Perak govt plans to shut access to prehistoric Gua Tambun rock paintings

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via Malay Mail, 10 July 2018: Gua Tambun is a site that I know very well – I studied it for my MA research a decade ago and have gone back to the site every couple of years. The news article incorrectly calls it the largest site in Southeast Asia, although it is one of the largest sites in the region. From the images in the news story the forest growth has been the heaviest that I’ve seen. The site has always had a problem with maintenance, but most of the rock art itself is well protected because it is out of reach of human hands. If anyone knows how to put me in touch with the relevant authorities, please send me an email – I would be very willing to help with the site’s rehabilitation.

Source: Perak govt plans to shut access to prehistoric Gua Tambun rock paintings | Malay Mail

New Buddhist rock art at Wat Phraphuttachai, Saraburi

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New Buddhist rock art at Wat Phraphuttachai, practically invisible to the naked eye. Only parts of the "wings" can be seen easily.

Over the weekend, fellow rock art enthusiast Francesco Germi and I took a day trip from Bangkok to Saraburi province to visit Wat Phraphuttachai, a temple known for its Buddhist and ‘prehistoric’ rock art. For my doctoral research, I studied rock art sites across Mainland Southeast Asia that had later become religious shrines and so this site was of some personal interest.

Wat Phraphuttachai, Saraburi province, Thailand

Wat Phraphuttachai, Saraburi province, Thailand

Wat Phraphuttachai is located on a cliff face and the gold-roofed pavilion at the side of the cliff contains its namesake: a Buddhist rock painting in which is said to be an imprint of the Buddha himself.

Buddha's imprint, the 'Phraphutthachai' of Wat Phraphuttachai

Buddha’s imprint, the ‘Phraphutthachai’ of Wat Phraphuttachai

Just beside the entrance of this pavilion is a small section of wall that contain some other rock paintings. The rock art, which was gazetted by the Fine Arts Department in 1935, consists of hand prints, some honeycomb designs and an assortment of fragmentary red paintings. Most are extremely hard to see today.

The cliff side of Wat Phraphuttachai. The rock art is located just to the right of the pavilion's entrance, behind the Buddha statues.

The cliff side of Wat Phraphuttachai. The rock art is located just to the right of the pavilion’s entrance, behind the Buddha statues.

Red handprints and examples of very faded paintings at the site

Red hand prints and examples of very faded paintings at the site.

It wasn’t until we got back home and started to analyse our pictures with DStretch that we realised that one section of the wall with fragmentary paintings was actually a massive and magnificent image of the Buddha! Like the Phraphutthachai image, this Buddha is also life-sized but is more embellished.

New Buddhist rock art at Wat Phraphuttachai, practically invisible to the naked eye. Only parts of the "wings" can be seen easily.

New Buddhist rock art at Wat Phraphuttachai, practically invisible to the naked eye. Only parts of the “wings” can be seen easily.

I’m wondering now if the paintings all belong to the historic Buddhist period, rather than a two-layer prehistoric-then-Buddhist occupation. It could be some of the earlier paintings that were called human and animal figures were really misidentified. Finding this elaborate Buddhist image was quite cool, and if any readers could comment on the style of art, we would like to hear them – leave a comment below. For now, we have submitted a preliminary report of the finding to the Fine Arts Department of Thailand.

Ancient paintings found in Krabi cave

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via The Nation, 07 June 2018: New rock art discovered in Southern Thailand – very exciting, and there seems to be some clear similarities with other rock art sites in the region which may indicate a local style.

More than 60 ancient paintings, thought to be around 3,000-5,000 years old, have been found at the Khao Pru Tee Mae cliff in Mount Chong Lom, Ao Luek, Krabi.

Source: Ancient paintings found in Krabi cave – The Nation

[Paper] Ideology, Ritual Performance and Its Manifestations in the Rock Art of Timor-Leste and Kisar Island, Island Southeast Asia

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New paper on newly-discovered rock art on Kisar Island, Indonesia by O’Connor et al. published in the Cambridge Archaeology Journal. What’s really interesting in this paper is the fact that the paintings have some similarities with those from East Timor, about 20 km across the sea.

