In search of the real Singapore stories, beyond Raffles

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Excavations at Fort Canning. Source: Channel NewsAsia 20190203
Excavations at Fort Canning. Source: Channel NewsAsia 20190203

via Channel NewsAsia, 03 Feb 2019: Singapore celebrates its bicentenary this year which has been met with mixed reactions as critics say it is a celebration of colonialism. However, one good thing that has come out of this is an enhanced discussion of Singapore past, e.g. its precolonial period. This article from Channel NewsAsia mentions Prof. John Miksic’s work in Fort Canning Hill, among other stories.

One man who has spent three decades hunting for clues to Singapore’s secrets has found them hidden on a hillside. Bukit Larangan (Forbidden Hill) – now known as Fort Canning – was once revered as the final resting place of Malay kings.

It is where Professor John N Miksic and his team started excavating in 1984, when “there’d never been an (archaeological) dig anywhere in Singapore”. They discovered 14th-century artefacts and a wealth of evidence of a flourishing society.

Source: In search of the real Singapore stories, beyond Raffles – Channel NewsAsia

[Lecture] What More Can Archaeology Tell Us About Singapore’s Past?

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Recent excavations at Empress Place, Singapore. Source: Straits Times 20150221
Recent excavations at Empress Place, Singapore. Source: Straits Times 20150221
2015 excavations at Empress Place, Singapore. Source: Straits Times 20150221


Date : Tuesday, 29 January 2019
Time : 10:00 am – 11:30 am
Venue : ISEAS Seminar Room 2

About the Lecture

This month marks the 35th anniversary of Singapore’s first archaeological excavation and the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the British under Sir T.S. Raffles. Since then, over half a million artefacts have been recovered from Singapore. These cover two periods: the Temasek era (14th to 16th century) and the Singapore era (1819-present). The artefacts from these excavations have succeeded in proving that Singapore had a sophisticated multicultural society and complex economy before 1350. There are still important questions about Singapore’s history which further research, particularly laboratory analysis, may be able to answer. This seminar will address important questions over provenance of artefacts; ancient ecology and environment of Singapore; reconstruction of artefacts; statistical analysis of intrasite variation; and comparisons with other sites in the region.

About the Speaker

Professor John N. Miksic received his BA from Dartmouth College, MA from Ohio University, and PhD from Cornell University based on archaeological fieldwork on a trading port of the 11th-13th century in Sumatra. He has worked in Malaysia as a Peace Corps Volunteer teacher and agricultural extension worker, in Sumatra as a Rural Development Advisor under USAID, and at Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, for six years under a grant from the Ford Foundation and the Asian Cultural Council. In 1987 he moved to the National University of Singapore, where he is professor in the Southeast Asian Studies Department. He has been affiliated with the Department of History, University Scholars Programme, and Asia Research Institute. He founded the Archaeology Unit at ISEAS. He received a Special Recognition Award and the Pingat Bakti Setia long service award from the government of Singapore, and the title Kanjeng Raden Harya Temenggung from the Susuhunan of Surakarta (Indonesia). His book Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea won the inaugural award for best book on Singapore history in 2018. His specialties are the historical archaeology of Southeast Asia, urbanization, trade, Buddhism, and ceramics.

To register, please write to nscevents@iseas.edu.sg

Veteran archaeologist to conduct six-week dig at Fort Canning

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2012 photo of Prof. John Miksic at Fort Canning

via Straits Times, 01 September 2018: Prof. John Miksic is conducting a new excavation of Fort Canning Hill, a significant archaeological site in Singapore at the invitation of the National Parks Board in the lead-up to Singapore’s bicentennial in 2019. Note: Article is behind a paywall, but I found the full text on the NUS Southeast Asian Studies blog.

2012 photo of Prof. John Miksic at Fort Canning

2012 photo of Prof. John Miksic at Fort Canning

The lives of Singapore’s ancient rulers and people who worked in the royal Malay palace at Fort Canning Hill are being probed further by a pair of archaeologists.

Speaking to The Straits Times, veteran archaeologist John Miksic, 71, said he will be co-leading an excavation at the historic Fort Canning Park for six weeks from this weekend with Associate Professor Goh Geok Yian, 46. It will be Professor Miksic’s 13th dig at the park.

The National Parks Board invited Prof Miksic to conduct the dig as part of its overall restoration works at Fort Canning Park. This comes in the lead-up to Singapore’s bicentennial next year. The park will be the venue of the main bicentennial showcase.

The archaeologists will be assisted by a team of students and volunteers as they work in a large 10m by 5m pit near the park’s Spice Garden.

The area, which is also near the Registry of Marriages and the Keramat Iskandar Shah, has been interpreted as a 14th-century palace workshop after an earlier discovery of a “large charcoal feature” where iron tools were likely used.

Archaeologists had also found thousands of glass beads as well as small fragments of gold and clay crucibles at the site.

