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Singapore Museums collections online

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In conjunction with this year’s International Museum Day, the National Heritage Board of Singapore have launched SGCool, an online repository of the collections stored in the National Museum of Singapore, the Asian Civilisations Museum and the Singapore Art Museum.


Digitising museums’ collections is a great step forward in making the material cultures featured in the museums more accessible to the public. For now, the collections in SGCool are divided into categories like “bronze, “photographs” and “gold”. Clicking on any artefact gives you a close-up picture, along with their provenance.

However, I was disappointed that I didn’t actually learn anything from the artefacts I was looking at. I was quite horrified to see bronze Dong Son drums labelled as “Drums. 180-100 BCE. North Vietnam.”. Besides the name of the item, the approximate age and its provenance, there was nothing else to tell me about the exhibits, such as their context and their uses, or even the cultures that made. If there’s one thing that SGCool has to improve on, it’s to provide more details about the exhibits in their collections. One good example of an online museum collection with great accompanying information is the Compass collection at the British Museum.

Like my archaeology lecturers used to tell me: objects without contexts are useless!

Freer and Sacker Galleries go online in January

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Starting next year, the collections of the Freer and Sackler Galleries of the Smithsonian museums will go online – the public will be able to examine over 40,000 artworks from the galleries, including 1,200 pieces from South and Southeast Asia. It’s a massive undertaking, but this is technology making museum collection open to the public at its best!

Freer and Sackler Galleries to Release Complete Digitized Collection Jan. 1, 2015
More than 40,000 Masterpieces of Asian and American Art Available for Free Public Use

The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Smithsonian’s museums of Asian art, will
release their entire collections online Jan. 1, 2015, providing unprecedented access to one of the world’s most important holdings of Asian and American art. The vast majority of the 40,000 artworks have never before been seen by the public, and more than 90 percent of the images will be in high resolution and without copyright restrictions for noncommercial use.

The Freer and Sackler galleries are the first Smithsonian and the only Asian art museums to digitize and release their entire collections, and in so doing join just a handful of museums in the U.S.

“We’re poised at a digital tipping point, and the nature of what it means to be a museum is changing,” said Julian Raby, the Dame Jillian Sackler Director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art. “We strive to promote the love and study of Asian art, and the best way we can do so is to free our unmatched resources to inspire appreciation, academic study and artistic creation.”

In the initial release, each work will be represented by one or more stunningly detailed images at the highest possible resolution, with complex items such as albums and manuscripts showing the most important pages. In addition, some of the most popular images will also be available for download as free computer, smartphone and social media backgrounds. Future iterations plan to offer additional functionality like sharing, curation and community-based research.

“The depth of the data we’re releasing illuminates each object’s unique history, from its original creator to how it arrived at the Smithsonian,” said Courtney O’Callaghan, director of digital media and technology at the Freer and Sackler galleries. “Now, a new generation can not only appreciate these works on their own terms, but remix this content in ways we have yet to imagine.” Read more from

The museum’s masterpieces range in time from the Neolithic to the present day, featuring especially fine groupings of Chinese jades and bronzes, Islamic art, Chinese paintings and masterworks from ancient Persia. Currently, the collection boasts 1,806 American art objects, 1,176 ancient Egyptian objects, 2,076 ancient Near Eastern objects, 10,424 Chinese objects, 2,683 Islamic objects, 1,213 South and Southeast Asian objects and smaller groupings of Korean, Armenian, Byzantine, Greek and Roman works. In addition, the Freer Study Collection–more than 10,000 objects used by scholars around the world for scientific research and reference–will be viewable for the first time.

Proceedings from the Asia-Pacific Regional Conference on Underwater Cultural Heritage online

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The Asia-Pacific Regional Conference on Underwater Cultural Heritage was held earlier this month in Manila, and the proceedings are now online hosted by the Museum of Underwater Archaeology. You’ll find a number of papers related to underwater and maritime archaeology including one bit of research I was involved in on the rock art of Tham Phrayanaga or Viking Cave in Southern Thailand.

Cham Sculpture museum launches online presence

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Speaking of websites, the Cham Museum of Da Nang Province was also recently launched their own website last week. Da Nang is some 30 km away from Hoi An, and the 90-year-old museum is home to a large repository of stone, terracotta and bronze statuary from Cham sies like My Son and Tra Kieu.

Cham Sculpture Museum’s website unveiled
Vietnam Net Bridge, 21 January 2009
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Digitizing the largest museum collection

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01 Jun 2007 (Computerworld Singapore/Malaysia) – It’s a massive undertaking, but one that will be welcomed by anyone interested in the art and archaeology of China. The National Palace Museum of Taiwan is seeking to digitise its massive collection – taken out of China in 1949 to prevent its destruction – into an online database. China is a key reference point in understanding the archaeology of Southeast Asia. For example, the diffusion of metalworking technologies during in neolithic mainland Southeast Asia is inexplicanly linked to Chinese styles. The existence of many Southeast Asian polities (Srivijaya, Funan and Chitu for example) are cross-referenced to Chinese records of tributes and emmisaries received in the Chinese court. Chinese ceramics are common finds in Southeast Asia excavations and shipwrecks, and important in providing a dating reference.

