Art on the Rocks – Discussing the future of rock art from Namibia

Last week I was in Namibia attending a colloquium on rock art organized by the Getty Conservation Institute. The aim of the colloquium was to share thoughts, ideas and solutions about rock art management, conservation and public engagement with perspectives from around the world, and it was a continuation of earlier discussions which began in Southern Africa and Australia (you can download the papers and results of the earlier colloquiums here).

Dancing Kudu from the Twyfelfontein World Heritage Site
Dancing Kudu from the Twyfelfontein World Heritage Site

The participants were a good mix of researchers, site managers, indigenous voices and artists, who each shared unique perspectives and case studies ranging from rock art films, community engagement projects, fund raising. For my presentation, I shared examples of rock art site protection from Southeast Asia, including bits of earlier research on how religious shrines form around rock art sites; the use of social media to engage the public (such as by reading this site, or following this blog on Facebook and Twitter) and highlighted the ongoing Gua Tambun Heritage Awareness Project run by the team at Universiti Sains Malaysia (also a site I had worked on previously). While my presentation was the only one specific to SEA, there were several other participants who have worked or are working in the region as well – a reflection of the growing interest in rock art here.

Catherine Namono of the University of Witzwatersrand discussing community-led rock art management
Catherine Namono of the University of Witzwatersrand discussing community-led rock art management

We also got to visit the world heritage sites of Twyfelfontein and Brandberg, known for rock art that was created by the Bushmen of Southern Africa. The rock art sites are several thousands years old, depicting animals such as giraffes, elephants, rhino and other wildlife. The rock art at Brandberg was mostly paintings, while at Twyfelfontein the rock art was predominantly petroglyphs (carvings) and it was interesting to see the contrast and also the number of sites.

Visiting the White Lady rock art site in Brandberg
Visiting the White Lady rock art site in Brandberg
The White Lady
The iconic ‘White Lady, which was discovered about 100 years ago – it isn’t actually a lady but a male shaman figure!
Twyfelfontein Lion Carving
The lion carving is the icon of the Twyfelfontein site, and is thought to be a depiction of a shaman because of the human hands depicted instead of paws
Zebra carving at Twyfelfontein
Zebra carving at Twyfelfontein
Dancing Kudu site from the air
Dancing Kudu site from the air

It was my first visit to Africa, and apart from the rock art sites there were also lots of animals to see!

Desert Elephants
Desert Elephants
Springboks
Springboks
Giraffes
Giraffes

Meetings like these are very useful to keep up to date with international trends, and also challenge one’s self with new perspectives. Australia and South Africa had clear leadership roles in the area of rock art management due to the number of sites in their region and also issues and experience in dealing with indigenous communities and having multiple research projects focused on rock art; in contrast, there aren’t many dedicated rock art scholars in this region, rock art management here depends largely on state intervention and in most cases Southeast Asian rock art has no ancestral connection to the people living in the area today. Still, I learnt a lot and will be applying some ideas to future rock art projects at my day job in SPAFA.

Dronie from the Brandberg White Lady site
Dronie from the Brandberg White Lady site

Many thanks to the Getty Conservation Institute for the opportunity to participate in this rock art colloquium, and in particular Neville Agnew, Nicholas Hall and Paul Taçon. There should be a publication from this meeting out hopefully by the end of the year, and I’ll post news about it when it comes out.

The Lost City That’s Not Lost, Not a City, and Doesn’t Need to Be Discovered

Sapiens, 13 April 2017: This article talks about ‘lost’ temples in Honduras, but the example can apply just as easily in Southeast Asia (credit to Alison Carter for the link)

Modern explorers can “discover” an ancient site, but the people living in the area already have extensive knowledge about their region’s history.

Source: The Lost City That’s Not Lost, Not a City, and Doesn’t Need to Be Discovered – SAPIENS

The British Library is looking for a new Head of Asian and African Collections

Application deadline: 30 March 2017

Head of Asian and African Collections

This opportunity is compelling and without rival. It is a strategic leadership post where you will have the opportunity to work with fascinating collections of pre-eminent national and international importance, ranging widely in format in intellectual content, and spanning some 3000 years.

Source: Head of Asian and African Collections job with Sue Hill Recruitment | Guardian Jobs

East Asia in the annals of human evolution

Darren Curnoe argues that recent archaeological finds from East Asia and Southeast Asia hint at fundamental changes in our understanding of human evolution.

East Asia makes a comeback in the human evolution stakes
The Conversation, 22 January 2016

Archaeological discoveries in East Asia over the last decade or so have dramatically rewritten our understanding of human evolution.

