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The centre of Majapahit, discovered

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A team of archaeologists in Indonesia has discovered what is said to be the central palace of the Majapahit kingdom using a local well as a reference point, which was said to have been used by the kingdom’s founder in the 12th century. The kingdom was dominant in East Java from 1293 to 1528 and at its height replaced Srivijaya for dominance over the Southeast Asian seas. The centre of the Majapahit kingdom is held to be in the vicinity of Trowulan, a village in East Java.

Archeologists discover center of Majapahit kingdom in Mojokerto
Jakarta Post, 12 September 2008
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Down on their luck, farmers turn gold diggers

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27 February 2007 (Jakarta Post) – Indonesian farmers turn to treasure hunting in times of drought to raise money, oblivious to the archaeological value of the artefacts.

Jakarta Post, 27 Feb 2007

Down on their luck, farmers turn gold diggers

It was seven months into the drought last month and the farmers of Pedes district in Karawang, West Java, were at their wits end thinking of ways to make a living.

Then one of them hit on something — literally — when he was digging in a field. Beads of gold and stone, ceramics and human bones protruded from the freshly dug earth.

“You can’t imagine what it was like to strike gold after being broke for months,” 56-year-old Wijaya, one of the Pedes residents who spent days and nights digging for ancient treasure in one of the rice fields near his house, told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

Living just an hours drive from archeological sites dating back to a prehistoric era did not make Wijaya and his neighbors aware of the historical value of the beads they found.

Illegal excavations are common practice in the country, with some fully aware of the fact they are breaking the law stipulating that artifacts that are more than 50 years old belong to the state.

Some others, like those who found ceramics and coins in Jakarta’s Old Town, were simply ignorant they were erasing traces of history for the sake of some extra cash.

Meanwhile, archeologists are too busy playing Indiana Jones or seeking funding support to preserve ancient sites and the government cannot be relied upon.

“The public cannot be blamed for what has happened all too often. We have to support public archaeology if we want to raise community awareness,” said Peter Ferdinandus, a researcher with the National Archaeological Research Center.

Public archaeology is a branch of modern archaeology that focuses on increasing public awareness and education about archaeology and that promotes legislative attempts to provide funding and protection for archaeological sites.

Public Lecture: Daily Life in Myanmar’s Ancient Cities

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Another talk for readers in Singapore, this time by Bon Hudson on the Pyu Cities.

Daily Life in Myanmar’s Ancient Cities
25 July 2014 (Friday), 7 to 8.30pm
Ngee Ann Auditorium, Asian Civilisations Museum

Speaker:
Bob Hudson
Archaeology Department
University of Sydney

Three huge brick-walled cities in Myanmar are currently going through the UNESCO World Heritage nomination process. They date to around AD 150, many centuries earlier than the Myanmar capital, Bagan. Many fascinating finds have been unearthed during excavations at the sites.

This presentation builds a picture of those long-lost societies through the material goods they left behind. Objects from Brahman and Buddhist agriculturalists and traders wary of intruders from the spirit world, and the treasures enshrined in Buddhist monuments tell us much about daily lives and religious aspirations. Modern-day treasure hunters, who until recently panned illegally for gold in what are now ricefields, and dug for beads in ancient cemeteries, will also be discussed. That they were still finding valuable items in the 21st century is further proof of the wealth and creativity of the ancient inhabitants.

More details here.

Cambodia’s Looting Crisis

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Sidney Jhingran, a reader and student from the University of Toronto, shares this article he first contributed for his campus newspaper.

Cambodia’s Looting Crisis: The Illicit Trade in Khmer Antiquities

Those concerned about the state of Cambodia’s cultural heritage have been closely following the ongoing legal debate between the acclaimed auction house Sotheby’s on the one hand and the government of Cambodia (receiving support from the United States) on the other. The dispute revolves around Sotheby’s planned sale of a tenth-century Khmer statue, which was allegedly looted from the Prasat Chen temple at Koh Ker in the late 1960s or early 1970s (see here, here, and here for accounts of story—see here for a related case against the Metropolitan Museum of Art).