On the upcoming excavation, Prof Miksic said: “It is a significant site because it has the densest concentration of 14th-century artefacts in undisturbed soil anywhere on Fort Canning. We are likely to find a mixture of Chinese, Malay, South-east Asian, and Indian artefacts. The only question is whether we will find any new kinds of objects which we have not found before.”

The hill was once home to what was likely a large palatial complex dating back to the 14th century. A keramat or shrine was also located there – it was named after the last king of Singapura, Sri Sultan Iskandar Shah. He spent three years as king of Singapura before the island was invaded by the Majapahit empire at the turn of the 15th century. When Singapura fell, Iskandar Shah fled to Johor and eventually founded Melaka.

According to Prof Miksic’s book, Singapore And The Silk Road Of The Sea, 1300-1800, an initial dig at Fort Canning in 1984 ascertained that the hill had been occupied in the 14th century. Pottery made in China during its Yuan dynasty was discovered there.

Next year, a dedicated heritage museum is set to open at the three-storey conserved Fort Canning Centre, and will include artefacts dug up from Prof Miksic’s earlier excavations there.

Archaeologist Lim Chen Sian said: “It’s a very large hill so the excavations conducted there so far are only the tip of the iceberg. There is potential to find more materials from the Temasek period. It would be nice to look back in time in the lead-up to the bicentennial.”

Source: Veteran archaeologist to conduct six-week dig at Fort Canning, Singapore News & Top Stories – The Straits Times

Archaeologist wins inaugural Singapore history prize

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via Straits Times, 12 January 2018: Congratulations to Prof. John Miksic for his book, Singapore and the Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea!

Singapore News -SINGAPORE – A pioneering archaeologist whose work emphasizes that Singapore’s history goes beyond the landing of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819 has been awarded the inaugural Singapore History Prize.. Read more at straitstimes.com.

Source: Archaeologist wins inaugural Singapore history prize, Singapore News & Top Stories – The Straits Times

Book on Singapore archaeology to be launched today

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Today, NUS Press will launch the book Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea, 1300-1800 by Prof. John Miksic who as many of you will know has been working on the archaeology of the city state for decades.

Beneath the modern skyscrapers of Singapore lie the remains of a much older trading port, prosperous and cosmopolitan and a key node in the maritime Silk Road. This book synthesizes 25 years of archaeological research to construct the 14th-century port of Singapore in greater detail than is possible for any other Southeast Asian city. The picture that emerges is of a port where people processed raw materials, used money, and had specialized occupations. Within its defensive wall, the city was well organized and prosperous, with a cosmopolitan population that included residents from China, other parts of Southeast Asia, and the Indian Ocean. Fully illustrated, with more than 300 maps and color photos, Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea presents Singapore’s history in the context of Asia’s long-distance maritime trade in the years between 1300 and 1800: it amounts to a dramatic new understanding of Singapore’s precolonial past.

Buy the book here.

Public Lecture: Raffles, Archaeology and the British in Indonesia

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In conjunction with an exhibition of Raffles’ Letters around the founding of Singapore, Professor John Miksic will give a talk about the man and his efforts to study ancient Southeast Asia.

Raffles, Archaeology and the British in Indonesia
Date: 24 November 2012, Saturday
Time: 2pm to 4pm
Venue: National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street Singapore 188064, Possibility Room, Level 5
Registration is required: http://yep.it/opbjmm
Admission: Free
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Talk: Guerrilla Archaeologists and the Singapore Story

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Readers in Singapore may be interested in this talk by Prof. John Miksic about the practice of archaeology in Singapore happening at the National University of Singapore Museum on Thursday.

Prof John Miksic, National University of Singapore

Prof John Miksic, National University of Singapore

Curating Nation: Guerrilla Archaeologists and the Singapore Story
Prof. John Miksic
Venue: National University of Singapore Museum
Date: 12 April 2012
Time: 6.30pm

Most people think Singapore and archaeology are boring subjects, but the combination of the two can be exciting. Since Singapore has no laws covering archaeology, it is possible and sometimes necessary to go about the exploration for new sites in unorthodox ways. The term “underground” can mean something different in Singapore than it does in normal archaeological contexts! In this talk Prof. John Miksic will provide an account of the history of archaeology in Singapore since 1984, and its connection with museums.

More details here.

Public Lecture: Sumatran Gold in Southeast Asian Context

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Readers in Singapore may be interested in attending Dr. Miksic’s lecture this evening at the Asian Civilisations Museum in conjunction with the Sumatra exhibition.

Gold Land Lords: Sumatran Gold in Southeast Asian Context
Thursday, 14 October 2010
7.30 pm
Asian Civilisations Museum
Ngee Ann Auditorium, ACM Empress Place (Basement)

Sumatra has been known as a source of gold for 2,000 years, but very few gold objects come from known sites there. In this talk, Professor John Miksec from the National University of Singapore will reconstruct early Sumatran gold art by comparison with objects found in other parts of the region.