This small sovereign state has an extremely brief history in comparison to other Southeast Asian countries, but its influence stretched between Borneo and southern Philippines.
Brunei is a small sultanate located on the island of Borneo between the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah. Brunei’s population is small – around 400,000 people – two-thirds of whom live in the capital city of Bandar Seri Begawan. This page covers the archaeology of Brunei as a whole, and you can find more details about the other countries in their respective pages or explore the Resource Guide for thematic areas. There’s also the Virtual Archaeology page where you can visit Southeast Asian archaeological sites online, learn something from the Online Lecture Library, or find recent academic papers for more up-to-date research.
Brunei is not specifically mentioned in many historical records. Chinese histories from the 10th century mention a kingdom named Boni in what is thought to be Borneo; while the Nagarakretagama, a 14th century Javanese text, mentions a locality name Barune in Borneo that was under Majapahit influence. It is thought that the Brunei Sultanate was founded by Muhammad Shah (formerly Awang Alak Betatar) at the end of the 14th century. It is possible that the fall of Malacca to the Portuguese contributed to the rise of Brunei in the 15th and 16th centuries. The Portuguese established trade with the sultanate, and the present capital city of Bandar Seri Begawan was founded by Sultan Bolkiah in 1582 as a military stronghold to secure trade routes.
Brunei’s influence grew over the coastal sultanates of Borneo and the Sulu Sultanate in Mindanao, but ultimatle experienced a period of decline in the 17th and 18th centuries due to infighting and the arrival of the Europeans. Brunei lost territories to the Spaniards, Dutch and British, eventually becoming a British protectorate in 1888. It became a self-governing state in 1959 and fully independent in 1984. Archaeology is overseen by the Brunei Museums Department, which is located near the Kota Batu Archaeological Park and the Brunei Maritime Museum.
There aren’t many books relevant to the archaeology and history of Brunei, and the list below is my personal recommendation based on what I have in my library or have read, and are easily available. There are some local-language publications that are not available in the internet, and newer books are higher up on the list. Some of these links are affiliate links and I may receive a commission if you click on them and make a purchase. For other sources of reliable academic information, you should also check out the books page for latest releases and the occassional free book, as well as the journals page for the latest scientific research.
- 2020 Origins, History and Social Structure in Brunei Darussalam by Victor T. King and Stephen C. Druce (Eds.)
- 2018 Brunei – History, Islam, Society and Contemporary Issues by Ooi Keat Gin
- 2017 Borneo Studies in History, Society and Culture by Victor T. King, Zawawi Ibrahim and Noor Hasharina Hassan (Eds.)
- 2016 Historical Dictionary of Brunei Darussalam (Historical Dictionaries of Asia, Oceania, and the Middle East by Jatswan S. Sidhu
- 2013 A History of Brunei 2nd Edition by Graham Saunders
- 2010 Life, Death and Magic: 2000 Years of Southeast Asian Ancestral Art by Robyn Maxwell
- 2009 The Life of the Longhouse: An Archaeology of Ethnicity by Peter Metcalf
- 1996 Raja Bongsu of Sulu: A Brunei Hero in His Times by Robert Nicholl
- 1990 A Selection Of Islamic Art At the Brunei Museum by Nasser D. Khalili and Nahla B.Nassar
- 1975 European Sources for the History of the Sultanate of Brunei in the Sixteenth Century by Robert Nicholl
- 1970 Classification of Archaeological Trade Ceramics From Kota Batu by Barbara Harrisson
Most Popular Brunei Archaeology Posts
Brunei Archaeology News Archive
The news reports indexed below usually link to external sites that were active at the time of posting; sometimes websites may be temporarily down or may have reorganised their underlying architecture or have even closed down – in these cases the links may not be available. Most of the news articles archived are in English; this is largely because I do not have a working competency in Bahasa, although when I am made aware of stories in this and other languages I try to index them.
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These are links to external sites and unless stated, I have no connection with the organisations or entities in these links or control over their content. They are sorted alphabetically, but you should also explore the Resources page which have links sorted by themes. If you have a link to suggest, please get in touch!
- Jabatan Muzium-Muzium, Brunei Darussalam – The Brunei Museums Department is responsible for protecting and preserving national heritage.