Asia Research news website

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Highlighting a new web resource: Asia Research News (ResearchSEA), which is a research news portal that aims to link publishers of research with the media and the public. The news is not only for archaeology, but for anyone interested in research in Asia – a link has been added to the resource page.


From the website:

ResearchSEA is Asia’s first research news portal, a one-stop centre where journalists and members of the public can gain access to news and local experts from the research world in Asia.

Promoting public understanding of research encourages long term innovation and growth. The media is key to promoting public understanding. Almost everyone in the world reads newspapers, magazines, websites, watch TV or listen to the radio. The media is the ultimate gateway to the international community and a powerful medium for forging local and international links.

ResearchSEA brings research news and top experts direct from universities, think tanks, journals and specialist organisations to journalists around the world.

Champa glass artefacts found in central Vietnam

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29 May 2007 (Nhan Dan and Thanh Nien News) – Never-before-found glass jewelery have been found in Central Vietnam, dating to the 9th and 10th centuries around the Champa period.

Ancient glass items unearthed in central Vietnam

A museum in Vietnam’s central Quang Binh province announced Tuesday it has found glass jewelry made during the Cham Civilization dating back over ten centuries ago.

The General Museum said the beads, bracelets, and other items were found in Le Thuy district’s Son Thuy commune.

Read more about the rare Champa glassware.

More books about glass jewelry and the archaeology of Vietnam:
Jewelry of Southeast Asia by A. Richter

Vietnamese village continues ancient ceramics tradition

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27 May 2007 (Viet Nam News) – This might be of interest to enthnoarchaeologists studying Vietnamese ceramics: a feature on the village of Phu Lang, one of the last few pottery villages which have been producing ceramics since the 15th century.

20070527 Viet Nam News

Phu Lang stays true to its traditional way of life

There isn’t much room for pottery in the fast-paced modern world but for the residents of Phu Lang ceramic village, their products are proving not only popular but highly lucrative.

Phu Lang is a must-see for tourists in the region, not least because of its natural surroundings. The village sits at the foot of the majestic Son Mountain on the banks of the Cau River, only 18km northeast of Bac Ninh Town along Highway 18.

Phu Lang is the last survivor of an old pottery village triangle. Although Bat Trang still produces ceramics, the village has been sucked into the suburbs of Ha Noi as a commune of Gia Lam. The third village, Tho Ha, in Bac Giang Province, has also bent under the pressures of development and industrialisation.

But it wasn’t simply through choice that Phu Lang was able to stay true to tradition as location again played a role in providing residents with easy access to the fundamental raw materials of their trade; water, firewood and clay. Of course, Phu Langpottery is defined by the brown colour and specific texture of the raw clay found in the region. But the villagers have a few extra techniques up their sleeves to differentiate their produce from others in the area.

Pots are baked in kilns at initial temperatures of 600 degrees centigrade rising gradually to around 1,200oC. Once the clay has cooled, potters add their trademark coat of thick eelskin enamel that gives the brown clay an original yellow tint.

Constant production over the centuries has meant that some of the products the village produce are literally museam pieces. Foremost in this case are the vilage’s traditional incense burners used and favoured in the Le (1428-1788) and Mac (1527-1677) dynasties. Examples of these are on display at the Vietnamese Museum of History. It is significant that such a symbol of ancient tradition and culture should survive the aggressive competitiveness of the modern world. And when talking to the locals it seems the secret to success lies not only in artistic talent but also astute business skills.

Read the rest about Phu Lang pottery village and Vietnamese ceramic traditions.

For books about Vietnamese ceramics and ceramic traditions, you might like to read:
Earthenware in Southeast Asia: Proceedings of the Singapore Symposium on Premodern Southeast Asian Earthenwares by J. Miksic
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

Malaysia, here I come!

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I don’t usually write personal posts on this blog, but seeing how this is archaeology-related, I should. When this blog started, I had intended for it to help me keep track of archaeology news in Southeast Asia to prepare myself for a future plan to pursue postgraduate studies in archaeology. Over the weekend, I received a letter from Universiti Sains Malaysia notifying me of my acceptance into the postgraduate programme to pursue my MA in archaeology. I expect to commence my candidature in July of next year (2008). Seeing how this is an archaeology blog as well, I hope to be updating my research progress in time to come, as well as my adventures in studying in Malaysia.

In the meantime, I will still be working at my current profession as a writer for the next year or so as I raise the funds to prepare me for returning to student life. As I will be supporting myself fully for postgraduate studies, I would also like to make an appeal for information about sources of funding, grants and scholarships that I can apply for. If you know of any such programmes, please send me an email or leave a comment. Thank you for your support!

[tags]Universiti Sains Malaysia, postgraduate study, education[/tags]

Categories: Personal

Vietnamese archaeologist debunks 1,000-year-old altar claim

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26 May 2007 (Thanh Nien Daily) – The remnants of what is thought to be a 1,000-year-old altar of the Ly Dynasty found last year in Hanoi is being refuted by a senior archaeologist.

