Finding gold in Bantayan

No Comments

13 September 2007 (Cebu Daily News) – With stories like these, one gets the impression that there is a lot of undiscovered archaeological potential in the Philippine islands that have yet to be surveyed, excavated and recovered. In this piece, the author writes about how archaeological material – prehispanic material culture as well as trade ceramics – have been recovered in the town of Bantayan, in Cebu. A map attached here to give you a sense of the geography of the place.

Bantayan Map
click here to go to this googlemap.

Finding gold in Bantayan
By Joeber Bersales

If I had even just 5 percent or P35 million of the P700 million that Erap Estrada was convicted yesterday of plundering from the nation, I will immediately spend P30 million to buy and repair the only remaining tile-roofed trading house in Bantayan—one of three houses built by the legendary Manuel ‘Capitan Tawi’ Rubio at the height of his wealth in the 1850s. I will use the remaining P5 million to carry out a systematic archaeological study of this island as well as of the entire island of Cebu.

Read More

Clues to Philippine prehistory

1 Comment


24 August 2007 (The Inquirer) – Columnist Ambeth Ocampo writes about the ceramics, commonly trade ceramics, found in Philippines and in Philippine waters.

Clues to Philippine prehistory
by Ambeth Ocampo

MANILA, Philippines — At the start of each semester, when I meet a new class for the first time and go over the syllabus, I watch out for the collective groan that comes when I announce that a visit to the National Museum is required. For many college students who had to endure a grade school trip to the museum, going there a second or third time is considered cruel and unusual punishment. This mind-set is not the fault of the museum; it is the fault of the teacher or museum guide who did not infect the students with a sense of discovery and appreciation of our past. Many of my students complain after visiting the National Museum that they do not want to see another piece of blue-and-white ceramic for the rest of their lives, but they say this because they do not appreciate not just the artistic and symbolic beauty of the pieces but more importantly the fact that these are traces of a long and complex story that goes beyond our written history.

Read More

Interview with an underwater archaeologist

No Comments

30 July 2007 (New Straits Times) – It looks like it’s another artifact sale in Malaysia, from remnants of shipwrecks in Malaysian waters. These artefacts are left over from archaeological salvage and come from a variety of shipwrecks. I’ll be headed up to KL this weekend, and so I hope to write about the sale there.

New Straits Times, 30 Jul 2007

Klang Valley Streets: Treasures from the deep

TREASURES from the deep go on display and sale in Kuala Lumpur this week at an art fair that showcases an array of Asia’s treasures from the 11th to 19th centuries.

And the man who spent 17 years plumbing the depths of Southeast Asian waters, discovering 10 major shipwrecks, is marine archaeologist Sten Sjostrand.

Sjostrand is proud of his underwater feats and retrieval of precious artifacts: he will have these remarkable pieces showcased at the Asia Art Fair 2007, also an exhibition comprising Asian collectibles and treasures, which opens at the Bangsar Shopping Centre, Kuala Lumpur, tomorrow.

The pieces retrieved from the shipwrecks may not be the most aesthetically pleasing in a conventional way or most colourful, but they are definitely timeless treasures that are intriguing and mysterious. Historical artwork has been carved and fired on to these items ranging from ceramics, pottery, ornaments, accoutrements to utensils.
They were found on the shipwrecks from the Tanjung Simpang (the years of 960-1127), Turiang (1370), Nanyang (1380), Longquan (1400), Royal Nanhai (1460), Xuande (1540), Singtai (1550), Wanli (1625), Anantes (1795)and Desaru (1830).

Most of these pieces were the objects of trade between China, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia. However, it’s the Wanli shipwreck that will be the main feature because of the familiar designs of 17th century Chinese porcelain artwork. It signified the time when European merchants were involved with Asia’s maritime trade and were supplying their domestic markets with Asian products.

Read more about the Malaysian shipwrecks artefact sale.

For books relating to Southeast Asian Shipwrecks and trade ceramics, look up:
Shipwrecks and Sunken Treasure in Southeast Asia by T. Wells
The Ceramics of Southeast Asia : Their Dating and Identification by R. M. Brown

Missing the boat on shipwreck treasures

No Comments

12 July 2007 (New Straits Times) – Lucien de Guise, curator of the Malaysian Museum of Islamic Arts, writes a column about the sale of shipwreck treasures in Malaysia.

Missing the boat on shipwreck treasures

JUST in case anyone thought that the last discussion about fakes was the end of the series, it was actually the beginning.
My email inbox is once again filling up with opportunities to detect the bad boys in a ceramics collection.

A short time after Peter Lam came from Hong Kong at the request of the Southeast Asian Ceramic Society to talk about “Detecting the Fakes”, we now have Roxanna Brown of the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum of Bangkok giving her expertise on ceramic dates. In addition, there is Sten Sjostrand on the subject of “How to Identify Real Antiques from Fakes”.

It’s no wonder Malaysia is so interested in fakes. The nation is Public Enemy Number One in the all-round piracy league table, after China of course. On a per-capita basis, Malaysia is a clear winner.

It seems that the word “fake” has an irresistible attraction. If the talks were called “Kiln Technology of the 16th Century”, the turnout would be comparatively small. Issue a proper challenge, such as identifying fakes, and the people will beat a path to your lecture hall.
A bigger challenge is getting collectors to take an interest in the things that are being faked, including shipwreck ceramics. Nobody has tried harder than Sten Sjostrand. Facing the angry seas, he has recovered countless sunken cargoes and the barnacles that come with them. He has lectured endlessly on the subject, staged exhibitions and recently co-written a book.

