Heritage that is 'very much alive'

An interview with Malaysia’s heritage commissioner – and archaeologist – Prof. Dutuk Zuraina Majid, who talks about recovering prehistoric skeletons and the preservation of Malaysian heritage.

14 August 2006 (New Straits Times) – An interview with Malaysia’s heritage commissioner – and archaeologist – Prof. Dutuk Zuraina Majid, who talks about recovering prehistoric skeletons and the preservation of Malaysian heritage.

Heritage that is ‘very much alive’

Early next year, Heritage Commissioner Prof Datuk Dr Zuraina Majid will go abroad — her destination is top secret. Her mission is to bring back an integral part of the country’s past — 10 boxes of prehistoric skeletons excavated from Gua Cha, Kelantan, in the 1950s. Next month, two graves of important historical personalities from Perak who died in exile will also be moved back to the country from abroad. Zuraina, well-known for discovering the Perak Man, the oldest human skeleton found in the country, explains that heritage is more than just old buildings and mansions.

Traces of our past

Columnist Ambeth Ocampo writes about ceramics in Philippine prehistory and ceramics collecting.

18 August 2006 (Philippine Daily Inquirer) – Columnist Ambeth Ocampo writes about ceramics in Philippine prehistory and ceramics collecting.

Traces of our past

ONE of Manila’s best secrets is a coven known as the Oriental Ceramic Society of the Philippines (OCSP) where a small group of like-minded people, all interested in ceramics and the archeological past of the Philippines, gather to talk shop, be they beginners or internationally acknowledged experts like Rita C. Tan….

Although ceramics held many clues into Philippine prehistory there was such a wide range of material that I limited myself early on to Ming blue and white (Annamese when these came up), knowing I did not have the budget nor the inclination to buy the entire range: Brown ware, Celadon, white ware, etc. Oriental ceramics is a bottomless pit for the collector and I did not want to fall into it at the expense of collecting Filipiniana.
While one has to develop a taste for Philippine pre-colonial earthenware or even plain monochrome ceramics, blue and white pieces are pleasing to everyone, even non-collectors. I was fortunate to have inherited my mother’s modest collection of Thai ceramics — enough to fill one whole display cabinet.

Related Books:
The archaeology of central Philippines: A study chiefly of the Iron Age and its relationships by W. G. Solheim

Ngah Ibrahim – Notice of Exhumation

11 Aug 2006 (Singapore Government Gazette) Further details to the exhumation of Ngah Ibrahim in Singapore.


Notice is hereby given that the grave of Ngah Ibrahim located near Jalan Kubor and grave of Dato OKK Laksamana Mohd Amin at Pusara Aman will be exhumed. The remains will be re-intered in Malaysia.

On behalf of Pesuruhjaya Warisan, Department of National Heritage Malaysia, WAREES Investments Pte Ltd — a wholly owned subsidiary of MUIS will undertake to exhume and relocate the graves from 6 September 2006 or thereafter. The exhumation and re-interment of the graves will be as per MUIS guidelines and procedures.

For further information, please call the Helpline Number at 6883 1114.

Selections, August 2006

While we’re on the subject of books, here are the new additions to the catalogue of Select Books, a specialised publisher and retailer of books pertaining to Southeast Asia. For ordering info, please visit the Select Books website.

Journal Of Chinese Overseas, V.1(1) May 2005. Sg. 2005. 144pp. pb $34.15 (This is the inaugural issue of the Journal of Chinese Overseas, which is published by the Chinese Heritage Centre, Singapore. Among this issue’s articles is a study of Chinese writers overseas by Wang Gungwu, a discussion of Hong Kong as a centre for the preparation of opium for America and an exploration of family and gender roles in Overseas Chinese divided families pre-1949. The quality and range of the articles and book reviews indicate that this is likely to become a significant journal in the area of Sinological and regional studies.)

Journal Of Chinese Overseas, V.1(2) Nov 2005. Ng Chin-Keong, Tan Chee-Beng (eds.) Sg. 2005. 162pp. pb $34.15 (The second November 2005 issue of the new journal includes six articles and eight full-length book reviews. Carl Trocki writes on opium and the Chinese in Southeast Asia 1750-1880 and Evelyn Hu-Dehart on opium used in Peru and Cuba. A fresh look is taken at the near-legendary Dalforce of 1942 Singapore, and ethnic identity in the Vietnam-China borderlands is explored in another study.)