Hanoi discovery not 1,000-year-old altar, warns archeologist

A veteran archeologist has said that a relic unearthed recently in Hanoi was not a state altar dating back 1,000 years and so the government should not spend millions on honoring it.

Professor Nguyen Van Hao, former deputy head of the Archaeological Institute, told Thanh Nien the structure found in Dong Da district last year by a roadwork unit was not the dan xa tac (state altar) of the Ly Dynasty (1010-1225).

The top of the xa tac must be a high platform covered in five different-colored soils which this site was not, he said.

Instead, it was tiled and small – less than 15 square meters – while the state altar would have been larger.

The structure has four small brick foundations, of which the bottom layer is acknowledged to have been built by the Ly dynasty and the three upper ones by the Le dynasty. Hao said it was illogical that the Le dynasty alone would build three xa tac altars.

“In my opinion what people found are just the remains of a certain architectural work done by the Ly.”

The altar was discovered last November by a group of workers building a new road.

Read more about Professor Nguyen’s objections to the supposed state altar.

Nias island to be recommended for World Heritage status

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26 May 2007 (The Jakarta Post) – The island of Nias in Sumatra, Indonesia is to be recommended for inclusion into the UNESCO World Heritage site list. Nias is noted archaeologically for its megaliths.

Nias touted for world heritage designation

The central government will support a bid to include Nias Island, in North Sumatra, as a world heritage site.

Representatives from various organizations, academics, researchers, the government and members of the general public attended a meeting Friday in Medan, North Sumatra, to discuss the bid.

The meeting was organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in cooperation with the Culture and Tourism Ministry, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and North Sumatra University.

Head of the World Heritage Center’s working committee, Risman Musa, said Nias had a good chance of being listed as a world heritage site, due to its unique cultural heritage.

The island boasts traditional houses which date back hundreds of years, megalithic sites and artifacts, traditional villages, a variety of local languages, special handicrafts and traditional architecture.

Read more about the bid to name Nias Island as a World Heritage site.

Related Books:
Forgotten Kingdoms in Sumatra (Oxford Paperback Reference) by F. M. Schnitger

Two Indonesian archaeology resources


Here are two websites I found on the archaeology of Indonesia. They are also added to the resources page, which has a long list of links to other sites relevant to the archaeology of Southeast Asia.

Palembang Archaeology

Museum Nasional Indonesia – The Indonesian National Museum

The first site is written in Bahasa Indonesia, which may pose a problem to English-speaking users. The Museum Nasional Indonesia’s website is also a little confusing, but if you explore it deep enough there are guides to the collections in the museums.

Related Books on Indonesian Archaeology:
Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula by P. M. Munoz
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds)
Ancient History (The Indonesian Heritage Series) by Indonesian Heritage

Prambanan Temples still not yet recovered from last year's earthquake

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25 May 2007 (Antara) – UNESCO says that the Prambanan Temples of Java, damaged during the 2006 earthquake, will need at least another five years and some 6 million dollars for restoration.

Quake-hit Indonesian temples need years of repairs

Damage to one of Indonesia’s most spectacular temple complexes caused by last year’s devastating Java earthquake was so extensive that repairs will take at least five years, UNESCO says.

Some of the temples at Prambanan are threatening to topple and restoration of the entire Hindu compound, the largest in the country, will be slow and difficult, according to the UN culture agency.

Repairs are expected to start later this year. Experts from UNESCO, the Indonesian government and other agencies have spent 12 months conducting extensive damage assessments, and devising an action plan.

Gurung said a big concern was the depth of cracks in the temples, which may have severely weakened their structure.

“When you look at the physical damage, falling stones, falling pinnacles, broken stones, we can place them back. But the serious part is the internal structural cracks, we don’t know how deep (they are),” she said.

“Some temples have inclined, they are tilting,” she added.

Read more about the restoration work on the Prambanan Temples.

Books on the Prambanan Temples include:
Prambanan by Jhonny S.

The Many Places of Singapura – Part 3

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Previously on The Many Places of Singapura… we saw the first of the Lion Cities in Vietnam and then we talked about two possible locations for other Singapuras in the kingdoms of Chi Tu and Pajajaran in the Malay Peninsula and Java respectively. In this final installment of The Many Places of Singapura, we’ll explore the origins of reigning Lion City – Singapore, where we’ll find fiction passing off as truth, and where truth is stranger than fiction!

Singapore, of course wasn’t always known as “Singapura” – it once bore the name of Temasek, a name which in Old Malay means “city of the sea”. In 14th century Chinese accounts, Wang Dayuan, a trader who traveled through Southeast Asia mentioned Temasek (Dan-Ma-Xi). There, he noted a settlement where the natives and Chinese lived side-by-side. He also noted that the Dan-ma-xi barbarians were pirates, often letting ships passing to the west unmolested, but plundering returning ships when they reached Karimun island. (Aside: I previously wrote about a Srivijayan inscription on Karimun). So it’s quite amusing that the latest Pirates of the Carribean movie features Chow Yun-fat as the pirate king of Singapore. A case of life imitating art imitating life? Perhaps it would be more accurate to have him say:

Welcome to Temasek!

