Down on their luck, farmers turn gold diggers

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27 February 2007 (Jakarta Post) – Indonesian farmers turn to treasure hunting in times of drought to raise money, oblivious to the archaeological value of the artefacts.

Jakarta Post, 27 Feb 2007

Down on their luck, farmers turn gold diggers

It was seven months into the drought last month and the farmers of Pedes district in Karawang, West Java, were at their wits end thinking of ways to make a living.

Then one of them hit on something — literally — when he was digging in a field. Beads of gold and stone, ceramics and human bones protruded from the freshly dug earth.

“You can’t imagine what it was like to strike gold after being broke for months,” 56-year-old Wijaya, one of the Pedes residents who spent days and nights digging for ancient treasure in one of the rice fields near his house, told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

Living just an hours drive from archeological sites dating back to a prehistoric era did not make Wijaya and his neighbors aware of the historical value of the beads they found.

Illegal excavations are common practice in the country, with some fully aware of the fact they are breaking the law stipulating that artifacts that are more than 50 years old belong to the state.

Some others, like those who found ceramics and coins in Jakarta’s Old Town, were simply ignorant they were erasing traces of history for the sake of some extra cash.

Meanwhile, archeologists are too busy playing Indiana Jones or seeking funding support to preserve ancient sites and the government cannot be relied upon.

“The public cannot be blamed for what has happened all too often. We have to support public archaeology if we want to raise community awareness,” said Peter Ferdinandus, a researcher with the National Archaeological Research Center.

Public archaeology is a branch of modern archaeology that focuses on increasing public awareness and education about archaeology and that promotes legislative attempts to provide funding and protection for archaeological sites.

Sites tell of prehistoric societies


27 February 2007 (Jakarta Post) – A short archaeological overview of Karawang, a city east of Jakarta.

Sites tell of prehistoric societies

Mention Karawang, a city around three hours east of Jakarta, to most people and you’ll bring to mind images of rice fields or the lyrics of nationalist poet Chairil Anwar.

But few are aware that the area is home to 31 different archaeological sites from several civilizations. Some have been restored, while many others remain buried beneath the rice fields.

Frenchman Jean Boisllier was the first to conduct research in the area, digging in Cibuaya on the city’s outskirts in 1959.

His discovery revealed the remnants of a civilization close to the ancient kingdom of Tarumanagara, but later investigations have revealed finds dating back to prehistoric times.

Three years after Boisllier, a team of archaeologists led by R.P. Soejono found clay pots, tools, beads and human bones from a community that lived around 2000 to 1500 years ago in what is now Buni, in Bekasi. Now known as the Buni community, the items found in the area show the ability of their craftsmen.

A year later, noted researcher Edi Sedyawati studied statues depicting the Hindu god Vishnu that had been found in Cibuaya and concluded that they were from an 8th century civilization, along with a brick monument in the area.

In the 1980s, mounds of soil rising over the rice fields of Batujaya, west of Cibuaya, turned out to be ancient masonry constructions thought to date back to the 4th century.

Related Books:
Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula by P. M. Munoz
Ancient History (The Indonesian Heritage Series) by Indonesian Heritage
Prehistoric Indonesia: A reader

Selections, February 2007

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A selection of archaeology-related books, new to the catalogue of Select Books, a specialised publisher and retailer of books pertaining to Southeast Asia. For ordering info, please visit the Select Books website.

Early Civilizations Of Southeast Asia. O’ Reilly, Dougald JW. Gb. 2007. 238pp. pb $69.75 (The extensive archaeological research of recent years means there has been a great increase in knowledge about Southeast Asia’s prehistoric and protohistoric society. This volume provides a general picture of the events and forces which shaped the area’s early human development, social grouping and often-complex systems of government. Light is shed on the Pyu civilization of Myanmar, the Mon and Dvaravati kingdoms of Thailand, the early politics of Cambodia and the rise of Champa in Vietnam. With sketch maps, bibliography and index.)