Uncovering Southeast Asia’s Past: Selected Papers From The 10th International Conference Of The European Association Of Southeast Asian Archaeologists. Bacus, Elisabeth A; Ian C. Glover et al (eds.). Sg. 2006. 423pp. pb $73.50 (The papers here are taken from the 10th International EurASEAA Conference held in the British Museum in September 2004. In the opening address, HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand comments on the significance of the inscriptions from the Khmer temple Prasat Phnom Rung in northeastern Thailand, while Professor Charles Higham gives an insightful survey of the prehistoric threads linking South China and the countries of modern Southeast Asia. The 36 chapters in this collection have been selected to give an overview of recent research into prehistoric and early historic archaeology in Southeast Asia. Seven broad themes – the late Pleistocene and early Holocene communities; new perspectives on the Neolithic; Bronze and Iron Age mortuary practices; Iron Age landscapes and cultures; emerging early states and trading ports; urban landscapes; and regional and long-distance exchange relations – serve to organise subsequent chapters. The writers in this book are all engaged in archaeological and historical research in the region.)

Zheng He Epic, The. Tan Ta Sen & Chia Lin Sien (eds.). Cn. 2006. 361pp. hc $189.00 (This massive volume with its hundreds of photographs, illustrations and maps makes available all that is known in China about the famed Chinese admiral Zheng He (Cheng Ho, 1371-1433). He was a native of Kunming in Yunnan Province and collaborative efforts by local and national museums, universities and official bodies resulted the publication of a Chinese-language book that celebrated the 600th anniversary of Zheng He’s first voyage in 1405. This book is the 2006 English translation. There is a wealth of information and many photographs of the ships in his fleets, the places recorded as being visited, and many objects, memorial stones and other artefacts associated with the Admiral. These include modern photographs of his descendants (18th generation) now in Yuxi, Thailand, Nanjing and else where (Zheng He’s descendants are from his nephew whom he adopted as a son). The voyages to Africa, Southeast Asia and beyond are seen as promoting trade and peaceful relations with the Ming Emperor. Western perceptions of the period are noted. It is impossible for us to be anything but awed by this remarkable achievement.)

And The Sun Pursued The Moon: Symbolic Knowledge And Traditional Authority Among The Makassar. Gibson, Thomas. Us. 2005. 262pp. hc $104.00 (This is an anthropologist’s exploration of the relationship between symbolic knowledge and royal authority traditions in the Makassar kingdom, which was one of the significant raiding-and-trading maritime kingdoms of the Java Sea from c. 600-1600 CE. Contemporary anthropological theory is applied in the discussion of myths, sages and symbolic and ideological features, and life patterns – including long distance sailing, rice cultivation and trading in forest produce – of the often-turbulent Makassar kingdom. There is discussion of the use of royal rituals and regalia in power play; rebellions against the Dutch East India Company, and 20th-century Dutch colonial rule; the role of Islam; persisting symbolic rituals; and of the complexity of competing models in the present day and recent past. With bibliography and index.)

Naga Cities Of The Mekong: A Guide To The Temples, Legends And History Of Laos. Stuart-Fox, Martin. Sg. 2006. 124pp. pb $36.75 (This is the first book that provides a popular guide to the fascinating story of Laos. Drawing on his extensive research, the acclaimed historian of Laos, Professor Emeritus Martin Stuart-Fox, has written an authoritative text that weaves together centuries of history and legend. His account tells of cities built, destroyed and ressurrected. This account focuses on the three Lao capitals situated along the mighty Mekong River – Luang Phrabang in the north, Viang Chan (Vientiane) in the centre and Champasak in the south. Stuart-Fox traces the fortunes of each capital from the legend-rich founding, their years under French colonialism, through the people’s struggle for independence, war and revolution, on to the creation of contemporary Lao state. He also includes vivid descriptions of magnificent temples and tells of the unwavering Lao belief in the ever-vigilant nagas, mythical protectors of the Lao. The text is accompanied by many large and inset colour photographs.)

Historical Melaka: 600 Years Of Living History. Zari Mahmood (text). My. 2005. 64pp. pb $14.20 (The 150 colour photographs in this pictorial guide give a brilliant slant onto the historic and very diverse city of Melaka and its 600 years of history. The influences of the early Arab, Chinese, Indian, European and South American visitors can be seen through the city’s heritage buildings, religious edifices, unique cuisines and customs. Melaka is deservedly a must-see city for every tourist to Malaysia.)

