Public lecture: Ancient Fansur, Aceh’s ‘Atlantis’

Readers in Singapore may be interested in a talk by Dr. E. Edwards McKinnon on the ancient (and possibly submerged) site of Fansur.

Ancient Fansur, Aceh’s ‘Atlantis’: The Case for Lhok Pancu / Indrapurwa
Dr E. Edwards McKinnon
Date: 03 May 2013
Time: 3.30 – 5.00 pm
Venue: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, Seminar Room II


Following recent seismological and archaeological research, there is increasing evidence to suggest that the long-lost site of ancient Fansur, a toponym often associated with the Barus region, may be found in the geographically strategically located bay of Pancu, a short distance west of the modern city of Banda Aceh.

For over a century, historians have spilled much ink relating to this toponym which appears in Arab, Armenian, Chinese and Malay sources. Writing in the early 18th century, the Dutch geographer Francois Valentijn located Fansur, the birthplace of Hamzah Fansuri the Sufi poet, in the furthest northwest corner of Aceh. An archaeological site discovered at Lambaroneujid in the bay of Pancu in the 1970’s lies precisely in this location. Further evidence suggests to this writer that Pancu, not Barus, was the location of the former harbour of Fansur from which Arab seafarers obtained their camphor known as kapur Fansuri. There is no doubt that camphor came from the hinterland of modern Barus, an area known to 11th century Tamils as Varocai. Fansur was thus, in all likelihood, an entrepot, not the direct source of the resin, even though historical sources suggest that Fansur was the point of origin. There are several such misrepresentations in ancient sources.

Fansur is thought to have disappeared in the 14th century. There is increasing evidence that the disappearance of ancient Fansur was due to either a major earthquake or a tsunami or both. Recent scientific evidence suggests that a tsunami hit this northern coast of Aceh in 1390 CE. A further tsunami occurred some 60 years later, in or about 1450 CE. The Sultanate of Aceh arose in the late 15th or early 16th centuries. These events may be inter-connected. In the 17th century, a settlement on the shores of the bay of Pancu, immediately east of Aceh Head was known as Indrapurwa, a location now known as Lambaroneujid. The presentation will put forward the case for Pancu as the now-lost site of ancient Fansur.

Registration required, more details here.

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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.

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