reported to his office four days later.

“The mammoth fossil is believed to be from the same era as the crocodile found earlier,” Gunawan said Friday.

Officials earlier said the crocodile fossil was believed to come from the Middle Pleistocene era, about 800,000 years ago.

According to Gunawan, the fossilized mammoth (Stegodon trigonocephalus) was found by Daryanto, a resident of Dayu village in Gondangrejo district, Karanganyar regency.

Related Books:
Ancient History (The Indonesian Heritage Series) by Indonesian Heritage
Prehistoric Indonesia: A reader

Small skull, huge controversy


c. 23 April 2007 (Research|Penn State) Research|Penn State, an online magazine by the Pennsylvana State University has an interesting feature-length article on Dr Bob Eckhart, who leads the charge in debunking the Hobbit myth. While SEAArch has covered plenty in the news about homo floresiensis, this article presents an in-depth look at the arguments against the Hobbit theory and is worth a read for anyone following the story.

Small skull, huge controversy

In October 2004, while working in his lab, Bob Eckhardt heard a report on National Public Radio: A team of archaeologists had unearthed bones of a three-foot-tall humanlike creature on the island of Flores in Indonesia. Based on the shape and size of the skull and other skeletal remains, the archaeologists, led by Michael J. Morwood of the University of New England in Armidale, Australia, claimed they had discovered a new species of human.

The diminutive biped had a cranium no larger than a chimpanzee’s, yet its bones had been found along with abundant stone tools. Radiocarbon dating of charcoal in the same stratum, along with luminescence dating of surrounding sediments, implied that the skeleton was only 18,000 years old. Considering other earlier archaeological finds on Flores, Morwood and his colleagues concluded that a new human species had evolved from a preceding population of Homo erectus that had been isolated for over 840,000 years on Flores, in the archipelago between Asia and Australia.

Eckhardt, a professor of developmental genetics and evolutionary morphology in Penn State’s department of kinesiology, added it up. Three feet tall. A tiny brain. Complex stone tools. Evolved in complete isolation in 40,000 generations. He says: “It just didn’t ring true.”

Eckhardt read the scientific papers, published in the British journal Nature, setting forth the findings and conclusions of Morwood’s group. “A lot of things didn’t make sense,” he says. “For instance, the overall height seemed to be off. I took the long-bone measurements from the paper and plugged them into standard regression formulas.” Where Morwood and colleagues estimated an overall height of 1.06 meters for their specimen, Eckhardt came up with figures ranging from 1.15 to 1.33 meters, with an average of 1.25 meters—more than seven inches taller than Morwood’s estimate. Eckhardt also wondered about the proximity of the small cranium to sophisticated stone tools, including points, perforators, blades, and microblades. Over a century of research by anthropologists has established a rough correlation between an increasing brain size and advances in stone-tool technology. The kinds of tools described in the Nature article matched those made elsewhere by Homo sapiens. Says Eckhardt, “It seemed very unlikely that a human with a chimp-sized brain would have invented such tools independently and in total isolation.”

Museum curator moots underwater archaeology centre

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26 April 2007 (Thanh Nien News) – Statistically speaking, archaeology news from Vietnam represents a significant portion of archaeology news that comes out from Southeast Asia. Lots of that news is focused on finds in the mainland, so this piece is quite special in that it mentions underwater archaeology. There’s a lot of potential for discovering underwater sites along the coasts of Vietnam, particularly since it lies along the route between China and island Southeast Asia.

The big challenge, of course, is setting up the infrastructure for an underwater archaeology unit because it is a huge investment – underwater archaeology is such a specialised discipline, and it’s even rarer to find properly trained underwater archaeologists operating in this region. Hopefully the proposed centre for underwater archaeology becomes more than a pipe dream.

Underwater archeology center proposed in once arterial sea route

A museum curator has suggested that Vietnam establish a center to study aquatic relics as Vietnam’s coast could host thousands of such objects left behind by ships traveling along the Silk Road centuries ago.
Pham Quoc Quan, director of the Vietnam History Museum, said an underwater archeology center is necessary as Vietnam boasts over 3,000 km of coastline at the crossroads of oriental and occidental civilizations.