Seventeenth-Century Burma And The Dutch East India Company, 1634-1680 (CD-Rom Included). Dijk, Wil O.. Sg. 2006. 348pp. pb $50.40 (17th-century Burma was rich in resources – gems, teak, cotton and slaves – and under the Toungoo Dynasty the country was experiencing a period of unaccustomed tranquility. Peace and security attracted a thriving trade with the outside world, and foreign government agents, merchants and traders flocked to the country’s shores. The Dutch East India Company (VOC) had one of the most active foreign operations in Burma during this period. The Company needed a vigorous trade within Asia to finance the trade in Asian goods sent to Europe, and Burma fit into a Dutch trade network that embraced India’s Coromandel Coast, Ceylon, Java, Japan and Taiwan. In addition the company hoped to establish overland trade routes from Burma into China. The VOC’s voluminous records discuss trade, but they also contain detailed information about the people and the countryside VOC officials encountered in Burma. This book gives an account of this period and opens a window into the past of one of the most fascinating countries on earth. Includes a CD-Rom of appendices.)

Ancient Luang Prabang. Heywood, Denise. Th. 2006. 213pp. pb $55.15 (Luang Prabang, a remote northern Laotian town of glittering Buddhist temples and barefoot monks, is one of the most well-preserved in Asia. This Unesco World Heritage site is home to a treasure trove of sacred art. Many serene Buddha images and Buddhist sculptures are found in 33 exquisite Buddhist temples dating from the 17th century. With the arrival of the French in the 19th century came a secular architectural tradition. In Luang Prabang, the fusion of these two disparate cultures resulted in an aesthetic of singular beauty. In this richly-illustrated book, an Asian arts specialist studies and points out the outstanding architectural style and elements of the Royal Palace and the 33 Buddhist temples in Luang Prabang. Gilded door panels, frescoes, murals, inlaid walls and ornately-decorated ceilings and roofs, all honouring Buddha, are given their due attention. Notable examples of secular architecture in the form of French colonial houses and buildings are also brought under the spotlight. Addresses are supplied. Glossary.)

Crescent Moon: Islamic Art & Civilisation In Southeast Asia. Bennett, James; Othman Yatim, John Miksic et al. Au. 2006. 303pp. hc $126.00 (Published to accompany the 2005-06 major Australian exhibitions at the Art Gallery of South Australia and the National Gallery of Australia, this magnificent volume contains essays by renowned specialists to provide probably unique insights into Islamic art and civilisation in Southeast Asia. Many museums and institutions have contributed to this achievement. The chapters include general overviews, and accounts of Malay Arts; the Art of Cirebon in early Javanese Islam; Islamic manuscripts; Islamic textiles; and Islamic ceramics of several traditions in Southeast Asia. 170 artefacts are presented in colour with annotations and provenance details. With bibliography, glossary, and summaries in Malay.)

Pillaging Cambodia: The Illicit Traffic In Khmer Art. Lafont, Masha. Us. 2004. 197pp. pb $74.00 (The ongoing illicit trade in Khmer art objects is denuding both Cambodia’s spiritual life and the rich heritage of its famed temples. This account of what is happening highlights the scale of the thefts and the international networks, modern technologies, and sustained demand which underpin them. Remedial efforts are seen as beyond the lone efforts of the already hard-pressed Cambodian government. Measures to promote international action and local public awareness are discussed and also the potentially enhanced roles of UNESCO and other NGOs, many of which are already present in the country. Details of some of the (very few) successful actions by UNESCO to restore stolen artefacts are given. With black-and-white photographs, bibliography and index.)

Vietnamese Ceramics. Tran Khanh Chuong. Vt. 2005. 99pp. pb $43.50 (There is archaeological evidence that ceramics have been made in Vietnam for ten thousand years. This monograph describes the different categories and the location of their manufacture. With examples presented in colour.)

Warriors Of The Himalayas: Rediscovering The Arms And Armor Of Tibet. Larocca, Donald J. Us. 2006. 307pp. hc $141.75 (This is the first in-depth study of the virtually unknown subject of traditional armour and weapons from Tibet. It is published to complement the major 2006 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Scholarly illustrated essays are on: the Rediscovery of Tibetan Weaponry; the history of ironworking in Tibet; arms and weapons in the iconography of Tibetan deities; and on special areas in the Temple of Guardian Deities. Tibetan helmets, weapons, armour and cavalry equipment in iron, leather, gold and silver have been assembled from collections worldwide. Some 140 examples are presented with descriptive and provenance notes and colour plates and manuscripts given in Tibetan and English. With map, Tibetan-English glossary, carbon dating lists, bibliography and index.)

