Wandering craftsmen behind jade working?


20 November 2007 (National Geographic News) – National Geographic’s story on the chemical tracing of jade artefacts from Southeast Asia. It’s interesting to note that while the jade came mainly from a single source, they were worked outside of Taiwan. And despite their wide dispersal to Philippines, Vietnam and to a large part of Southeast Asia they were worked into two distinct styles, implying some sort of specialised tradition.

Jade Earrings Reveal Ancient S.E. Asian Trade Route
by Carolyn Barry

Jade jewelry found near ancient burial sites across Southeast Asia has revealed one of the largest marine trading networks of prehistoric times, a new study says.

Mineral analysis shows that most of nearly 150 sampled artifacts dated as far back as 3000 B.C. can be traced back to a single site in Taiwan (see map), about 190 miles (120 kilometers) off the coast of mainland China.

This indicates that the small island supplied much of Southeast Asia with a unique variety of the semiprecious stone via a 1,800-mile (3,000-kilometer) trade route around the South China Sea.

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Jade analysis reveals ancient Southeast Asian network

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20 November 2007 (ABC News in Science, Reuters) – A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals the existence of an extensive interaction network involving Taiwanese jade (nephrite) as far back as 5,000 years ago. The jade artefacts turn up in Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines (where it is known locally as lingling-o). Using a newly-developed process to analyse the jade, the study found that 116 out of the 144 artefacts came from the same source in Taiwan. The predominant source of jade in Taiwan, coupled with the distribution of the jade artefacts throughout Southeast Asia and their relative uniformity of the artefact types, leads to the conclusion that there must have been an extensive degree of interaction between different Southeast Asian populations, even across the sea. What’s left now is to uncover the technique used to create the jade artefacts. Experimental archaeology, anyone?

ABC News in Science / PNAS 20 nov 2007

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Groslier's thesis on Angkor's fall gains credence


04 September 2007 (University of New South Wales) – 50 years ago, French archaeologist Bernard-Philippe Groslier’s theorised that Angkor’s sudden abandonment was due to a massive failure in the city’s water management system. The theory was not widely accepted due to lack of empirical evidence, but the map of Angkor’s spawl that broke two weeks ago has made it timely to give Groslier’s theory another relook.

Architects of Angkor’s downfall

The architects of Cambodia’s famed Angkor – the world’s most extensive medieval “hydraulic city” – unwittingly engineered its environmental collapse, says research by UNSW scientists and a team of international scholars.

This revelation, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, supports a disputed hypothesis by French archaeologist Bernard-Philippe Groslier, who 50 years ago suggested that the vast medieval settlement of Angkor was defined, sustained, and ultimately overwhelmed by over-exploitation and the environmental impacts of a complex water-management network.

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A city ahead of its time

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14 August 2007 (LA Times) – For any civilisation to thrive, the city must be located near a water source, and this water source must also be stable enough to sustain the production of food to feed its growing population. This article shows how Angkor, as a city, was able to manage its water in order to facilitate its growth – and how its failure could mean Angkor’s death. It’s also important to note that Angkor’s technical expertise seen in the light of the immense effort it takes to ‘grow’ a civilisation in the middle of a tropical jungle – just think of the Angkor today, overgrown with jungle and compare it with the Angkor that was mapped using radar and we see two very different places!

Angkor Wat was a city ahead of its time
The technology for harvesting water that enabled the Khmer to thrive also led to their fall, researchers say.
By Thomas H. Maugh II

The ancient Khmer city of Angkor in Cambodia was the largest preindustrial metropolis in the world, with a population near 1 million and an urban sprawl that stretched over an area similar to modern-day Los Angeles, researchers reported Monday.

The city’s spread over an area of more than 115 square miles was made possible by a sophisticated technology for managing and harvesting water for use during the dry season — including diverting a major river through the heart of the city.

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The world's first megapolis

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15 August 2007 (The Independent) – I seem to see two main recurrent themes emanating from the Angkor stories that have popped up over the last two days. The first is the fall of Angkor, now with greater evidence to its apparent failing water management system. The second theme is the enormity of the ‘city’ (incidentally, the word “Angkor” is a variant of the sanskrit word meaning ‘city’), now seen as at least 3-10 times larger than originally thought. This new shift has also meant that the temple complexes are not cities unto themselves, but nodes in a larger network of an entire ginormous city.

Metropolis: Angkor, the world’s first mega-city
The discovery that the famous Cambodian temple complex sits in the midst of a vast settlement the size of London, which flourished until the 15th century, has astounded archaeologists – but also baffled them: why did it disappear? By Kathy Marks

The huge sandstone temples of Angkor, built nearly 1,000 years ago and unearthed from the Cambodian jungle in the last century, are considered one of man’s most outstanding architectural achievements. Last year more than a million tourists wandered through the ruins and watched the sun rise over the main temple’s distinctive towering spires.

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Australia's raiders of the lost wat

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14 Aug 2007 (The Canberra Times) – Unsurprisingly, the Canberra Times focuses more on the Australian archaeologists who worked on this project, however the map was a collaborative effort between Australian, French and Cambodian archaeologists.

REVEALED: Australia’s raiders of the lost wat

Australian archaeologists using complex radar and satellite technology to map the medieval city of Angkor have discovered more than 70 new temples scattered across a vast area of farmland and forests in north-west Cambodia.

University of Sydney archaeologist Damian Evans said, “It’s huge. We’ve mapped a massive settlement stretching well beyond the main temples of the World Heritage tourist area in Siem Reap.

“We’ve found the city was roughly five times bigger than previously thought.”

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Researchers map Angkor's ancient sprawl

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14 Aug 2007 (The Daily Telegraph) – The article also features a slideshow of images that you should also check out.

The Daily Telegraph, 14 Aug 2007

Researchers map Angkor’s ancient sprawl
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor

The largest urban sprawl on the planet in medieval times was in fact 10 times bigger than thought, rivalling the size of Greater London.

Carpeted today with vegetation, obscured by a cloak of low-lying cloud and raided by thieves, Angkor in Cambodia once thrived between the 9th and 16th centuries, reaching a peak of many hundreds of thousands of people in the 13th century

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News of the Week: Angkor much bigger than expected

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Sometimes, a piece of news is so big that just about everybody reports on it. This week, it’s a revelation by a collaboration between Australian, French and Cambodian archaeologists about a new map of Angkor developed by a combination of high-resolution satellite imaging and ground surveys, which reveal that the sprawling Angkor city of Angkor was a lot larger than originally thought – 10 times larger, in fact!

Angkor Map

The study has revealed up to 70 new temples, as well as features on Angkor’s complex waterway system that may have revealed why the city’s water management system broke down – one of the factors that led to its eventual downfall.

The study is published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and at this time is not online yet, but I’ll post a link to it once it’s online. In the meantime, I’ll be posting some of the major news stories to have come out on the media during the day.

Pick up books about Angkor today:
Angkor Cities and Temples by C. Jaques
Khmer Civilization and Angkor by D. L. Snellgrove
Ancient Angkor (River Book Guides) by C. Jaques
Angkor and the Khmer Civilization (Ancient Peoples and Places) by M. D. Coe
The Civilization of Angkor by C. Higham
Art & Architecture of Cambodia (World of Art) by H. I. Jessup