He cited a company named Seabed Exploration as saying Vietnamese seas may be home to as many as 40 ship wrecks.

He also cited Vietnamese scholar Le Quy Don who wrote in the 18th century that locals in what is now the coastal town of Vung Tau lived off hunting for treasures under the sea.

Five ancient ships discovered in recent years are proof of Vietnam’s strategic sea location centuries ago, Quan added.

Through experiences shared by Thailand, the Philippines, China and the UK, Vietnam could establish the center in Vung Tau, he said.

Related Books:
Shipwrecks and Sunken Treasure in Southeast Asia by T. Wells

Exhibition on ancient Ha Long culture

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25 April 2007 (Viet Nam Net Bridge) – The Quang Ninh Museum and the National Museum of Vietnamese Revolution in Hanoi have launched a month-long exhibition showcasing prehistoric Ha Long culture, located in the vicinity of Ha Long bay and city.

Vietnam Net Bridge, 25 Apr 2007

Ancient Ha Long culture exhibited in Hanoi

Ha Long city is widely famous for its beautiful Ha Long Bay. But few know that it is also the site of an uninterrupted ancient culture dating from the first period of the Stone Age, no less than 5,000 years ago.

Of a series of archeological items discovered within the past 20 years, there are bones of ancient Vietnamese. These suggest that ancient Ha Long culture is an endogenous culture, which was doubted by some famous foreign archeologists in the first half of the 20th century such as M. Colani (France), and J.G. Andersson (Sweden).

All of the cultural layers unearthed at 34 sites throughout Quang Ninh Province contain countless vestiges of ancient Vietnamese. Though human bones weren’t found in those well-known sites (Ba Vung, Bai Tu Long, and Bo Chuyen), in 2001, in the Hon Hai – Co Tien are in Ha Long city, archeologists discovered 43 graves of ancient Vietnamese as well as jewelry, ceramic works and working tools.

This discovery has since then dispersed any doubt about the endogenous ancient Ha Long culture. It also shows that 3,500 years ago, Ha Long culture was at its peak. Humans who knew how to create working tools started to explore the sea and trade with those from other areas.

Related Books:
Some references to the Ha Long culture can be found in
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds)
The Bronze Age of Southeast Asia (Cambridge World Archaeology) by C. Higham

Preserving Borobudur's legacy beyond bricks and mortar


24 April 2007 (Jakarta Post) – This news is related to the earlier post about the visual art exhibition on Borobudur in Jogjakarta. Here, the story also touches on the restoration work on the Buddhist monument.

Preserving Borobudur’s legacy beyond bricks and mortar

The world-famous and heritage-listed Borobudur Buddhist temple was over the weekend the subject of much discourse as experts argued around how best to preserve and maintain not just the temple building — but everything it represents, including religious expression, cultural heritage and art history.

“Long-term preservation must go further than just the recovery of the physical monument,” said the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“After such a successful physical restoration, we must address the next challenges — to develop and undertake further studies and research; to restore the natural landscape around the complex; to involve surrounding communities; and to somehow balance all this with sustainable tourism.

“Only this comprehensive approach will lead to true sustainability in the long term,” he said.

Built between 750 and 850, the 40-meter high temple comprises two million huge stone blocks. The building was “lost” for many years and not rediscovered until 1814 during Dutch occupation.

The first restoration phase was conducted in the early 20th century (1905-1911) by Theo Van Erp and focused on improving drainage and structural restoration.

A second massive restoration program was then conducted by the Indonesian government between 1973 and 1983, with full support from UNESCO.

This giant effort bought together 27 countries and a range of private companies from around the world. The total cost was US$25 million.

Related Books:
The Restoration of Borobudur (World Heritage Series)
The Mysteries of Borobudur: Discover Indonesia Series by J. N. Miksic

Prehistoric croc fossil found in Central Java

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24 April 2007 (Jakarta Post) – The fossil of a prehistoric crocodile has been found in Sangiran, already famous for being the site of the discovery of Java Man.