10 th century Khmer statue held by Sotheby’s. Right: feet of the statue left behind by looters at Koh Ker.

10 th century Khmer statue held by Sotheby’s. Right: feet of the statue left behind by looters at Koh Ker.

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Linkdump: Last month’s archaeology news

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Finally, I’m back! I’ll write a short post later about what I’ve been up to in the field (unless you’re my facebook friend already and seen all the pictures already!). After about six weeks away from the blog, I’ve been spending the last week just processing and backing up the data from my trip and sifting through the news feeds for stories I’ve missed. Here’s a roundup of stories for the time while I was away:

Cambodia

  • Phnom Penh Post, 30 April 2012: A brief firefight at Preah Vihear leaves one Cambodian soldier shot.
  • Science Codex, 09 May 2012: The discovery of a previously-unknown people living in the Cardamom mountains, contemporary to Angkor and evidenced by jar burials is announced.
  • The Times Live, 10 May 2012: Another story on the jar burial culture in the Cardamom mountains. [Link no longer active]
  • TR Weekly, 11 May 2012: Siem Reap sees a dramatic 45% increase in visitors during the first quarter of 2012. [Link no longer active]
  • DVXUser, 14 May 2012: Oh Angkor! is a minidocumentary by Gunther Machu using the quotes of historical travellers to the ancient city.
  • Phnom Penh Post, 25 May 2012: A rare piece that is not about Angkor – the Phnom Penh Municipality purchases a war relic found in the Mekong: a wing of a Cambodian aircraft from the 1960s.
  • New York Times, 01 June 2012: Cambodia is seeking the return of two statues from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  • CNN.com, 07 June 2012: This editorial asks if Cambodian ‘blood antiquities’ should be returned.

Indonesia

  • Jakarta Post, 24 May 2012: The tomb of a South Sulawesi king, Sultan Hasanuddin, is found desecrated.
  • Jakarta Globe, 31 May 2012: A minister for Education and Culture raised awareness of the “pitiful” state of some of the country’s museums.

Malaysia

  • Mizzima, 27 April 2012: Italy and Myanmar to cooperate in the preservation of Bagan and Pyu sites. [Link no longer active]
  • New Straits Times, 10 May 2012: A feature on the prehistoric and other archaeological features of Perak. [Link no longer active]
  • Bernama, 04 June 2012: Archaeologists announce that the Sungei Batu site in Kedah may be one of the oldest civilizations in the surrounding region.
  • Borneo Post, 06 June 2012: The Ministry of Information and Culture announces their intention to rewrite the Sejarah Melayu (The Malay Annals or Geneaology of Malay Kings) into modern prose for increased accessibility

Myanmar

  • Myanmar Times, 30 April – 6 May 2012: Three Pyu sites will be proposed for inclusion into the World Heritage List by the Ministry of Information and Culture.
  • The Straits Times (via Jakarta Globe), 24 May 2012: A feature on historian Thant Myint U and the Rangoon Heritage Trust.
  • Myanmar Times, 04-10 June 2012: A recent conference on conservation strategy stressed the need for a conservation plan for the colonial-era buildings of Yangon.

Philippines

  • AFP, via Channel NewsAsia, 30 April 2012: As many as 50 of Philippines’ indigenous languages may become extinct in the next 20 years.
  • Philippine Information Agency, 02 May 2012: The World Heritage Committee issues a set of guidelines for the management of the Ifugao Rice Terraces.
  • The Philippne Star, 08 May 2012: A proposal to declare the Ille Cave in Palawan a heritage park. (See also here).
  • Philippine Information Agency, 28 May 2012: Archaeologists arrive in Butuan to resume excavations of a Balangay boat.
  • Inquirer, 29 May 2012: A speculation of whether World War II artefacts were unearthed during a public works project and illegally sold.
  • Minda News, 30 May 2012: Excavations of the 4th Balangay boat begins in Butuan.
  • Philippine Information Agency, 31 May 2012: The Ifugao Archaeological Project Field School opens. (You can read their ongoing exploits on the Field School blog here.)
  • Philippine Information Agency, 04 June 2012: National Museum Archaeologists working to excavate another Balangay Boat in Butuan have reported that they are 1/3 of the way complete.

