Rebutting the myth that Malays have the second oldest genes in the world

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Malaysia has a complex history of ethnonationalism, in which people who are identified as Malay (but more accurately native Malaysians) are given special privileges over other ethnic groups in the country. This has led to a number of social, economic and political problems but the one that I want to highlight here is the misuse of science and archaeological research to advance this agenda. Last week, a historian speaking at the ominously named “The Origins of the Malay” forum “quoted” the work of the Human Genome Organisation and said that after the Africans, the Malays have the second oldest genetic lineages in the world, even going so far as to imply that the Malays were ultimately responsible for establishing the Chinese and Greek civilizations.

DNA strand. Image by Caroline Davis2010

Image by Caroline Davis2010

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Indonesian president meets Eden in the East author

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Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has met with Oxford professor Stephen Oppenheimer whose book Eden in the East proposes an alternative theory to the peopling of the Pacific to the conventional out-of-Taiwan model, based on the rising and falling of sea levels in the early Holocene.

SBY meets with controversial Oxford professor
Jakarta Post, 02 February 2012
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Live from ‘Sharing Our Archaeological Heritage’

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I’m writing from Johor Bahru, Malaysia, where sessions at the international archaeology seminar organised by the Association of Malaysian Archaeolgists are underway. Monday’s been pretty packed filled with session after session of presentations from the different parts of Southeast Asia – this seminar’s theme is ‘Sharing Our Archaeological Heritage’.


Keynote speech by Dr Stephen Oppenheimer

Yesterday’s sessions began with the keynote speech by Oxford’s Stephen Oppenheimer about Southeast Asia’s role in the various waves of human migration. Explaining from a genetic perspective, he suggested the strong genetic evidence for a single southern route (by hugging the coast via India) out of Africa into Southeast Asia and Asia some 80,000 years ago. In more recent times, he also suggested indigenous expansions of local populations within Southeast Asia instead of a single ‘out of Taiwan’ theory to explain human migration into Australia, New Zealand and Polynesia.

Other presentations that caught my ear today was Dr Rasmi Shoocongdej’s work in Northwestern Thailand – I had a nice chat with her during lunch about conducting my fieldwork surveys in Thailand next year and also received some advice from her. Of course, homo floresiensis had to pop up – and from Dr. Harry Widianto’s presentation. I heard why he didn’t consider the hobbit to be a new species. It seems to me that the divide on opinion is very much based on nationalistic lines – with the Indonesians very much denying that homo floresiensis is a new species.

Another day of presentations on Tuesday, and then on Wednesday, we go on an archaeological tour of Johor!