Three Old Sudanese Poems. Noorduyn, J.; A Teeuw (ed. & trans.). Nl. 2006. 495pp. pb $91.25 (Preserved on undated palm-leaf manuscripts, Old Sundanese texts are generally in poor condition and unavailable to a wider audience. There are limited texts in any form of Sundanese, and only limited knowledge of Old Sundanese. In presenting three long Old Sundanese poems, Noorduyn and Teeuw, in a heretofore unequalled English-language study of Old Sundanese literature, bring to the light works of importance for further linguistic, literary and historical research. The three poems, The Sons of Rama and Rawana, The ascension of Sri Ajnyana and The story of Bujangga Manik; A pilgrim’s progress were undiscovered before this book. The first two were found in a nineteenth-century manuscript collection of the former Batavian Society and are now in the National Library of Indonesia in Jakarta, while the third was donated to the Bodleian Library in Oxford as early as 1627, though it was not identified as an Old Sundanese poem until the 1950s. )

My books are in!

Archaeology Books 01

Finally, they’ve arrived! I ordered a couple of books from Amazon.com a few weeks ago. I don’t know about other countries in SEA, but it really is quite hard to find books on Southeast Asian archaeology in Singapore – the irony is not lost on me that I have to look abroad in order to find books on local material culture.

The two books I ordered were The Ceramics of South-East Asia by Roxanna M. Brown, which I’m given to understand is required reading for anyone who wants to learn about the different ceramic cultures this part of the world. The other book is Forgotten Kingdoms in Sumatra by F.M. Schnitger. Decidedly, I’m more interested in the archaeology of island Southeast Asia rather than mainland, and I thought it’d be good reading material.

The other two books on the right were picked up at the library book sale yesterday. The library has a book sale annually to trim the fat off its collection and encourage a reading culture among people. Lucky for me, not many people are that interested in reading about archaeology. The Complete Idiots Guide to Lost Civilisations is a fun-to-read, but pretty good background information to archaeology, while Paul Bahn’s Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction is sometimes used for college texts (I know it was on my recommended reading list while I was in school). Both of them a steal at $2 each.

Related Books:
The Ceramics of Southeast Asia : Their Dating and Identification by R. M. Brown
Forgotten Kingdoms in Sumatra (Oxford Paperback Reference) by F. M. Schnitger

U.S. Navy halts planned dive of sunken ship near Indonesia

A group of volunteers have been prevented from photogaphing the remains of the sunken USS Houston off the waters of Indonesia.

13 Aug 2006 (Jakarta Post) – A group of volunteers have been prevented from photogaphing the remains of the sunken USS Houston off the waters of Indonesia.

U.S. Navy halts planned dive of sunken ship near Indonesia

The U.S. Navy has scuttled the plans of a sheriff to photograph the inside of the sunken USS Houston near Indonesia because of worries the wreck might be disturbed.

The association of sailors who survived the World War II sinking had commissioned the photos. A team led by Jerry Ranger, a lieutenant with the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office in Florida and the son of a USS Houston surviving prisoner of war, had gone to the site in the Sunda Straits off Java.

The team included Dave Phillips of St. Louis County, Minnesota, who has experience using a remotely operated vehicle camera during his duties with the sheriff’s office and its volunteer rescue squad. He had planned to photograph the inside of the ship from Thursday through Wednesday.

Who are indigenous Indonesians?

While this forum letter probably has a political undertone to it, it provides a concise overview about the diffusion of homo sapiens throughout southeast asia.

11 Aug 2006 (Jakarta Post) – While this forum letter probably has a political undertone to it, it provides a concise overview about the diffusion of homo sapiens throughout southeast asia.

Who are indigenous Indonesians?

Homo sapiens first reached Indonesia about 50,000 years ago, when sea levels were lower than now and western Indonesia was still part of the Southeast Asia mainland. After several millennia, early Indonesians invented what were probably the world’s first sea-going vessels and went on to settle eastern Indonesia, Australia, including Tasmania, and the Solomon Islands.

Their descendants still inhabit Papua today. However, they were eliminated from western Indonesia by relatively recent migrants. The spark for this was the emergence of crop cultivation in the Yangtze River valley in about 7,000 BC. Agriculture spread across what is now China and farming communities began to migrate into Southeast Asia.