Painted rock art occurs throughout the islands of the Western Pacific and has previously been argued to have motif and design elements in common, indicating that it was created within the context of a shared symbolic system. Here we report five new painted rock-art sites from Kisar Island in eastern Indonesia and investigate the commonalities between this art and the painted art corpus in Timor-Leste, the independent nation that forms the eastern part of the neighbouring island of Timor. We examine the motifs in the Kisar art and suggest that, rather than being Neolithic in age, some of the figurative motifs more likely have a Metal Age origin, which in this region places them within the last 2500 years.

Source: Ideology, Ritual Performance and Its Manifestations in the Rock Art of Timor-Leste and Kisar Island, Island Southeast Asia | Cambridge Archaeological Journal | Cambridge Core

See also

Indonesian island found to be unusually rich in cave paintings

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via the Australian National University, 13 December 2017:

A tiny Indonesian island, previously unexplored by archaeologists, has been found to be unusually rich in ancient cave paintings following a study by researchers from The Australian National University (ANU). The team uncovered a total of 28 rock art sites dating from at least 2,500 years ago on the island of Kisar which measures just 81 square kilometres and lies north of Timor-Leste.

Source: Indonesian island found to be unusually rich in cave paintings

New Paper: Rock art and the colonisation of Southeast Asia

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Over the past decade, archaeologists have been able to directly date rock art, particularly in Island Southeast Asia at sites in East Kalimantan, East Timor and South Sulawesi. The dates of rock art indicate that modern humans were creating rock art during the Pleistocene, comparable to similar rock art in Europe. In this paper by Aubert et al., the authors note that the presence of these sites and dates now begs the question, did the ability to create rock art move out of Africa with human migrations, or did it erupt independently in different parts of the world? Also within Island Southeast Asia, did rock art develop from a specific place and spread throughout prehistoric Sahul, or did it arise independently among different communities in the region?

Recent technological developments in scientific dating methods and their applications to a broad range of materials have transformed our ability to accurately date rock art. These novel breakthroughs in turn are challenging and, in some instances, dramatically changing our perceptions of the timing and the nature of the development of rock art and other forms of symbolic expression in various parts of the late Pleistocene world. Here we discuss the application of these methods to the dating of rock art in Southeast Asia, with key implications for understanding the pattern of recent human evolution and dispersal outside Africa.

The Timing and Nature of Human Colonization of Southeast Asia in the Late Pleistocene: A Rock Art Perspective – Current Anthropology
https://doi.org/10.1086/694414

Preserving rock art at Raja Ampat

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via CNN Indonesia, 16 October 2017:

Kepulauan Raja Ampat tak hanya memiliki pantai pasir putih, pesona bawah laut, keragaman biota laut, flora dan fauna hutan tropis yang menakjubkan. Destinasi wisata dunia ini juga memiliki pesona lukisan tebing prasejarah (rock art). Rock art adalah wujud seni yang dituangkan pada batuan yang dapat tertuang dalam bentuk lukisan, dengan media tebing karang. Situs lukisan prasejarah di Raja Ampat dapat dijumpai di Teluk Mayalibit, Teluk Kabui, dan kawasan Misool Selatan.

Motif lukisan tergambar pada permukaan dinding tebing karst dekat permukaan air yang mudah digapai dengan tangan. Selain itu lukisan juga terletak pada permukaan dinding tebing yang lebih tinggi. Motif lukisan tebing ini berupa figur manusia, hewan, cap tangan, geometris, fauna bawah air dan peralatan.

Source: Melestarikan Lukisan Batu di Raja Ampat

Join me at Pint of Science Thailand 15-17 May

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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?!

Source: Pint of Science Thailand | Tuesday 16th May

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

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Dancing Kudu from the Twyfelfontein World Heritage Site

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.