Singapore

  • via the NSC Archaeology Unit, 09 May 2012: For those who missed it, Prof. John Miksic’s talk on Guerilla Archaeology in Singapore is now online here.

Sri Lanka

  • Daily News, 10 May 2012: Sri Lanka authorities report a steep rise in the theft and looting of sites.

Taiwan

Thailand

Vietnam

  • Viet Nam News, 07 May 2012: An update on the deteriorating Champa structures in Quang Nam Province. [Link no longer active]
  • Saigon Giai Phong, 09 May 2012: The Ho Citadel receives the title of World Cultural Heritage Site.
  • Vietnam Net Bridge, 13 May 2012: A feature on a priest at Ho Chi Minh City and his collection of lamps and books.
  • Vietnam News, 15 May 2012: A feature on the problems of improper restoration and conservation efforts in Vietnam. [Link no longer active]
  • Vietnam Net Bridge, 17 May 2012: A set of 14th century Buddhist woodblocks have been recognised as Unesco World Heritage.
  • Vietnam Net Bridge, 19 May 2012: An exhibition on Vietnam’s Maritime Cultural Heritage opens in Hanoi. [Link no longer active]
  • Viet Nam News, 22 May 2012: Archaeologist discover the remains of a water buffalo at the Nam Giao altar site. [Link no longer active]
  • Viet Nam News, 30 May 2012: Pre-1945 documents pertaining to the World Heritage Ho Citadel in Thanh Hoa Province are on display at the province library. [Link no longer active]
  • Viet Nam News, 30 May 2012: The Ta Vu Pavilion in the historic city of Hue will be restored later this year with the help of German conservationists. [Link no longer active]
  • Vietnam Net Bridge, 03 June 2012: A feature on the centuries old practice of ancestor worship, the Festival of the Hung Kings. [Link no longer active]
  • Viet Nam News, 05 June 2012: Archaeologist raise awareness for the need to better preserve the Nam Giao Altar site against landslides, especially in the upcoming rainy season. [Link no longer active]

Construction in Jakarta destroys artefacts

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14 July 2007 (Jakarta Post) – 18th century artefacts from Indonesia’s Dutch colonial have been destroyed due to construction work in the Old Town area of Jakarta.

Old Town site excavation ruins artifacts

Excavation during the construction of a pedestrian tunnel in Old Town, West Jakarta, has destroyed artifacts and hampered historical analysis, an archaeologist said Thursday.

“The cultural and museum agency should have been informed about the excavation at the Old Town site… a permit should have been sought before the project began,” University of Indonesia professor of archaeology Mundardjito said.

“Digging beneath a historical site without an excavation permit is illegal,” he said.

Late last year, workers who were excavating at the Old Town site — to make way for a western entrance to the pedestrian tunnel in front of Bank Mandiri Museum — found an old tram track, timber poles, terra-cotta pipes and a thick brick and andesite wall.

A preliminary analysis carried out by the agency’s archaeological team revealed the wall position did not match that of the old city wall.

Read more about the excavations at Old Town.

Ban slapped on excavation work

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22 October 2006 (Bangkok Post) – Looting on archaeological sites for prehistoric beads for resale leads to a clampdown on excavations. Remember: if you’re in the Chatuchak market and you’re offered to buy ancient beads, DON’T BUY THEM.

Ban slapped on excavation work

Local authorities in Chumphon and Sakaew have slapped a ban on excavation work following intensified looting by villagers hunting for ancient beads at archaeological sites. In Chumphon, widespread bead searches have been reported at archaeological sites on forest and private land in Muang and Sawee districts.

Further reports came in that four districts of Prachin Buri, including Si Maha Phot, Si Mahosot, Muang and Prachantakham, were home to the prehistoric beads, mostly made of shell and pottery, making them vulnerable to illegal hunting. The items could fetch 1,000 to 3,000 baht at local markets and Bangkok’s Chatuchak market.