If you’re in Bangkok next week, join the Pint of Science Festival which will be held for the first time in Thailand. Pint of Science brings science to the public by bringing researchers to the the pub. I have a spot on Tuesday, 16 May – the only archaeology presentation! Tickets are free, but registration is required and snacks are included.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Elephants: The unseen cave paintings of Southeast Asia
Noel Hidalgo Tan (SEAMEO SPAFA)
Step into the world of rock art – filled with carvings of gods, cave paintings and reminders of humankind’s long interaction with the landscape. Like the landscapes of Australia and South Africa, Southeast Asia is home to hundreds of rock art sites even as most of them are unknown or inaccessible. What have archaeologists learned about the past through these ancient images?!
Growing up in Tuguegarao, Cagayan, she lived 40 minutes east of modern-day Kalinga, where stegodon fossils were found, and 40 minutes west of Callao Cave in Peñablanca, where the oldest human fossil in the Philippines was excavated. “That kind of stuck to the back of my mind,” she says about her childhood.
But it was only when her fine arts professor asked her to do a research paper on prehistoric art in the Philippines that she first did any in-depth learning on archaeology. From then on, she never looked back.
While studying to get where she is today, Lising found herself asking questions that could change the course of her career: “Why am I going into this field? Is it only for my amusement? Parang, that’s so vague.” She said that her work in archaeology had to serve a bigger purpose. It had to add value to people’s lives. That’s how she decided to focus on cultural heritage management.
When you picture Angkor Wat, you might think of the imposing and elegant temple surrounded by a thick forest of trees. However, archaeologists now know that when Angkor Wat was built, it was surrounded by a series of mounds that are likely places where people lived.
Angkor Wat is just one temple in the Angkorian Empire, the heart of which covered an area of 1,000 square kilometers and may have contained a population of as many as 750,000 people. Investigating the question of where Angkorian people lived is one focus of the Greater Angkor Project (GAP), a collaborative research program between the University of Sydney and the APSARA Authority, directed by Dr. Roland Fletcher.
One way to begin understanding the lives of the non-elite members of Angkor is by excavating their households. Through excavations of their living spaces, archaeologists can understand the daily practices of people in the past. This kind of work can also tell us more about the variation between different households, communities and settlements, as well as the differences between elites and non-elites. In this way, we can come to understand Angkorian society from the ground up.
For many expats, Cambodia is no more than another country to be ticked off the list of places to spend two years before moving on to the next posting. But that’s not the case for archaeologist Dr. Alison Carter.
Currently based in Siem Reap, American Dr. Carter is a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
She first came to Cambodia in 2005 to work with the Lower Mekong Archaeological Project at Angkor Borei in Takeo Province, and fell in love with the country.
“My first trip here in 2005, I spoke no Khmer and knew very little about the country and yet the people I met were incredibly generous with their time and energy. They were willing to work with me and so I kept returning.”
Joyce White was an atheist as a graduate student and intent on being an archaeologist in Europe, something she decided when she was about 15 and saw cemetery excavations at medieval churches in England.
During a slide presentation of a professor’s excavation in Thailand, one image captivated her for reasons she still can’t quite explain. The photo was of a field he crossed en route to the site. Pack animals carrying his equipment rested in the field, which ended in a dark tropical forest.
“It was a vivid experience. I saw myself in that slide,” she says. “There was a compelling aesthetic draw of some sort.” She abandoned plans to work in Europe in favor of Southeast Asia. It was a leap. Her professor discouraged her, citing huge cultural and physical obstacles for a woman archaeologist in Thailand.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the Ban Chiang culture in Thailand’s Udon Thani province. This article from the Isaan Record features and interview with Dr Joyce White and her involvement with the site.
Fifty years ago in August, in the village of Ban Chiang near Udon Thani, a visiting American student named Stephen Young tripped over an exposed tree root and fell atop the rim of a clay pot partly buried in the village path. His tumble set into motion two joint Thai-American archaeological expeditions to Ban Chiang in the 1970s that exposed the extent of prehistoric burial sites beneath the village, sites filled with thousands of pieces of pottery and metalwork buried as grave goods by Neolithic and Bronze Age peoples at different times between 4200 and 1800 years ago. The Ban Chiang finds revealed unexpected technological and artistic development among the peoples of the region and challenged prevailing ideas about the prehistory of Southeast Asia.
American archaeologist Dr. Joyce White is the Director of the Ban Chiang project at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, USA, where she has studied the finds from Ban Chiang since 1976. She is an expert witness for the US Department of Justice in an ongoing antiquities trafficking case that in 2014 resulted in the return of many smuggled Ban Chiang items to Thailand.