Southeast Asian Archaeology: Wilhelm G. Solheim II Festschrift. Paz, Victor (ed.). Ph. 2004. 636pp. pb $118.00 (Professor Wilhelm G. Solheim II (b. 1924) retired from his post at the University of Hawaii in 1991 but still continues his active work and research in Palawan and elsewhere. This compilation of 31 papers by his pupils and colleagues is a celebratory festschrift, which indicates the extent of Solheim’s influence as an archaeologist and mentor, and also in fostering awareness of Southeast Asia’s prehistory. Papers on general and personal achievements are in Part One; Part Two looks at research and discoveries in Island Southeast Asia and the papers in Part Three are on mainland Southeast Asia. Together they provide indications of the vast areas of yet-to-be understood prehistory. With publication list and index.)

Khmer Empire, The: Cities And Sanctuaries From The 5th To The 13th Century. Jacques, Claude; Philip Lafond. Th. 2007. 279pp. hc $141.75 (Scholarship and photography of a high order combine to present the remaining built heritage of the vast Khmer Kingdom which from the 5th-13th century dominated or ruled much of Southeast Asia. Another book (“Angkor: Cities and Temples”) focuses on the central power base of Angkor, and this volume explores widely scattered temples and ruined sites that remain in Cambodia, Thailand and Laos. 42 maps and plans and 400 annotated colour photographs of sometimes now inaccessible buildings, artefacts and sites bring to view astonishing achievements of one of the world’s most powerful historic empires. With bibliography, glossary and index.)

Archaeology As History In Early South Asia. Ray, Himanshu Prabha; Carla M. Sinopoli (ed.). In. 2004. 511pp. hc $96.00 (22 separately referenced papers make up this study of interaction between archaeology/anthropology and history in pre-modern South Asia and of ways in which cooperative interaction can be extended. Papers on the history of archaeology in South Asia are followed by discussion of archaeological methods, techniques and chronology. Five on temples and sacred spaces and two on gender in archaeological artefacts follow three papers on ethno-archaeology in South Asia. With black-and-white drawings and photographs, and index.)

Caves Of Northern Thailand. Sidisunthorn, Pindar; Simon Gardner et al. Th. 2006. 391pp. hc $78.75 (This richly illustrated volume presents a wide range of knowledge about caves in Northern Thailand explored and studied by the Phang Ma Pha Project of 1998-2000. Primary and secondary data from 46 caves in Mae Hong Son Province, many of which had never been surveyed, was collected. This is of interest to hydrologists, geologists, archaeologists, and those concerned with forestry, land use, temples, folklore and community needs. Unique photographs and summary notes of 100 caves indicate their diverse beauty and structure and some of the religious observances to which they contribute. With maps, glossary, location details, bibliography and index.)

Ancient Town Of Hoi An. Vt. 2006. 350pp. pb $43.00 (From the 16th-19th century Hoi Ann was a flourishing international port on the Dai Chem estuary and entrepot for international traders from China and Japan, Europe and elsewhere. It has uniquely significant architecture and relics. This volume reprints the papers from a multidisciplinary international conference held in 1990 to explore the history of and future plans for the city. Accounts are given of possible restoration work, and of the many factors which were involved in the city’s unique trading, missionary and cultural role in Vietnam’s history. In 1999, Hoi Ann was inscribed into Unesco’s list of World Heritage Sites. With sketch maps)

Champa Ancient Towers: Reality & Legend. Ngo Van Doanh. Vt. 2006. 340pp. pb $33.50 (The ancient towers of Champa, mainly situated in the My Son basin and around Dong Duong have long been a source of myths, and archaeological interest. This softback discusses the present state and known history of the towers and some of the speculations, events and myths associated with them. With references and photographs.)

Buddhist Art In South-East Asia: The Indian Influence On The Art Of Thailand (Reprinted 2004). Le May, Reginald. In. 1938. 163pp. pb $104.00 (2004 reissue of the 1938 book, A Concise History of Buddhist Art in Siam, this book explores the different forms of Buddhist art which flourished in Southeast Asia up to the end of the 16th century CE. 200 black-and-white photographs illustrate the chapters on the different periods of early Buddhist art in Thailand. Interrelationships with India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Cambodia and Indonesia are highlighted. With sketch maps, bibliography and index.)