Prehistoric crocodile fossil found in Sangiran

The fossil of a prehistoric crocodile has been found at the Sangiran site in Sragen, Central Java, by a local resident.

“The first bit (of the fossil) that I found was the teeth of its upper jaw,” Mulyono, 31, told reporters at the Sangiran Fossil Laboratory on Monday.

Mulyono explained that the finding was quite by chance, as he was digging an irrigation gutter in his rice field. “Suddenly, I found the fossil,” Mulyono said. The discovery was made Friday and the excavation was carried out the next day.

On Monday, a number of employees from the Sangiran laboratory were still busy cleaning the fossil, which has a diameter of 49 centimeters and a length of 95 centimeters.

Gunawan, one of the employees, said the fossil was believed to have come from the Middle Pleistocene era, about 1.6 million years ago. “This is still a preliminary estimation, taking into consideration the location of the discovery at a hilly area in Pucung village in Kalijambe district, which has been classified in the Kabuh formation or the Middle Pleistocene era,” he said.

So far there has been no formal statement on how scientists will calculate the age of the fossil. “This is still being studied by archeological experts from the Sangiran Museum,” Gunawan said.

Related Books:
Ancient History (The Indonesian Heritage Series) by Indonesian Heritage
Prehistoric Indonesia: A reader

Call for papers: Early Indian Influences in Southeast Asia

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From the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore:



The Conference on Early Indian Influences in Southeast Asia: Reflections on Cross- Cultural Movements is scheduled to be held from 21 – 23 November 2007 in Singapore.

The conference is organised in conjunction with an exhibition on Early Indian Influences in Southeast Asia (EIISEA) by the National Library Board, Singapore. It will be jointly hosted by the Asia Research Institute (ARI), the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS) and the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS).

The conference papers will cover the characteristics of the cultural interactions during the period from pre- and proto-history through the classical period of state formations in Southeast Asia.

The conference organisers invite researchers to submit abstracts on the following sub-themes:

1) Naval expeditions and background history of Rajendra Chola in Southeast Asia.
2) Ancient and medieval commercial activities and Chola maritime relationship between India and Southeast Asia.
3) Archaeological and inscriptional evidence and the historical background of cross-cultural movements.
4) Regional cultures and localisation of Indian influences in Southeast Asia.
5) Early Indian science, astronomy, mathematics, art and architecture in Southeast Asia.

Abstracts should be between 150-200 words in length. The abstracts should reach the Conference Secretariat by Tuesday, 15 May 2007. Submission of completed papers is due by Friday, 21 September 2007. Paper presenters will be provided with round-trip economy travel, hotel accommodation, per-diem and an honorarium for the paper presentation in Singapore. The papers will be published as a volume.

Please address all correspondence to: Professor A. Mani (amani@iseas.edu.sg)/ Professor Rama (prsamy@iseas.edu.sg), Conference Coordinators, the Conference Secretariat, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 30 Heng Mui Keng Terrace, Singapore 119614.

Related Books:
Temple Art Icons and Culture of India and South East Asia by K. V. Raman
The Archaeology of Seafaring in Ancient South Asia by Himanshu Prabha Ray
Narrative Sculpture and Literary Traditions in South and Southeast Asia (Studies in Asian Art and Archaeology) by J. Fontein and M. J. Klokke (Eds)
The Indianized States of Southeast Asia by G. Coedes

Spotlight on Sabah's stone age culture

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22 April 2007 (New Straits Times) – Today’s NST features a special spotlight on the stone age culture – past and ethnographic present. The first story is about the prehistory ceramics industrial site at Bukit Tengkorak (Tengkorak Hill).

New Straits Times, 22 Apr 2007

SpotLight: Stone Age Potters

Tampi villagers today don’t think twice about using clay from the foot of Bukit Tengkorak and nearby areas in southeastern Sabah for their pottery, digging wells for fresh water, burning wood for fuel and eating a wide range of fish, shellfish and molluscs.

