Once-secret CIA records reveal gift of ancient stone jar

via the Star Tribune, 01 October 2017: How a stone jar ended up in the United States during the Vietnam War.

Earlier this year, a researcher at Concordia University in St. Paul was combing through declassified CIA records and discovered an intriguing stone legacy of the Vietnam War.

At the height of the conflict, CIA Director Richard Helms received a gift from Gen. Vang Pao, leader of the Hmong forces fighting the CIA-led “secret war” in Laos.

It was a massive, ancient sandstone jar, one of hundreds that jut from the ground of the legendary Plain of Jars in northern Laos. At that time, Vang Pao’s army was fighting a bloody battle with the North Vietnamese on the plain, with U.S. bombers pounding the terrain and thousands of Laotians on the run.

Source: Once-secret CIA records reveal gift of ancient stone jar – StarTribune.com

China’s plan for a commercial port at Luang Prabang

Asia Times, 16 May 2017: A proposed Chinese plan to develop Luang Prabang into a commercial port that can accommodate 500-ton cargo ships has severe repercussions for the environment and cultural status of the World Heritage site.

China’s plan for the Mekong River envisions a big new commercial port at Luang Prabang, a United Nations designated World Heritage site and heart of the Lao tourism industry

Source: Lao cultural treasure faces river trade dilemma | Asia Times

Lecture: Sacred Caves of Tam Ting, Laos

Readers in Canberra may be interested in this public lecture by Brian Egloff on the Pak Ou Caves at Luang Prabang, Laos.

Sacred Caves of Tam Ting (Pak Ou), Luang Prabang, Laos: Mystery, Splendor and Desecration

The discussion follows more than two decades of investigation and conservation at the Tam Ting Caves, a Lao national heritage monument. The talk is set within the context of the role of UNESCO and ICOMOS in the protection of World Heritage and the illicit trade in cultural property.

Egloff is but one of the many heritage professionals concerned with the conservation of Tam Ting including the Director General Thongsa Sayavongkhamdy, Benita Johnson the head of the conservation program from the University of Canberra, Samelane Luangaphay of the Department of Heritage, Bounarith of the National Art School, and Kristin Kelly co-author. Brian Egloff is Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Arts and Design, University of Canberra and Honorary Associate Professor at The Australian National University. Past roles were Deputy Directory of the Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery; Director of the Port Arthur Conservation and Development Project; Associate Professor, University of Canberra; President of ICOMOS ICAHM; and a major input with NSW Indigenous communities regarding their land rights

Members and the public are welcome: This is part of a series of talks organised by Australia ICOMOS. Please do pass this on to those who might be interested.

Refreshments are available appropriate to the talk’s topic! ($5.00 donation appreciated)

Time & Date: 5.00-7.00pm, Thursday 16 March 2017 – Note we start at 5.30pm

Venue – Menzies Room, National Archives of Australia, East Block, Queen Victoria Terrace, Parkes (enter from Kings Avenue side)
RSVP Marilyn Truscott: mct-oz@bigpond.net.au

Ancient Champassak stupa to be recognised

A newly discovered stupa in Champassak, thought to be older than nearby Vat Phou, is to be recognised as a Laotian cultural and heritage site.

Head of the Vat Phou World Heritage Office, Mr Oudomsy Keosaksith, spoke to Vientiane Times yesterday during a visit by Deputy Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism Mr Savankhone Razmountry and his team to the provincial department. He said the stupa had been found at Nongdinchi temple on Phou Malong mountain in Phonthong district.

Source: Vientiane Times

New burials found at the Plain of Jars

Exciting new research coming out of our colleagues from Laos and Australia: preliminary research from the Plain of Jars have uncovered burials – both primary and secondary – found in association with the massive stone jars.

Plain of Jar excavations. Source: AFP, via Bangkok Post 20160404
Plain of Jar excavations. Source: AFP, via Bangkok Post 20160404

Another piece in plain of jars puzzle placed by Lao-Australian archaeological team
Shanghai Daily, 04 March 2016

New Findings on Lao Plain of Jars Help Unravel Ancient Mysteries
VOA, 21 March 2016

Ancient burials revealed at Laos’ mysterious Plain of Jars
AFP, via Bangkok Post, 04 April 2016

Stone jars used to dispose of the dead in ancient Laos, Australian researchers say
ABC News, 04 April 2016

One of Asia’s most mysterious archaeological sites, the Plain of Jars in Laos, was used as an ancient burial ground, Australian researchers say.