Human And Divine: The Hindu And Buddhist Iconography Of Southeast Asian Art From The Claire And Aziz Bassoul Collection. Bassoul, Aziz. Le. 2006. 360pp. hc $110.00 (This volume presents 150 objects of Hindu and Buddhist iconography from the Bassoul Collection of Southeast Asian art. There are accounts of Hinduism and Hindu art, of the Buddha story and the spread of Buddhism and Buddhist art in Southeast Asia, all written for the art lover, as well as explanatory commentaries, provenance details and colour plates for each of the artefacts. With glossary and bibliography.)

Categories: Books Southeast Asia

Govt allocates RM12.8m to reconstruct A'Famosa fort

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18 February 2007 (The Star)

Govt allocates RM12.8m to reconstruct A’Famosa fort

The federal government has approved a RM12.8 million allocation for the reconstruction of Fortaleza D’Malacca or the mighty A’Famosa fort built during the Portuguese or Dutch colonial era in Bandar Hilir here.

Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim said said the first phase of the rebuilding work was expected to begin in April or May.

Speaking to reporters after attending a dinner hosted by the Malacca state Wanita Umno on Saturday, he said the Cabinet had agreed for the National Heritage Department to quickly draw up the plan with the assistance of historians in Malacca and several archaeologists.

Podcast 04: 1421 Exposed

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The first podcast for the year is finally done! It’s been a real busy January-and-February for me, and this podcast was supposed to be for January (I was targeting a podcast a month) but unfortunately delays in my own schedule forced me to take a longer time producing this episode. =(

The SEAArch podcast speaks to Dr Geoff Wade of the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore about his website, 1421 Exposed. The site was set up up response to the controversial 2002 book, 1421 by Gavin Menzies which claimed that the Chinese admiral Zheng He circumnavigated the world. Find out why Dr Wade set up this website, and the main arguments against the 1421 thesis.

Hear and download the podcast from the SEAArch podcast page

Related Books:
When China Ruled the Seas: The Treasure Fleet of the Dragon Throne, 1405-1433 by L. Levathes

Eighth century Hindu temple relics lost in Semarang

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9 Feb 2007 (Jakarta Post) – A sad story about how ancient Hindu temples have been pillaged in Indonesia by private collectors.

Jakarta Post, 9 Feb 2007

Eighth century Hindu temple relics lost in Semarang

Many 8th century historical relics from Hindu temples in Central Java have been lost, and are believed to be in the hands of private antique collectors.

Villager Sukirman, a native of Sidomulyo village in Central Java’s Semarang regency, said that during the 1980s many people came to the area to buy temple ruins or carved stones from residents.

During the independence struggle of the 1940s, many temple ruins could be found in the area between Paren hamlet to Sekere Hill in Sidomulyo, Sukirman said.

“We considered them to be just temple ruins and of no value, except as black rocks. The government also didn’t take care of them,” he said.

As the area became more densely populated, nearly all the temple ruins were tampered with or damaged, and a number of intact statues were bought by middlemen and antique collectors.

Related Books:
Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula by P. M. Munoz
Hindu-Buddhist Architecture in Southeast Asia (Studies in Asian Art and Archaeology, Vol 19) by D. Chihara

Discovery of underground remnants in Hoi An

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6 February 2007 (Vietnam Net Bridge)

Vietnam Net Bridge, 6 Feb 2007

Discovery of underground remnants in Hoi An

The project to upgrade Hoi An’s ancient streets included many underground systems. Thus, every road in the project was dug up as deep as 2 m. Project construction works started in August 2006, right at the same time as a team of archeologists from Hanoi National University and Chieu Hoa University (Japan) excavated 3 sites in Hoi An: No. 16 on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Road, No. 76/18 on Tran Phu Road and the area around Tran Quy Cap School.

