[Lecture] A New Interpretation on the Eastern Limit of Ptolemy’s World Map and its Influence on European Worldview in the Evolution of Southeast Asian Mapping

Readers in Bangkok may be interested in this talk at the Siam Society by Trongjai Hutangkura on 31 August 2017.

The Geography, written in the second century CE by Claudius Ptolemy (c. 100 ce- c. 170 ce), described the Earth’s geography through knowledge from Greco-Roman trade routes. The map India beyond the Ganges presented geographical information stretching from the river’s east bank towards China. Although previous studies provided place-names based on cognate comparisons between Ptolemaic data and recent toponyms, the identification of the Ptolemaic eastern limit remains problematic, exemplified by a location known to the ancient Romans as Kattigara, possibly Hangzhou (China) or Óc Eo (Vietnam). My research raises the possibility of Kattigara being located in the vicinity of the Korea Bay, based on a comparison of geographical landmarks such as the river’s mouth and cape. Other possibilities may involve Suvarṇabhūmi and a town called Zabai (Óc Eo). Though geographic recognition of Ptolemaic toponyms has since disappeared, their graphic information is still acknowledged and carries some influence in Southeast Asia, including in maps compiled by European and Arab cartographers in the 12th-16th centuries. These maps are a blend of Ptolemaic place-names and navigational information of their ages, visualising an imaginary continent of Southeast Asia. My presentation will illustrate research on the identification of cartographic information of Ptolemy’s India beyond the Ganges and Chinese lands as the basis for the study of ancient Southeast Asian maps.

Source: A New Interpretation on the Eastern Limit of Ptolemy’s World Map and its Influence on European Worldview in the Evolution of Southeast Asian Mapping. A talk by Trongjai Hutangkura

[Lecture] A Mauryan–Śunga Period Ringstone: 3rd-1st Century BCE, found in Peninsular Thailand

Readers in Bangkok may be interested in this lecture at the Siam Society on 24 August 2017 by Anna Bennett.

In October 2014, a finely decorated Śunga ringstone was found by the owner of a sand quarry on the Tha Tapao River on the eastern side of Isthmus region of the Thai peninsula. The ringstone is a characteristic, almost defining object of the Mauryan – Śunga periods of Northern India, where possibly as many as 70 have been recorded from the Punjab, eastwards along the Ganges Valley to Bihar. A few ringstones are held in major museums outside India, including the Victoria & Albert Museum and the British Museum in London, the Asian Art Museum in Berlin, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Los Angeles County Museum. A few are also in private collections. The present example from Peninsular Thailand is the only one known to have been found outside the Indian subcontinent, thus providing yet more clear evidence for ancient contacts and trade between India and Thailand from the early centuries BCE, which long predated the establishment of the later Indian-influenced kingdoms in Southeast Asia. The function of these ringstones has never been clarified, although the author suggests that jewellery moulds remain a likely explanation for the extraordinary level of carved detail. Other suggestions have included that they were ear spools, although this seems improbable, on the practical grounds of their weight. Others have suggested a cult use or use as an apotropaic or physical contraceptive device due to the depiction of the nude mother goddess alternating with the ‘Tree of Life’. This ringstone was found at the same site as at least four very thin and fragmentary gold circular foils, which is the first occurrence of such an association, and lends weight to the hypothesis that the ringstones were perhaps, among other things, moulds for beating thin gold sheet ornaments. One of the gold sheets has an animal decorative motif which is very similar to that on the ringstone itself and the other has a repoussé design of interlinked ‘S’ motifs very similar to the only other known gold sheet, which was found in a burial context in India.

Source: A Mauryan–Śunga Period Ringstone: 3rd-1st Century BCE, found in Peninsular Thailand. A talk by Anna Bennett

[Lecture] Tantrism and State Formation in Southeast Asia

Readers in Singapore may be interested in this lecture by Andrea Ancri at the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre on 14 August 2017.

