Lecture at the Siam Society, Bangkok on 1 November 2018.
DATE: Thursday, 1 November 2018
TIME: 7:00 p.m.
PLACE: The Siam Society, 131 Asoke Montri Rd, Sukhumvit 21
The Bronze Age produced revolutionary innovations like the drums, stronger and more sonorous than their wooden and skin predecessors. They created new rites and bestowed on their owners a prestige even in the afterlife. On their drumhead (tympanum) and their cylindrical base, the drums were engraved with decorations open to interpretation, including the iconic frogs deemed to control the rain. Southeast Asian communities bestowed a new mission on the drums, not only as a source of sound but also to evoke values deemed crucial for everyday life or for the afterlife, from the steppes to the tropics. From inception to the present, the evolution of bronze drums spans around 2,500 years. Rituals have been conducted in their presence, from modern south China and Vietnam to Indonesia, including Indochina and Thailand. Bronze, an alloy resistant to corrosion, elevated the status of these objects from simple pots to valuable masterpieces of creativity, at the crossroads of spiritual and commercial values. They belong to the treasures of humanity, housed within museums around the world and still used at solemn ceremonies, including the funeral rites in October 2017 of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej. In my talk, I will trace the evolution of bronze drums across centuries and Southeast Asian cultures, in Cambodia, China, Laos, Indonesia/Bali, Malaysia, Myanmar/Burma, Thailand and Vietnam.
A new paper in the BEFEO details the discovery of a large bronze workshop found near the ancient palace in Angkor Thom, which suggests a centralised production of the metal sculptures.
Crucible found at workshop site. Source: Phnom Penh Post 20160305
Digging for where the gods were constructed
Phnom Penh Post, 05 March 2016
12th Century Bronze Workshop Found in Cambodia
New Historian, 15 March 2016
One of the most famous bronze sculptures found at Angkor is the West Mebon Vishnu. Dating to the 11th century, the piece now at Phnom Penh’s National Museum is merely a fragment – albeit a car-sized one – of the top half of a reclining Vishnu.
Archaeologists estimate the four-armed Hindu deity’s original length at six metres, which makes it comparable to the largest bronzes in the region. Ancient artists would have spent months slaving over it. Yet where Angkorian bronze makers would have spent those months in toil has long puzzled researchers – until now.
The discovery of a sprawling bronze workshop found adjacent to the ancient Royal Palace of Angkor has gone a long way in solving the riddle. The significance of the site was first revealed during a dig in 2012, but the first-ever comprehensive report was published late last month in the 100th edition of the Bulletin de l’École Française d’Extrême-Orient (BEFEO), a journal that has reported the major archaeological finds of Angkor since 1901.
Full stories here and here.
A hint into the potential archaeology from East Timor – the discovery of a bronze Dong Son drum in Baucau. There have been several such drums found in East Timor now, and similar drums turn up all over Southeast Asia which suggests a rather extensive exchange network of either goods or expertise across the region 2,000 years ago.
Source: Viet Nam Net 20151203
Vietnam’s ancient Dong Son drum found in Timor Leste
Viet Nam Net, 03 december 2015
A relatively intact bronze drum believed to belong to the Dong Son culture, originating in Vietnam over 2,000 years ago, has recently been discovered in Timor Leste.
The drum, 1.03 metres in diameter, 78 cm in height, and 80kg in weight, was found accidentally at a construction site in Baucau, the second largest city in Timor Leste, in late 2014. However, official information was just released in late November this year after researchers had conducted preliminary assessment.
Archaeologist Nuno Vasco Oliveira from the Timor Lester Government’s General Directorate of Art and Culture said he is certain that the item is a Dong Son bronze drum – an icon of the Dong Son culture (700 B.C. – 100 AD) of the ancient Vietnamese people.
This is not the first time a Dong Son drum has been found in Timor Leste. The ones previously unearthed were badly damaged while the newly found item is in a relatively good condition.
Full story here.
The Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore has officially handed the 11th century bronze statue of Uma to India, after it was identified as stolen during the investigation of antiquities dealer Subash Kapoor.
Returned bronze statue of Uma. Source: Straits Times 20151106
Asian Civilisations Museum hands back sculpture identified as stolen to India
Straits Times, 06 November 2015
Asian Civilisations Museum returns 11th century sculpture to India
Today, 07 November 2015
The Asian Civilisations Museum has returned to the Indian authorities an 11th-century bronze sculpture in its possesion, which has been identified as stolen from India.
The museum had last month informed the Archaeological Survey of India and the High Commission of India to Singapore of its plan to return the religious icon depicting the Hindu goddess Uma Parameshwari.
The sculpture is among hundreds of stolen cultural artefacts amounting to over $148 million in an ongoing international art smuggling case. They are believed to have been looted and sold to museums by disgraced New York art dealer Subhash Kapoor, 65, who is awaiting trial in India on charges of theft and smuggling.
Full story here and here.
After a formal request by the government of India, the Asian Civilisations Museum will return a bronze statue of Uma Parameshvari, which was identified as stolen in the recent high-profile antiquities looting case of Subhash Kapoor.
Statue of Uma Parameshvari to be returned by the Asian Civilisations Museum. Source: Straits Times 20151020
Asian Civilisations Museum to return ‘stolen’ 11th-century artefact to India
The Straits Times, 20 October 2015
Asian Civilisations Museum to return sculpture identified as stolen from India
Channel NewsAsia, 19 October 2015
The Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) said yesterday it would return a sculpture identified as stolen, upon the request of the Indian government.
‘Stolen’ artefact puts murky issues in spotlight
The Straits Times, 23 October 2015
The 11th-century bronze sculpture depicting Hindu goddess Uma Parameshvari is among hundreds of stolen cultural artefacts amounting to over $148 million in an ongoing international art smuggling case. They are believed to have been looted and sold to museums by disgraced New York art dealer Subhash Kapoor, 65, who is awaiting trial in India on charges of theft and smuggling.
In a press statement, the ACM said it had bought the sculpture from Kapoor’s now-defunct gallery Art of the Past for US$650,000 (S$900,000) in 2007.
Full story here and here.
A feature on a Vietnamese bronze caster who still makes bronze drums today.
Source: Thanh Nien News 20140306
The present echo of an ancient drum
Thanh Nien News, 06 March 2014
A bronze Dong Son dagger has been found in Vietnam’s Ha Tinh province, in the possession of local resident.
Bronze dagger from Ha Tinh Province, Nhan Dan 20130402
Ancient dagger found in Ha Tinh province
Nhan Dan, 02 April 2013
A bronze boat kept in a sacred forest in Flores continues to raise questions about its mysterious origins. The boat was recently the subject of a paper presented at this year’s EurASEAA conference in Dublin.
Tracking a mysterious artifact in Flores
Jakarta Post, 21 November 2012
A feature on a Cambodian village that continues the traditional craft and trade of bronze working. Interestingly enough, the men forge the vessels, but the women do the engraving.
Phnom Penh Post 20120302
Reviving bronze on Koh Chen
Phnom Penh Post, 02 March 2012
Researchers from the Ha Tinh Province museum discover a bronze seal dating to the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945) buried at a depth of 2 metres.
Bronze seal from Ha Tinh Province. Saigon Giai Phong, 20110804
Rare antique discovered in Ha Tinh Province
Saigon Giai Phong, 04 August 2011