Hong Kong news stronger heritage protection laws

Chinese University of Hong Kong law professor Steven Gallagher discusses the weaknesses in Hong Kong’s current heritage laws.

Current Hong Kong laws fail the test of heritage protection
South China Morning Post, 25 July 2016

Many news stories have focused on disputes and issues involving Hong Kong’s “cultural heritage”.

Recently an underwater archaeology group discovered an ancient stone anchor and bronze cannons in the waters off Hong Kong and called for more government support for archaeological investigation. The demolition of Ho Tung Gardens and the delays caused to the Sha Tin to Central rail project by the discovery of the archaeological remains of a well at the former Sacred Hill in To Kwa Wan are still fresh memories.

High rents and greedy landlords have been accused of forcing out artisan workers and favourite food restaurants, representing loss of intangible cultural heritage. The issue of Queen’s Pier is also ongoing.

The body tasked with protecting heritage for us all, the Antiquities Advisory Board, has been criticised for being ineffective, weak and secretive, and the discovery of the remains of HMS Tamar is being ignored as much as possible.

Full story here.

Anchor and cannon found off Hong Kong

Divers in Hong Kong discovered a large anchor stock and a cannon, the former dating to the Song Dynasty.

Hong Kong’s sunken treasure: ancient anchor and cannon reveal our rich maritime history
South China Morning Post, 19 July 2016

Two monumental artefacts were recovered over the weekend by a local diving group, marking a maritime heritage milestone for Hong Kong.

A diving team from the Hong Kong Underwater Heritage Group recovered an anchor stock – the upper part of an anchor – around Basalt Island, and a cannon off the coast of High Island. The anchor stock is believed to date back to the Song Dynasty, making it over 1,000 years old – Hong Kong’s oldest marine artefact.

“It’s important for Hong Kong’s [maritime] history because it’s evidence to show that Hong Kong is a location worth investigating,” Dr Libby Chan Lai-pik, senior curator at the Hong Kong Maritime Museum said. The museum is a sponsor of the Underwater Heritage Group.

“The anchor is proof that Hong Kong was perhaps quite advanced during the Song Dynasty in terms of water transport and commercial trade.”

Full story here.

Rice in Madagascar point to Southeast Asian origin

A new paper in PNAS describes the first tangible evidence that Madagascar was colonised by Southeast Asians who probably spoke an Austronesian language. Charred rice and mung beans found in Madagascar are slightly older than their first appearance in East Africa.

Excavations in Madagascar. Source: ABC Science 20160531
Excavations in Madagascar. Source: ABC Science 20160531

Ancient crops provide first archaeological signature of the westward Austronesian expansion
PNAS, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1522714113

Ancient rice ‘first evidence’ Madagascan ancestors crossed Indian Ocean from South-East Asia
ABC Science, 31 May 2016

Abstract:

The Austronesian settlement of the remote island of Madagascar remains one of the great puzzles of Indo-Pacific prehistory. Although linguistic, ethnographic, and genetic evidence points clearly to a colonization of Madagascar by Austronesian language-speaking people from Island Southeast Asia, decades of archaeological research have failed to locate evidence for a Southeast Asian signature in the island’s early material record. Here, we present new archaeobotanical data that show that Southeast Asian settlers brought Asian crops with them when they settled in Africa. These crops provide the first, to our knowledge, reliable archaeological window into the Southeast Asian colonization of Madagascar. They additionally suggest that initial Southeast Asian settlement in Africa was not limited to Madagascar, but also extended to the Comoros. Archaeobotanical data may support a model of indirect Austronesian colonization of Madagascar from the Comoros and/or elsewhere in eastern Africa.

News story here; download the article here.

Massive prehistoric grave site discovered in Taiwan

Archaeologists in Taiwan report the discovery of a 5000-year-old grave site, with a particular set of bones described as a mother-and-child burial, which has been what most media have been leading with. The finds are significant, although the characterisation of the mother-and-infant bones may be exaggerated.