Tantrism and State Formation in Southeast Asia

The socio-religious phenomenon we now call “Tantrism” dominated the religious and ritual life in much of South and Southeast Asia from around 500 CE to 1500 CE and beyond. Yet, the impact of Śaiva and Buddhist Tantric traditions on the societies and cultures of Southeast Asia remains insufficiently studied and appreciated. The talk will explore the indissoluble link between the State and Tantric ideologies/ritual systems in Southeast Asia. It will first deal with state formation, evaluating the theories of “man of prowess” and “Śaiva bhakti” elaborated by historian Oliver Wolters, then turn to the role of Tantric magic and ritual in the medieval maṇḍala polities of Sumatra, Java, and Cambodia. Finally, it will offer some concluding reflections on the link between politics, power, and the “supernatural” in modern Southeast Asia.

Source: Lecture: Tantrism and State Formation in Southeast Asia – ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute

[Lecture] Ancient Peninsular Siam and its Neighborhood

Readers in Bangkok may be interested in this lecture at the Siam Society by my colleague Wannasarn Noonsuk in 10 August 2017. Dr Noonsuk is the Senior Specialist in Visual Arts at SPAFA.

This talk provides observations concerning socio-cultural development in Peninsular Siam and its significance in maritime Southeast Asia since the Iron Age. This area between two oceans was an important link for the East-West maritime trade as well as a production hub of jewelry, tin and forest products since the late centuries BCE. Among several principalities later developed in this isthmian tract, Tambralinga was an outstanding kingdom. Its material remains from the 5th century CE suggest that Hinduism was prominent and offered different artistic idioms from the Dvaravati expression of central Thailand in the same period. In terms of social interaction, the distribution of Bronze drums indicates that the isthmian tract was part of the neighborhood of communities around the Gulf of Siam, which was a busy hub of trade and a large market with common vision. It is likely that the ornaments produced at the sites such as Khao Sam Kaeo and Phukhao Thong were for the growing market in the Gulf and beyond to the east, rather than for India in the West. The Vishnu images from this area may have been the prototypes of those in the Mekong Delta. Perhaps similar to the Funan polity of the 1st- 6th centuries, the Kingdom of Ayutthaya in the 15th century launched military campaigns to the peninsula as an attempt to control the Gulf neighborhood.

Source: Ancient Peninsular Siam and its Neighborhood. A Talk by Wannasarn Noonsuk

[Lecture] The Emergence of Complex Behaviour: Examples from Ancient Southeast Asia

Readers in Canberra may be intestested in this upcoming talk by Marc Oxenham in August 9

This presentation explores the evidence for the emergence of complex behaviour in the past, using Southeast Asia as an illustrative example. I ask what defines complexity in an archaeological sense and discuss this in terms of evidence for major archaeologically visible changes in human behaviour over time. After an over view of the population history of the region, I look at the rise of high density hunter-gatherer communities in northern Southeast Asia (southern China and northern Vietnam). The reasons for their success, and ultimate failure, are contrasted with the emergence of the first farming communities, and concomitant massive demographic changes, in the same region. Throughout the discussion of the emergence of complex behaviours I look to potential environmental (e.g. climate volatility and the effects of documented temperature rises of 2 to 4oC between 8-3,000 years ago) and anthropogenic (e.g. land clearance, wild plant and animal management) factors. Finally, I ask if any salutary lessons can be drawn from our nearest neighbours that adapted to and lived with the effects of climate change thousands of years ago.

Source: The Emergence of Complex Behaviour: Examples from Ancient Southeast Asia Tickets, Wed, 09/08/2017 at 4:00 pm | Eventbrite

[Talk] Disjuncture, Interference and Critical Heritage: Reflections from the Field

Readers in London may be interested in this event at SOAS on July 4, a conversation between SOAS Centenary Fellow Rasmi Shoocongdej and others

Disjuncture, Interference and Critical Heritage: Reflections from the Field

The projection of historical continuity through the designation ‘heritage’ always betrays, in one way or another, its very opposite: historical disjunctures and interference in local affairs. Join SOAS Centenary Fellow, Professor Rasmi Shoocongdej, along with five respondents, to examine this paradox at the heart of the notion of ‘heritage’ and its ‘management’ today. Professor Shoocongdej, an archaeologist specializing in mainland Southeast Asian prehistory, will address the pressures of research harnessed to the promotion of ‘Thai Cultural Heritage’ in sites characterized today by multiple cultures and ethnic minority groups.