But most of them are unaware that from about 3,000 until 2,000 years ago, people at the summit of the 600-foot hill did the same–when the Semporna peninsula was a late Stone Age population hub and craft centre.

Experts from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), the Sabah Museum Department and the Department of Natural Heritage have found millions of sherds which show that the site about five kilometres from Semporna town was one of the largest, if not the largest, pottery making sites in Island Southeast Asia (SEA) and the Pacific during the Neolithic era (the last part of the Stone Age, beginning 8,000 BC).

Their findings have overturned some theories about how prehistoric people lived and traded in the region.

Until the excavations here, archaeologists believed that long-distance sea trade and migration of people in insular SEA and the Pacific moved east from Melanesia (near Papua New Guinea) to Polynesia, leaving behind what is known as the “Lapita culture” of pottery, stone tools and ornaments.

“Our research at Bukit Tengkorak shows that 3,000 years ago, people were not only moving east towards New Britain in Melanesia but also westwards towards Sabah,” explains Dr Stephen Chia of USM’s Centre for Archaeological Research Malaysia, who based his PhD thesis on the site.

“This is one of the longest trading routes in the world during the Neolithic period,” says the archeochemist who found obsidian (a volcanic glass used to make tools) at the site and traced it chemically to Talasea in New Britain, 3500 kilometres away. His fieldwork in Southeast Asia also found stone tools and pottery similar to Bukit Tengkorak in the Zamboanga Peninsula, the Sulu Archipelago and Sulawesi.

The second story covers the Bajau people who live in the vicinity of Bukit Tengkorak on the Semporna peninsula of Sabah – the clay stoves produced by the Bajau are remarkably similar to the 3,000-year-old stoves unearthed nearby, implying an unbroken ceramics manufacturing tradition.

New Straits Times, 22 Apr 2007

Bajaus carrying on a long tradition

The finished handiwork of this Bajau woman in Sabah’s southeastern Semporna peninsula looks exactly like the 3,000-year-old stove unearthed at nearby Bukit Tengkorak.

“Pottery has been made like this for hundreds of years,” says Rogayah. “Each house has a stove to grill fish or satay and cook rice.”

“The way of life of the Bajaus today and the food they eat are similar to what we found on site,” says Dr Stephen Chia of Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Centre for Archaeological Research Malaysia.

“We think that the nomadic Bajau Laut may have landed here to trade, mend their nets, dry fish and bury their dead, but it was the settled coastal Bajaus who made the pottery.”
However, he cautions: “The people of Bukit Tengkorak could also be a totally different group of maritime people who shifted here and then moved on.”

Related Books:
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds)
Man’s conquest of the Pacific: The prehistory of Southeast Asia and Oceania by P. Bellwood

Ministry To Fund Archeological Research In Bukit Tengkorak

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21 April 2007 (Bernama) – Archaeological research in Bukit Tengkorak, Sabah, on a prehistoric ceramics manufacturing site is set to continue, to unravel more answers on the migration and dispersal routes from island Southeast Asia to the pacific islands.

Ministry To Fund Archeological Research In Bukit Tengkorak

The Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry will allocate sufficient funds to enable the archeological research in Bukit Tengkorak to continue.

The National Heritage Department, meanwhile, will fully finance the repair of public facilities in the area for visitors’ comfort.

Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim told reporters this when visiting Bukit Tengkorak, about 10km from Semporna town, today.

The archeological research in Bukit Tengkorak, located about 500ft above sea level, and its surrounding areas began in 1994 by a team from the Malaysian Archeological Research Centre of Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in cooperation with the Sabah Museum Department.

The research shows that Bukit Tengkorak was probably the biggest porcelain manufacturing site in Southeast Asia, especially during the Neolithic age.

Over five million pieces of ceramic wares with various patterns, aged about 3,000 years, have been found there.

Related Books:
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds)
Man’s conquest of the Pacific: The prehistory of Southeast Asia and Oceania by P. Bellwood