A man cleans a fossil of a mother and baby in Taichung City. Source: Reuters 20160426
A man cleans a fossil of a mother and baby in Taichung City, Taiwan, April 26, 2016 in this still image taken from video. REUTERS/via Reuters

4800-Year-Old Remains of Mother and Child Found in Taiwan
New Historian, 28 April 2016

Fossilized Mother Held Baby For 4,800 Years Before Archeologists Found Them
Huffington Post, 26 April 2016

Taiwan finds 4,800-year-old fossil of mother cradling baby
Reuters, 26 April 2016

A team of archaeological researchers in Taiwan have uncovered a massive array of ancient remains dating to at least 4,800 years old – including a mother cradling an infant child, possibly her own, in her arms.

Found in central Taiwan in the Taichung region, these remains, which were discovered in excavated graves, are the oldest ever discovered within the area. The most startling discovery by far was the skeleton of the woman, as she seemed to be gazing down lovingly at the child wrapped in her arms, according to the country’s National Museum of Natural Science’s anthropology curator, Chu Whei-lee. The scientist, in a recent interview with Reuters, said the entire team was “shocked” by the tableau.

Excavations at the Taiwanese dig site began in May of 2014, running for approximately a year. For the last several months the 48 sets of remains, five of which were found to have been young children, were subjected to rigorous study. This included carbon dating, which enabled the team to narrow down the age of the fossilized remains to just a few centuries shy of 5,000 years old.

Full story here.

Denisovan DNA in modern Melanesians

Some interesting news on the modern-day Melanesians, Pacific Islanders who lived east of Indonesia. A study of comparing the DNA of modern human populations, the Neanderthals and Denisovans has discovered that the Melanesians contain traces of DNA from both Neanderthals and the mysterious Denisovans which in turn has implications for how and when populations of hominids interacted with each other in the past.

Excavating Neandertal and Denisovan DNA from the genomes of Melanesian individuals
Vernot et al.
Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.aad9416

Denisovan DNA excavated in modern Pacific Islanders
HS Newsbeat, 17 March 2016

Pacific islanders got a double whammy of Stone Age DNA
Science News, 17 March 2016

Although Neandertal sequences that persist in the genomes of modern humans have been identified in Eurasians, comparable studies in people whose ancestors hybridized with both Neandertals and Denisovans are lacking. We developed an approach to identify DNA inherited from multiple archaic hominin ancestors and applied it to whole-genome sequences from 1523 geographically diverse individuals, including 35 previously unknown Island Melanesian genomes. In aggregate, we recovered 1.34 gigabases and 303 megabases of the Neandertal and Denisovan genome, respectively. We use these maps of archaic sequences to show that Neandertal admixture occurred multiple times in different non-African populations, characterize genomic regions that are significantly depleted of archaic sequences, and identify signatures of adaptive introgression.

View paper here.

Symposium on SEA and Australasian human evolution

Readers in Brisbane may be interested in attending this conference covering the latest of human evolution research in Southeast Asia.

Challenges and Opportunities for Human Evolution Research in SE Asia and Australasia
Griffith University
8 – 9 July 2016

The symposium is linked to the official launch of the Research Centre of Human Evolution at Griffith University. The symposium reviews the current research on human evolution research in SE Asia and Australasia and provides a platform to develop research synergies between Australian researchers, colleagues from SE Asia, and overseas. Invited speakers include Prof Francois Semah, Paris; Prof Chris Stringer, London; Prof Eske Willerslev (Copenhagen).

Register your interest here.

Taiwan excavation shows Neolithic settlement

Since 1996, Academia Sinica has been excavating at the Tainan Science Park to unearth traces of settlement that go back 5,000 years.

Tainan Science Park excavation. Source: Focus Taiwan 20160212
Tainan Science Park excavation. Source: Focus Taiwan 20160212

Evidence of how ancient humans crossed Taiwan Strait still scarce
Focus Taiwan, 12 Feb 2016

A vast cache of prehistoric artifacts and human remains have been unearthed at an archaeological site in the Tainan Science Park, but none offer concrete evidence explaining an age-old mystery: how ancient settlers from China actually reached Taiwan.