The Plain of Jars in central Laos is made up of 90 sites, each containing ancient carved stone jars up to three metres tall.

Today the Australian National University (ANU) announced a team from the School of Archaeology and Anthropology had discovered human remains estimated to be 2,500 years old, shedding light on the use of the sites and jars which had been previously unknown.

Full story here.

In Luang Prabang, world heritage listing may have destroyed its soul

Luang Prabang is one of my favourite places in Southeast Asia, but the increased tourism caused by its World Heritage site status is one of the things that is destroying its essence. It’s not just Luang Prabang, however, this article is a critique of tourism management at World Heritage sites.

The Haw Pha Bang temple. Source: Skift.com 20160128
The Haw Pha Bang temple. Source: Skift.com 20160128

UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the Downside of Cultural Tourism
AP, via Skift, 28 January 2016

It is officially described as the best-preserved city in Southeast Asia, a bygone seat of kings tucked into a remote river valley of Laos. Luang Prabang weaves a never-never land spell on many a visitor with its tapestry of French colonial villas and Buddhist temples draped in a languid atmosphere.

But most of the locals don’t live here anymore. They began an exodus from this seeming Shangri-La after their hometown was listed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, and sold itself wholesale to tourism.

It’s not an uncommon pattern at some of the 1,031 sites worldwide designated as places of “outstanding universal value” by the U.N. cultural agency: The international branding sparks mass tourism, residents move out as prices escalate or grab at new business opportunities, hastening the loss of their hometown’s authentic character to hyper-commercialization. But locals may also prosper and some moribund communities are injected with renewed energy.

Full story here.

Drone flights over the Plain of Jars

In September I was in Laos and I had the opportunity to visit the Plain of Jars, or at least, a few of the jar sites that dot central Laos around Xieng Khouang province. There are over 2,000 jars spread out in over 100 sites. Not all of them are accessible, because of the presence of UXOs, and several have been destroyed due to war and development.

Aerial view of the Plain of Jars Site 1
Aerial view of the Plain of Jars Site 1

The megalithic jars are somewhat unique in Southeast Asia – less known, but distinctively peculiar and in need of further study. They are associated with burials, and the jars themselves display a large variability in forms and sizes and distribution. Despite the rainy weather, I was fortunate to be able to take the UAV out for a spin over various sites:

Communication across Mainland Southeast Asia: The Living Angkor Road

Archaeologists Im Sokrithy and Surat Lertlum from Cambodia and Thailand respectively write about their long-running project on the Living Angkor Road in the latest issue of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies in Kyoto University.

Angkorian Road Network. Source: CSEAS Newsletter Spring 2015
Angkorian Road Network. Source: CSEAS Newsletter Spring 2015

The Living Angkor Road Project: Connectivity within Ancient Mainland Southeast Asia
Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, Spring 2015

A Khmer-Thai Collaboration research project named the “Living Angkor Road Project” (LARP) has been
supported by the Thailand Research Fund (TRF) and the Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap (APSARA). LARP is a cross-border multi-disciplinary research aimed at firstly, identifying all the remaining portions of ancient roads radiating from the Angkor capital to different provinces of the ancient Khmer empire, in view of an overall mapping of the network known to date. Secondly, it aims to identify and describe all the infrastructures existing along these roads: bridges, all kinds of canals, temples, the remains of rest-houses and hospitals.

Download the newsletter here.

Call for Papers: Fifth International Conference on Lao Studies

A conference on Lao studies will be held next year in Thammasat University in Bangkok. It has a fairly wide range of topics of interest. but several that might be of interest to archaeologists. Call for papers is open from now until end of October.