Ancient China’s treasures go digital

The largest and most valuable collection of ancient Chinese art and artifacts in the world is being entered into the digital universe in Taiwan by museum curators and IT managers intent on freeing it from its physical boundaries.

The goal is to make the massive collection available on the Internet. Researchers will be able to find rare documents in an easy-to-use database, teachers will be able to download information and images they can use in course work, and visitors will enjoy vivid exhibitions, films, music, access to favorite works of art and virtual tours.

“The culture effect is more important than the technology. We’re trying to give people a warm feeling about these artifacts. We want the human touch,” said James Lin, director of the information management center at the National Palace Museum in Taipei.

The initiative is part of Taiwan’s government-funded National Digital Archives program and it aims to do for the treasures of China what was first done in 1925 — open them to the world. This time, however, it will display the museum’s treasures on a far grander scale. When the last Emperor of China was deposed in 1925, part of his Forbidden City was turned into a museum so the public could view the treasures collected there. It was meant to signify the turn to a republican government, in which all took part and no single person held special privilege over the artifacts.

No details on when exactly the database will be up, although I expect it will be quite a while before something comes up. There’s all sorts of politics involved (between China and Taiwan) over ownership of the artefacts too. You can read more about the proposed attempt to digitise the collections of the National Palace Museum.

Wondering about Chinese material culture showing up in Southeast Asia? Here are some sources:
Art & Archaeology of Fu Nan by J. C. Khoo
Angkor: The Khmers in Ancient Chinese Annals by P. Y. W. Chuen and W. Weng
The Bronze Age of Southeast Asia (Cambridge World Archaeology) by C. Higham
Chinese Celadons and Other Related Wares in Southeast Asia by the Southeast Asian Ceramic Society

A regional fast response team for maritime salvage?

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An archaeologist in the Singapore-based Nalanda Sriwijaya Centre has an interesting proposal in the news last week, the creation of a fast-response Maritime Arcaeology centre, based in Singapore.

Singapore can take lead in salvaging of maritime artefacts
Today, 22 May 2015

One solution is to establish a centralised South-east Asian Institute of Maritime Archaeology. Such an institute could work closely with existing regional institutions that lack funding, equipment or expertise. It could provide a well-trained fast-response team to commence archaeological excavation of shipwrecks that are discovered as a result of arresting looters or as a consequence of trawl-net hang-ups.

When not excavating, the team could conduct remote-sensing surveys in wreck-prone areas to find and excavate sites before the destruction begins. The institution could be staffed by all participating countries, but should ideally recruit locally for each project.

Artefacts should remain the property of the country in which there are found. Having been conserved, catalogued and researched, a representative collection could be made available as a travelling exhibit or go on semi-permanent loan.

Something must be done, and quickly, as the non-renewable resource of underwater cultural heritage is fast disappearing from the exploited South-east Asian seabed. Singapore is well placed geographically, economically, academically and historically to lead the way. Existing institutions or universities could facilitate the establishment of an institute.

The powerful marine sector could provide some funding. Through a recent heritage exhibition, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore demonstrated a keen interest in the history of its business. A world-class maritime archaeology institute would be a magnificent manifestation of Singapore’s seafaring roots indeed.

Full story here.

14th century woodblocks recognised as UNESCO documentary heritage

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A set of 14th century Buddhist woodblocks from the Vinh Nghiem pagoda are recognised as part of Asia-Pacific heritage by Unesco.

Woodblocks from Vinh Nghiem pagoda. Nhan Dan, 20121007

Woodblocks from Vinh Nghiem pagoda. Nhan Dan, 20121007

Buddhist woodblocks receive UNESCO title
Nhan Dan, 07 October 2012

Vietnam’s 11th Century Woodblocks Get Unesco Recognition
Bernama, 08 October 2012
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Review: Marine Archaeology in Southeast Asia


Marine Archaeology in Southeast Asia: Innovation and Adaptation.
Heidi Tan (ed.) Singapore: Asian Civilisations Museum, 2012.
ISBN: 978-981-07-1109-2 (pbk.)
Reviewed by S. T. Foo

Marine Archaeology in Southeast Asia: Innovation and Adaptation is a collection of papers delivered at the Conference on Maritime Archaeology in June 2011. The conference, which was organized by the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore, was held in conjunction with the Marina Bay Sands’ ArtScience Museum’s exhibit of the Belitung shipwreck artifacts in “Shipwrecked: Tang Dynasty Treasures and Monsoon Winds.” The Belitung shipwreck exhibition, which was referenced in many chapters of the book, was intended for further exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in the Spring of 2012, but was later cancelled in December 2011 after some controversy (Trescott 2011, Smithsonian Institution 2012).
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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:


  • 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.
  •, 07 June 2012: This editorial asks if Cambodian ‘blood antiquities’ should be returned.


  • 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.


  • 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 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.




  • 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]