Several million cultural artifacts and faunal and botanic remains have been excavated from over 2,000 burial sites in the science park since the archaeological project kicked off in December 1996, according to Academia Sinica, which is overseeing the work.

The artifacts unearthed have been highly similar to those excavated from archaeological sites along the coasts of southeastern China, said Academia Sinica academician Tsang Cheng-hwa (臧振華) when speaking of the award-winning project with local media last month.

Full story here.

Nanhai No. 1 reveals details of the maritime silk route

A feature on the ongoing excavation of the Nanhai No. 1, a shipwreck discovered off the coast of Guangdong province in China.

Feature: Ancient shipwreck unlocks secrets of Maritime Silk Road
Xinhua, 02 Feb 2016

The Maritime Silk Road, like the ancient Silk Road, was not only a route of trade, but of communication among civilizations.

“Coastal Guangdong holds the DNA of China’s external exchanges and trade,” says Long Jiayou, director with the Guangdong Provincial Cultural Heritage Bureau.

Guangdong had the longest history and most external associations of the Chinese regions on the route.

“Guangdong is also on the route of China’s Belt and Road initiative with its long history and massive overseas trade volume,” says Long.

The Belt and Road Initiative aims to boost connectivity and common development along the ancient land and maritime Silk Roads.

The excavation of the Nanhai No. 1 adds historic significance.

“It has brought China new concepts, innovative methods and technologies in underwater archeology. Moreover, it is a crucial model for the protection of relics along the Maritime Silk Road,” says Long.

Full story here.

14,000 artefacts recovered from Nanhai No. 1

Chinese archaeologists report that over 14,00 artefacts have so far been recovered from the Nanhai No. 1, a Song Dynasty era ship that was recovered from the South China Sea.

Hoard of relics salvaged from ancient Chinese ship
Business Standard, 10 January 2016

Ancient Chinese ship yields hoards of relics
The Hindu, 10 January 2016

China: 14,000 gold, silver and copper relics recovered from 800-year-old shipwreck
International Business Times, 11 January 2016

14,000 relics recovered from ancient Chinese ship
CNTV.cn, 12 January 2016

More than 14,000 relics have been retrieved from an ancient cargo ship after it was salvaged from a depth of 30 metres below the surface of the South China Sea in late 2007, Chinese archaeologists said on Saturday.

Most of the relics are porcelain products, such as pots, bottles, bowls and plates produced by then famous kilns in places now known as Jiangxi, Fujian and Zhejiang, said Liu Chengji, deputy head of the Guangdong Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, Xinhua reported.

As of January 5, archaeologists have also excavated hundreds of gold, silver and copper relics and about 17,000 copper coins.

Full story here.

Oldest Hoabinhian site found in Yunnan

A new paper in Quaternary International discusses the Xiaodong rock shelter in Yunnan, the oldest Hoabinhian site to date. The Hoabinhian technoculture can be found throughout Southeast Asia, and so this discovery in Yunnan suggests the origins and subsequent spread of people using this set of tools into Southeast Asia.

Xiaodong rock shelter. Source: China.org 20151230
Xiaodong rock shelter. Source: China.org 20151230

The oldest Hoabinhian technocomplex in Asia (43.5 ka) at Xiaodong rockshelter, Yunnan Province, southwest China
Quarternary International, doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2015.09.080

Oldest Hoabinhian site discovered in SW China
China.org, 30 December 2015

The Hoabinhian is the most representative technocomplex in Southeast Asian prehistory for the later hunter–gatherer period. As a mainland technology based exclusively on seasonal tropical environments, this core-tool culture was previously defined in northern Vietnam in 1932 and characterized originally by its large, flat and long, largely unifacial cobble tools associated with tropical forest fauna. The recent discoveries and dates obtained at Xiaodong rockshelter in Yunnan Province (southwest China) allow us to discuss the origin and the homeland of this singular Asian technocomplex which spread to Southeast Asia during the end of the Late Upper Pleistocene. Here we present the first Chinese Hoabinhian lithic implements in their stratigraphic and chronological context within a rockshelter site, and we address the question of the dispersal of modern humans from South China to Southeast Asia.

News article here.