Fifth International Conference on Lao Studies: Lao PDR in the ASEAN Context
Venue: Thammasat University, Bangkok, Thailand
Date: 8-10 July 2015

The Faculty of Liberal Arts, Thammasat University and the Center for Lao Studies (CLS) are pleased to announce that the Fifth International Conference on Lao Studies (ICLS V) will be held from July 8 to 10, 2016 on the Tha Phrachan campus in Bangkok, Thailand. The main objective of the conference is to promote Lao studies, broadly defined, by providing an international forum for scholars to present and discuss various aspects of Lao Studies.

Theme
The theme of the Fifth International Conference on Lao Studies is “Lao PDR in the ASEAN Context,” with particular (though not exclusive) emphasis on the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).

All Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states have committed to creating a region which is highly competitive, equitable in economic development and fully integrated into the global economy. The establishment of the AEC in 2015 will bring enormous opportunities as well as great challenges for the individual member countries in the region, especially for Lao PDR .

Suggested topics for the Fifth ICLS include, but are not limited to:

      The Faculty of Liberal Arts, Thammasat University and the Center for Lao Studies (CLS) are pleased to announce that the Fifth International Conference on Lao Studies (ICLS V) will be held from July 8 to 10, 2016 on the Tha Phrachan campus in Bangkok, Thailand. The main objective of the conference is to promote Lao studies, broadly defined, by providing an international forum for scholars to present and discuss various aspects of Lao Studies.

Theme

The theme of the Fifth International Conference on Lao Studies is “Lao PDR in the ASEAN Context,” with particular (though not exclusive) emphasis on the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).

All Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states have committed to creating a region which is highly competitive, equitable in economic development and fully integrated into the global economy. The establishment of the AEC in 2015 will bring enormous opportunities as well as great challenges for the individual member countries in the region, especially for Lao PDR .

Suggested topics for the Fifth ICLS include, but are not limited to:

  • Laos’ trade integration within AEC
  • Special economic zones (SEZs)
  • Export survival
  • Roles of the private and public sectors
  • Human resources and effects on local employment
  • Migration
  • Infrastructure demands
  • Balancing development growth and environmental conservation
  • Tourism
  • Traditional knowledge and cultural expressions in economic development
  • Impacts on cultures and life ways
  • Lao language, culture, and history
  • Art, literature and music
  • Buddhism
  • Border Trade and culture
  •  Isan Regionalism
  • Architecture
  •  Education
  • Environment and Health
  • Rural Development
  • Other topics

Fossils found in Laos strengthen the idea of diversity amongst early humans

A new paper published last week in PLOSOne describes a second mandible found at Tam (Tham) Pa Ling in northeast Laos, a significant site because the age of the bones (63-46 thousand years old) provide the first evidence of modern humans in Mainland Southeast Asia. More importantly, the second mandible, is morphologically distinct from the one described earlier from there, leading the authors to suggest that early modern humans may already have been physically quite diverse.

Fossils from Tam Pa Ling, Laos. Source: EurekAlert 20150407
Fossils from Tam Pa Ling, Laos. Source: EurekAlert 20150407

Two ancient human fossils from Laos reveal early human diversity
EurekAlert, 07 April 2015

Early Modern Humans and Morphological Variation in Southeast Asia: Fossil Evidence from Tam Pa Ling, Laos
Demeter et al.
PLOS One, doi 10.1371/journal.pone.0121193

Little is known about the timing of modern human emergence and occupation in Eastern Eurasia. However a rapid migration out of Africa into Southeast Asia by at least 60 ka is supported by archaeological, paleogenetic and paleoanthropological data. Recent discoveries in Laos, a modern human cranium (TPL1) from Tam Pa Ling‘s cave, provided the first evidence for the presence of early modern humans in mainland Southeast Asia by 63-46 ka. In the current study, a complete human mandible representing a second individual, TPL 2, is described using discrete traits and geometric morphometrics with an emphasis on determining its population affinity. The TPL2 mandible has a chin and other discrete traits consistent with early modern humans, but it retains a robust lateral corpus and internal corporal morphology typical of archaic humans across the Old World. The mosaic morphology of TPL2 and the fully modern human morphology of TPL1 suggest that a large range of morphological variation was present in early modern human populations residing in the eastern Eurasia by MIS 3.

Article is Open Access (yay!) – find it here.