According to several research works, the history of the formation of Hoi An’s ancient quarters is linked to the Thu Bon Rivers’ alluvium depositing process to the south. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the northern bank of the Thu Bon River lied between the current Tran Phu Road and Nguyen Thai Hoc Road, 100 m away to the south of Ong Voi Temple. The wooden structure was found to be the same distance from Ong Voi Temple. Thus, it may have been erected on the northern bank of the Thu Bon River in the 17th century.

Also in front of No. 84 on Le Loi Road, Mr. Kikuchi Seiichi discovered 2,401 pieces of glazed terra-cotta, 2,624 pieces of china and 11 Chinese coins, as well as several Vietnamese and Hizen – Japanese pottery works. Other remnants included a brick water-escaping site with a sand and clay bottom, 30 cm wide and 22 cm deep. This site dates from the 17th century.

Ancient temples face modern assault

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6 February 2007 (MSNBC)

Ancient temples face modern assault

Built by a mighty 9th-century Khmer king, the soaring temple of Phnom Bakheng stands atop the highest peak of ancient Angkor. With a sweeping view that takes in Angkor Wat — the world’s largest religious structure — the monks stationed here were probably among the first to glimpse the approaching Siamese troops that snuffed out this city’s centuries-long domination of much of Southeast Asia.

So perhaps it is not surprising that more than 500 years later, Phnom Bakheng has become the ideal perch from which to watch another assault on Angkor — by marauding armies of tourists.

Preservationists and archaeologists here increasingly fear that the frenzy to commercialize Angkor, now also a hot set location for films such as Angelina Jolie’s “Tomb Raider,” is winning out over the need for preservation.

Nowhere is that clearer than at Phnom Bakheng, where a number of new guidebooks advise visitors not to miss the sunset from the temple’s summit. Tips like that have led to a daily siege by an armada of tour buses around dusk. On a recent afternoon, about 4,000 visitors, speaking Korean, Japanese, Mandarin, English and a host of other languages, scampered to the top of the temple, stepping on pictorial stones and manhandling ancient statues as one lonely guard sat on the sidelines, overwhelmed.

“The problem we’re facing is that the pace of visitor growth is accelerating far faster than the ability to manage such huge crowds,” said Teruo Jinnai, UNESCO’s top official in Cambodia. “There is no doubt that this is beginning to cause damage to the temples and that it has the potential to become much worse if nothing is done.”

Cabinet to get report on conservation of caves in Sabah

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5 February 2007 (Borneo Bulletin) – I’m sure Liz Price would be pretty interested in this bit of news…

Cabinet to get report on conservation of caves in Sabah

The Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry will table in the Cabinet a report on the research and conservation of caves in Sabah.

Minister Datuk Seri Utama Dr Rais Yatim said that with it, there would be a tendency to assist in the efforts, and expenditures for cultural arts and heritage would no longer be considered a wastage.

He said that his ministry would prepare the report which contained research and conservation efforts undertaken by the Sabah Museum Department for submission to the federal government so that heritage was viewed as a valuable product of humanity.

Rais said he made the visit to get a closer look at the heritage especially the caves in Sabah so that he would be able to convince the federal government on studies and efforts to conserve historical places with heritage elements.

Exhibition of antique wine-drinking containers in Hanoi

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5 February 2007 (Vietnam Net Bridge)

Exhibition of antique wine-drinking containers in Hanoi

Nearly 800 precious bronze and terracotta antiques have been selected from the collections of members of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) antique preservation club.

The history of Vietnamese wine culture is reflected in the hundreds of tumblers, jugs, decanters, wine brewing pots and jars.

Items on display in the exhibition date from the Dong Son era (2,000-2,800 years ago) up to the Nguyen dynasty, with many exotic pieces coming from the latter era.

Related Books:
The Ceramics of Southeast Asia : Their Dating and Identification by R. M. Brown
Vietnamese Ceramics: A Separate Tradition by J. Stevensen, J. Guy and L. A. Cort
Folk Pottery in South-East Asia by D. F. Rooney

Categories: Ceramics Vietnam