Related Books:
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds)
Bioarchaeology of Southeast Asia (Cambridge Studies in Biological and Evolutionary Anthropology) by M. Oxenham
Man’s conquest of the Pacific: The prehistory of Southeast Asia and Oceania by P. Bellwood
Prehistory of the Indo-Malaysian Archipelago by P. Bellwood
The Archaeology of Mainland Southeast Asia: From 10,000 B.C. to the Fall of Angkor by C. Higham

Stone instrument turns up at unexpected place

The find of a stone instrument near the coast forces archaeologists to relook at their origins – they were previously only found in highland or mountain regions.

8 August 2006 (Viet Nam Net Bridge and Thanh Nien Daily) – The find of a stone instrument near the coast forces archaeologists to relook at their origins – they were previously only found in highland or mountain regions.

Thanh Nien News, 8 Aug 2006

Ancient musical instrument unearthed in Vietnam

A musical instrument made of stone, thought to be centuries old, has been discovered on a beach in south-central Vietnam.

The dan da (lithophone), which was in Binh Thuan province, possibly belongs to the Sa Huynh Culture, which existed between the second and early nineteenth centuries.

Viet Nam Net Bridge, 8 Aug 2006

Ancient instrument rewrites theory

According to experts from the museum, these finds are a Dan Da, a stone instrument made by ancient peoples in the neolithic era.

However, these were all found in highlands or mountain areas, and archaeologists had thought Dan Da were only made by ancient highland tribes. With recently discovery, the hypothesis must be reconsidered as Ham My is very close to the coast.

Related Books:
Uncovering Southeast Asia’s Past: Selected Papers from the 10th International Conference of the European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeologists by E. A. Bacus, I. Glover and V. C. Pigott (Eds)
Early Civilizations of Southeast Asia by D. J. W. O’Reilly
Early Cultures of Mainland Southeast Asia

Mummies in the Philippines

An unusual post by comparison, because it’s not based on a news report. I managed to catch the Fire Mummies of the Philippines that was showing on Discovery Channel (Asia) over these last two days which led me to do a web search about the mummies in Philippines, especially since there isn’t usually a lot of news on the archaeology of Philippines.

The mummies of Kabayan, in the Benguet Province, part of the Cordillera mountain range in North Luzon (the main island of the Philippines) is home to the Ibaloi people, who have a tradition of mummifying their dead between the 13th and 16th century. This practice was stopped by Spanish colonisers who introduced Christianity and the practice of burial.

Like most mummy-making processes, the bodies are preserved by dehydration. The dying or dead person is made to ingest salt water to dry the internal organs. Upon death, the body is sat above a small fire to expel fluids from the body. Finally, the body is sun-dried with the help of the community and placed in a prepared pinewood coffin. The coffins are interred in burial caves carved into the rock through the mountain. The entire process takes approximately two years.

Over 200 caves have been identified, and 15 of them contain human remains. It is suspected that the locals know of the existence of more mummies, but are unwilling to disclose their location because of widespread looting that has taken place. Looting for skulls and teeth by private collectors overseas have led to massive destruction of many of the bodies, while some locals go after fingers and fingernails as talismans for good luck. There simply isn’t enough funding to go around to protect these sites, even after having been flagged by Monument Watch.

Johor Hominid: For those of you just tuning in…

From a spaced-out theory to a full-blown scandal, you might want to check the related links below to see all the posts published here about the Johor Homind fracas. In summary, rumours of a bigfoot-like creature roaming the jungles of Johor have led to speculation that the bigfoot is an undiscovered living hominid species.

From a spaced-out theory to a full-blown scandal, you might want to check the related links below to see all the posts published here about the Johor Homind fracas. In summary, rumours of a bigfoot-like creature roaming the jungles of Johor have led to speculation that the bigfoot is an undiscovered living hominid species. This hominid hypothesis is championed by Sean Ang, a paleontology-background scientist, and Vincent Chow, a biodiversity researcher. On it’s own merits, the hominid thesis stands on the evidence of a (single) footprint (pun intended) and “sightings” (read: hearsay).

If the evidence wasn’t compelling enough as it stood, last week the two researchers posted photographic “evidence” on their website, which was promptly denounced as plagiarim when a visitor provided a full photo of the alleged bigfoot, leading to the shutdown of the website.

For the latest developments, a good detailed summary of the news to date, and the latest comment postings by Sean Ang himself, check out Cryptomundo at http://www.cryptomundo.com/cryptozoo-news/jhwebdown/