So how did Temasek get its named changed then? We have one account from the Sejarah Melayu, or Malay Annals. Sang Nila Utama, later entitled Sri Tri Buana (both titular names, and referring to a prince from Palembang) had just crossed the sea from Bentan (Bintan) to the white sandy shores of Temasek:

And when they reached the shore, the ship was brought close on and Sri Tri Buana went ashore with all the the ship’s company and they amused themselves with collecting shell-fish. The king then went inland for sport on the open ground at Kuala Temasek.

And they beheld a strange animal. It seemed to move with great speed; it had a red body and a black head; its breast was white, it was strong and active in build, and in size was rather bigger than a he-goat. When it saw the party, it moved away and then disappeared. And Sri Tri Buana inquired of all those who were with him, “What beast is that?” But no one knew. Then said Demang Lebar Daun, “Your Highness, I have heard in ancient times it was a lion that had that appearance. I think that what we saw must have been a lion.”

Sri Tri Buana then established a city at Temasek, giving it the name of Singapura.
(Shellabear edition of the Sejarah Melayu)

Contrary to popular belief, Singapura was not named after a lion (which indeed would have been a very lost lion), but in fact an unidentified “strange creature” that was thought to be a lion! The source of this account – the Malay Annals – must also be seen as a product of its times. The annals were first compiled in the 16th or 17th century, when the Malacca Sultanate had moved to Johor after being ousted by the Portuguese. The Malay Annals does little to explain to its audience – who would have heard the history rather than read it – why a Malay Islamic sultanate’s precursor would have an Indic name. The early part of the annals, which includes the founding of Singapura, are thought to be romanticised, mythologised accounts of a more shady past.

Other historical sources provide supplementary and contradictory information: according to the Alfonso D’Alberquerque, the Portuguese general who conquered Melaka, a Palembang prince named Paramesvara (Parameswara) fled to Singapura and usurped rule. When the king of Patani (in the Thai peninsula), who was brother of the former ruler, came to seek revenge, Paramwswara fled north to found Melaka. In the Malay Annals, Parameswara was fifth in the line of rulers of Singapura, who was attacked by the Javanese Majapahit and was forced to flee to Melaka, which he founded.

Whatever the case may be, as we may well never truly know, the name Singapura lived on through the Malay Annals. This name and location was later picked up on by Sir Stamford Raffles in the 19th century who sought to build a settlement in Singapore, but also as a symbolic move to legitimise a British foothold in the region. From the lack of textual references from both the Chinese and Srivijaya, it certainly appears that Temasek/Singapura was not geographically significant until around the 14th century, and its current importance is due largely to the British rather than any former glory. However, the different accounts collectively imply that a settlement existed before Parameswara, and typical of other populated areas of the region would have adhered to a syncretic Hindu-Buddhist religion. John Crawfurd, the first British resident of Singapore noted in his diaries the remains of an ancient settlement on Fort Canning Hill, which he attributes as remains of a Buddhist temple and monasteries. It is in this setting, then, that the name Singapura is not entirely out of place.

And that wraps up this series on The Many Places of Singapura! I hope you found this series interesting, as much as I had found it interesting to write about it.

The books I referred to for this article were:
Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula by P. M. Munoz
Archaeological Research on the “Forbidden Hill” of Singapore: Excavations at Fort Canning, 1984
The Malay Annals (Shellabear)

Soon: Direct flights between Bagan and Angkor

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24 May 2007 ( – Soon, after your visit to Angkor, you will be able to fly directly to the ancient monuments of Bagan in Burma (Myanmar) thanks to a just-inked agreement between the governments of Cambodia and Myanmar. This agreement will pave the way for a larger influx of heritage tourists to visit the ancient cities of Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos (Luang Prabang is connected to Siem Reap by plane as well).

Cambodia, Myanmar agree to direct flights

CAMBODIA and Myanmar have agreed to direct flights between their main tourist destinations, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Nam Hong said Wednesday.

The flights will connect Bagan and Mandalay, Myanmar’s top tourist stops, to Cambodia’s Angkor temple town Siem Reap, he said after returning from accompanying the Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen, to the reclusive state.

“Cambodia and Myanmar agree to boost the tourism industry between the two nations and attract more international visitors,” he said.

“We have the same culture because we are both Buddhist, so we have to attract more tourists to both countries,” he added.

Impoverished Cambodia has built a booming tourist industry on the back of the 800 year-old Angkor temples, drawing some 1.7 million foreign visitors in 2006.

Read more about direct flights between Angkor and Bagan.

For more information about the ancient capitals of Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, you might want to look up:
Angkor Cities and Temples by C. Jaques
The Treasures of Angkor: Cultural Travel Guide (Rizzoli Art Guide) by M. Albanese
Angkor: Cambodia’s Wondrous Khmer Temples, Fifth Edition by D. Rooney and P. Danford
Ancient Pagan by D. Stadtner
Bagan by B. Broman
Ancient Luang Prabang by D. Heywood