But the implications don’t sit easily with many scholars internationally who continue to see Europe and Africa as the heartland of human origins.

For more than 150 years our understanding of human evolution has been largely shaped by the discoveries made in Europe and parts of Africa, like the caves near Johannesburg and the Great Rift Valley on the east of the continent.

Full story here.

Job Posting: Assistant Professor of Paleoanthropology (Boston University)

Boston University is looking for a biological anthropologist in a tenure-track position.

The Department of Anthropology invites applications from biological anthropologists for a tenure-track position at the level of Assistant Professor starting July 1, 2016. The department encourages applicants with a research concentration in paleoanthropology or the functional and comparative morphology of humans and other primates, who can augment and complement the program’s strengths in human and primate biology. Applicants should have a Ph.D. completed by the start date, proven teaching ability, and a strong record of research and publications. Applications should be received before November 1, 2015 to ensure full consideration.

Full listing here.

New study supports Australo-melanesians as part of the first wave Out of Africa

How did anatomically modern humans populate the world? A recent paper in the Journal of Human Evolution analyses the fossil record and concludes that australo-melanesians – ancestors of several indigenous populations including those found in Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Australia – were part of the initial migration out of Africa, while other populations dispersed later.

Australo-Melanesians and a very ancient ancestry
Popular Archaeology, 05 August 2015

Testing modern human out-of-Africa dispersal models and implications for modern human origins
Journal of Human Evolution doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2015.06.008

The modern human expansion process out of Africa has important implications for understanding the genetic and phenotypic structure of extant populations. While intensely debated, the primary hypotheses focus on either a single dispersal or multiple dispersals out of the continent. Here, we use the human fossil record from Africa and the Levant, as well as an exceptionally large dataset of Holocene human crania sampled from Asia, to model ancestor–descendant relationships along hypothetical dispersal routes. We test the spatial and temporal predictions of competing out-of-Africa models by assessing the correlation of geographical distances between populations and measures of population differentiation derived from quantitative cranial phenotype data. Our results support a model in which extant Australo-Melanesians are descendants of an initial dispersal out of Africa by early anatomically modern humans, while all other populations are descendants of a later migration wave. Our results have implications for understanding the complexity of modern human origins and diversity.

The voices arguing against repatriation

Coming from a region that falls victim to frequent looting of archaeological sites, I personally find it hard to agree against the repatriation of artefacts that have been proven to be stolen, such as the case of the Koh Ker sculpture that still remains in the Denver Museum of Art.

Experts disagree over antiquity repatriations
Phnom Penh Post, 23 May 2015

While an unknown number of looted Cambodian artefacts – mostly taken during the turbulent 1970s and ’80s – are scattered in private collections around the world, a number have found their way into major museums’ exhibits. The recently returned Hanuman statue, for instance, was one of nine statues looted from Prasat Chen temple in the Koh Ker temple complex.

Four of the other Prasat Chen statues have been repatriated by various US museums and auction houses in recent years, three are unaccounted for, while a torso of the Hindu god Rama remains in the Denver Museum of Art.

“I would be very grateful to these private owners, if they read these lines, to give them back generously to Cambodia to reunify the nine sculptures of this unique but incomplete ensemble depicting the Mahabharata,” said Anne LeMaistre, head of UNESCO in Cambodia.

Full story here.

Public Lecture: Digging the Urban Landscape

Readers in Singapore may be interested in this upcoming talk at the National Museum of Singapore.

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Digging the Urban Landscape: Complexities of Interpreting and Presenting Archaeology in London and Singapore
Frank Meddens and Lim Chen Sian
Date and Time: 26 November 2014, 7pm
Venue: The Salon, National Museum of Singapore
Continue reading “Public Lecture: Digging the Urban Landscape”

Calling for Archaeology Photo Contributions!

And now for something fun and different! Do you have an awesome archaeology-related photo that you’d like to share? This is a call for contributions for the first-ever Southeast Asian Archaeology Photo Exhibition, to be hosted on this site. Archaeology is a very visual field and the subjects come in all shapes and sizes. Certainly from my fieldwork I’ve got tons of snaps of sites, artefacts and figures and I’m sure many of you do too. I’m inviting you to share one (just one) photograph showcasing your favourite archaeological site, ongoing archaeological work, recent discoveries, or a brilliant photograph that your friends really ‘liked’ on Facebook. This is a first attempt at a curating a crowdsourced photography exhibition, and I’ll have the entries up next month. Details on how to contribute after the jump!

A mould of a Buddha head at Poueng Komnou, Cambodia
A mould of a Buddha head at Poueng Komnou, Cambodia

Continue reading “Calling for Archaeology Photo Contributions!”