Live from 'Sharing Our Archaeological Heritage'

I’m writing from Johor Bahru, Malaysia, where sessions at the international archaeology seminar organised by the Association of Malaysian Archaeolgists are underway. Monday’s been pretty packed filled with session after session of presentations from the different parts of Southeast Asia – this seminar’s theme is ‘Sharing Our Archaeological Heritage’.

Keynote speech by Stephen Oppenheimer
Keynote speech by Dr Stephen Oppenheimer

Yesterday’s sessions began with the keynote speech by Oxford’s Stephen Oppenheimer about Southeast Asia’s role in the various waves of human migration. Explaining from a genetic perspective, he suggested the strong genetic evidence for a single southern route (by hugging the coast via India) out of Africa into Southeast Asia and Asia some 80,000 years ago. In more recent times, he also suggested indigenous expansions of local populations within Southeast Asia instead of a single ‘out of Taiwan’ theory to explain human migration into Australia, New Zealand and Polynesia.

Other presentations that caught my ear today was Dr Rasmi Shoocongdej’s work in Northwestern Thailand – I had a nice chat with her during lunch about conducting my fieldwork surveys in Thailand next year and also received some advice from her. Of course, homo floresiensis had to pop up – and from Dr. Harry Widianto’s presentation. I heard why he didn’t consider the hobbit to be a new species. It seems to me that the divide on opinion is very much based on nationalistic lines – with the Indonesians very much denying that homo floresiensis is a new species.

Another day of presentations on Tuesday, and then on Wednesday, we go on an archaeological tour of Johor!

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

3 thoughts on “Live from 'Sharing Our Archaeological Heritage'”

  1. did you take notes? it all sounds terribly interesting, wish i were there. hope we will get a more in-depth post on the talks and your thoughts! if you have time of course!

  2. Wow! IT sounds sooo interesting. I just came from the Nautical Archaeological Society annual conference in Portsmouth…But yours sounds a lot more interesting! Please keep on updating us with the latest news!

    I read that the highest anthropological authority in Indonesia is refusing to accept Homo Floresiensis as a new species, and that the skeletal remains were badly damage when the Indonesian team moved them to Jakarta. Do you have any news on that?

    A press letter yesterday on the Spanish media said that recent DNA discoveries made by Maria Martinon-Torres, of the Atapuerca site suggests that there is more relation between their neanderthal remains and some asian samples. So now they are thinking that perhaps human evolution started in Asia, and not in Africa.

  3. Hi Natalie! Just got back home and will post more in the coming days – now I’m just recovering from the trip and dreading the return back to work!

    Nemi -> Yes, Teuku Jacob was very much against the idea of accepting homo floresiensis as a new species, and yes, there was some damage to the mandible (i think) when the specimen was moved to Jakarta. However, there’s a lot more going on than what we read in the news. For one, the damage to the jaw seems to be exaggerated, and I think the media has played up what was initially a professional difference of opinion and exacerbated the situation into a jingoistic feud between the Indonesians and Australians. I think both sides now present very interesting and equally compelling arguments, and while I’m still rooting for a new species theory, I’m sitting on the fence now. I’ve come across a paper by the late Dr Jacob that presents his side of the story and I’m still reading it through.

    As for the origins of evolution, once again I’m probably not qualified to comment about it. I do think we’ve got the broad picture just about right, and we’re now working on the finer details.

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