Professor Shoocongdej’s fieldwork focuses on borderlands between Thailand and Myanmar. Her research on prehistory is complemented by incisive contributions to important debates at the nexus of archaeology and the public sphere. Her pedagogical career, based at Thailand’s premier arts university, Silpakorn, has been devoted to training Thai and other Southeast Asian archaeologists through interregional programmes to assume positions of intellectual and ethical responsibility vis-à-vis their regions and their international partners. She is a crucial role model for Southeast Asian archaeologists and, more broadly, for Southeast Asian women considering pursuing academic careers.

Professor Shoocongdej will address her twofold experience as a ‘Thai female archaeologist.’ On the one hand she represents the ‘elite centre’ – Bangkok’s Silpakorn – in researching prehistoric cultures of Thailand’s peripheral ‘highlands’, negotiating at once relations – or non-relations – between local communities and their prehistoric site surroundings, and the attendant expectations of nationalist historiography emanating from the entangled academic and political realms. On the other hand, she represents ‘indigenous perspectives’ to the international archaeological community intent on reconstructing Southeast Asia’s past, and dominated still by Euro-American actors and modes of inquiry.

Source: Disjuncture, Interference and Critical Heritage: Reflections from the Field | SOAS University of London

Join me at Pint of Science Thailand 15-17 May

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

[Lecture] André Malraux: The looter of Banteay Srei who rose to high political office

Another interesting lecture at the Siam Society on 25 May, focusing on a particular French looter in Cambodia’s colonial period.

André Malraux: The looter of Banteay Srei who rose to high political office
by Lia Genovese
Date: Thursday, 25 May 2017
Time: 7.30 p.m.
Place: The Siam Society, 131 Asoke Montri Rd, Sukhumvit 21

In the annals of archaeology, Heinrich Schliemann, Katherine Routledge, Madeleine Colani and Howard Carter, to name a few, will be forever associated with pioneering work respectively in Troy, the Easter Island, the Plain of Jars and Egypt. Other would-be archaeologists have become household names for the wrong reasons. One of the best-known cases concerns André Malraux, a young French intellectual arrested in Phnom Penh on 24 December 1923 as he attempted to smuggle out of Cambodia several tons of bas-reliefs looted from Khmer temples and destined to collectors in Europe and America. Archival data recorded by George Groslier, the director of the National Museum responsible for the arrest, reveal that the looting involved not just Banteay Srei but also another temple never mentioned in relation to this case. Malraux was tried in Indochina but did not serve a single day of his three-year sentence and was free to return to France at the end of 1924. But why was Malraux arrested in 1923, the same year that the French colonial authorities authorised the sale of Khmer artefacts, under certain conditions? What lines of defence did Malraux use against the colonial powers he accused of neglecting Cambodia’s heritage? How did Malraux morph from youthful looter to Minister for Cultural Affairs under the presidency of Charles de Gaulle in France? In my talk I will discuss the facts of the case in light of previously unknown archival data and photographic evidence.

[Lecture] Jakarta: Past and Present

For readers in Bangkok, there will be a a couple of talks at the Siam Society on the archaeology and urban conservation of Jakarta. The speakers are Annissa M. Gultom (Archaeology) and Bambang Eryudhawan (Urban Conservation). Admission is free. (Disclosure: I am personally involved in organising this event as part of my work at SEAMEO SPAFA).

SEAMEO SPAFA in cooperation with The Siam Society Under Royal Patronage Present
Jakarta: Past and Present
The SEAMEO Regional Centre for Archaeology and Fine Arts (SEAMEO SPAFA) and the Siam Society will organize two lectures on the archaeology and urban conservation of Jakarta, as part of SEAMEO SPAFA’s lecture series on the archaeology of the Capitals of Southeast Asia. The first set of lectures, focusing on Jakarta, will be delivered on Tuesday 23rd May 2017 at 18.30-20.30 hrs. at the Siam Society. The event is free of charge.

Details here.

[Talk] Green, Blue, and White: The Tang Shipwreck Ceramic and Precious Metal Cargo and Global Trade in Medieval Asia

In conjunction with the Belitung Shipwreck exhibition at the Asia Society in New York, John Guy will be giving a lecture on 22 May which will also be broadcast live on the web.

Scholar and curator John Guy explores the unique insights that shipwreck archaeology can bring to our understanding of historical trade and exchange in ancient Asia.

Source: Green, Blue, and White: The Tang Shipwreck Ceramic and Precious Metal Cargo and Global Trade in Medieval Asia | New York | Asia Society