Taking things to another level, Sten has introduced a subliminal message. Sharp-eyed visitors to Aquaria at KLCC will notice that there is more to look at than the fish. There are fragments of old Chinese ceramics littering the floors of the Aquaria tanks.

There can’t be many fish tanks in the world that use genuine shipwreck parts from half a millennium ago. Malaysia is the last place you would expect to find anything so authentic. Some of the fish may look like they are dead or clockwork, but the bits of broken pottery are the real thing. They are also for sale, or at least some closely related items are. You don’t need to be so sharp-eyed to spot the stall selling these wares on your way out.

Read the full editorial, Missing the boat on shipwreck treasures.

Books about shipwrecks and ancient maritime trade in Southeast Asia:
Shipwrecks and Sunken Treasure in Southeast Asia by T. Wells
Oriental trade ceramics in Southeast Asia, 10th to 16th century: Selected from Australian collections, including the Art Gallery of South Australia and the Bodor Collection by J. Guy

Another facet of Calatagan unveiled

No Comments

1 April 2007 (Manila Bulletin) – Talks about the archaeological finds in Calatagan, in the Batangas region of the Philippines which has a number of archaeological finds indicating trade with China and Vietnam. Calatagan is hoping to attract tourists, with one of its main attractions being the Golden Sunset Resort incorporating a museum featuring the local archaeological finds.

Another facet of Calatagan unveiled

Unknown to most, one of Asia’s major archaeological discoveries lies right in the heart of the once sleepy town of Calatagan, Batangas.

Once a bustling trading port in pre-colonial Philippines, Calatagan was home to early settlers who lived and survived by hunting, fishing, farming, textile weaving, and trade.

But in the 1950s, the whole town went agog when the National Museum conducted its very first systematic excavation. Unearthed were numerous grave sites which yielded artifacts that proved Calatagan was a busy trading port in the 14th century.

Decades of excavations brought about discoveries of artifacts, mostly ceramics of various forms and sizes like jars, plates, saucers, pitchers, jarlets, bowls, and figurines. Some artifacts were locally-made pottery, while others were clearly brought in from China, Thailand, Vietnam, and other countries.

“Archaeologists believe that the excavated objects were proof of maritime trade before the coming of the Spanish colonizers to the Philippines,” explains Wilfredo Ronquillo, chief of the Archaeology Division of the National Museum. “The existence of local and imported ceramics is proof of the extensive and vibrant trade between the early settlers of Calatagan and foreign traders.”

Also among the dug treasures are 15th century Calatagan pottery, such as earthenware plates, basins, pots, and other vessels with different patterns made by incisions and impressions.

There were also the 14th and 15th century ceramics, such as glass bracelets, bowls, and vessels from the Ming Dynasty (China), Celadon and Sawankhalok vessels (Thailand and Indo-China), as well as Annamese vessels (Vietnam).


Related Books:
The Calatagan Excavations: Two 15th Century Burial Sites in Batangas, Philippines by R. B. Fox
Oriental Ceramics Discovered in the Philippines by L. Locsin and C. Locsin

Asian Ceramics in Production and Trade in Southeast Asia’s ‘Age of Empires’

2 Comments

Asian Ceramics in Production and Trade in Southeast Asia’s ‘Age of Empires’
Speaker: John Guy, Senior Curator, Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Presented by the Southeast Asia Ceramics Society
Date/Time: Thu 15 Mar 07, 7.30 – 9.00pm
Venue: Level 1, Visitor Briefing Room

Synopsis
The study of ceramics as evidence of material culture is a long established field of enquiry within archaeology, but is relatively new within the associated disciplines of history and art history, where these artefacts are increasingly studied as indicators of cultural dynamics and exchange contacts. This lecture will provide an overview of the way in which the study of historical ceramics in maritime trade both draws on the work of archaeologists and seeks to contextualise these findings and add further layers of meaning by situating them within a broader historical framework.

As excavations increase at mainland Southeast Asian sites, especially Angkor, we must increasingly be alert to the need for secure identification of lesser known imported ceramics that are being discovered. The recent shipwreck evidence will assist us in this process of understanding, interpreting and dating the ceramics which the archaeological landscape of the Southeast Asia is revealing. These ceramics also open up new lines of enquiry into the origins of forms and decorative styles in regional ceramics, most notably in Angkorian-period Khmer ceramic wares, as most dramatically indicated by the Intan and Cirebon cargoes.

Admission is FREE but registration is required. Please register before 13 Mar 2007, by emailing nlprogrammes@nlb.gov.sg and including “SEA Ceramics” in the subject field. Places are limited and will be distributed on a first-come, first serve basis.

About the speaker:
John Guy is Senior Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. He is well known to members as a widely published specialist on Southeast Asian ceramics and trade ceramic history. He has participated in a number of ceramic site excavations in Southeast Asia, both land and maritime, and most recently spent three days at the Anlong Thom kiln site2, on Phnom Kulen, in Cambodia, the excavation of which was sponsored by the Southeast Asian Ceramic Society.


Related Books:
Lost at Sea: The Strange Route of the Lena Shoal Junk
The Ceramics of Southeast Asia : Their Dating and Identification by R. M. Brown
Oriental trade ceramics in Southeast Asia, 10th to 16th century: Selected from Australian collections, including the Art Gallery of South Australia and the Bodor Collection by J. Guy