Learning about Southeast Asian Rock Art

This week and next, I’m at the Training/Workshop on Rock Art Studies in Southeast Asia hosted by SEAMEO-SPAFA (the regional centre for archaeology and fine arts). This gathering sees almost 30 participants coming from almost every part of Southeast Asia to share about the rock art of Southeast Asia, and learn new theories and methodologies for rock art recording and research. As such, you might not hear updates from me for these few weeks till I get back to my normal office routine.

Some of my initial observations:
– as I suspected, there is much more rock art in Southeast Asia than previously reported, particularly in Laos and Myanmar.
– rock art research in this part of the world is at its infancy. A number of participants (perhaps half) are not archaeologists or directly involved in rock art research. Most of the countries involved do not even have an archaeologist or scholar whose primary research interest is in rock art.
– Southeast Asia is an incredibly diverse place linguistically, with every country having their own language. So it’s interesting to see how people from different countries communicate to each other in English.
– the diverse audience in this workshop also poses its own challenges. English might be the common denominator, but in many cases English is the second language and it’s really hard to teach complex theoretical and technical concepts in this setting.
– many of the technical terms used in rock art are not readily translatable in Southeast Asian languages.

This week is full of lectures and workshops based in the SEAMEO-SPAFA office in Bangkok; next week we will be heading out to some rock art sites in Thailand to practice field recording. I’m looking forward to field testing some new equipment and applications for the iPhone/iPad and I hope to blog about them in a later date.

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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