The Two-World Problem: The Language of Archaeology in Southeast Asia

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I’ve been thinking about the language of archaeology in Southeast Asia for some time now, and it’s summed up in this article in the Mar-May issue of NSC Highlights entitled The Two-World Problem: The Language of Archaeology in the Post-Colonial Landscape. Basically, I think that the knowledge of Southeast Asian Archaeology exists in two worlds, in English (as the international language of science and academic publishing), and then in the non-English languages (typically local, e.g. in Thai, Myanmar, Khmer, Bahasa). These two sets of knowledge sometimes do not correspond, and in some instances our understanding of the past can be quite different depending on the language you use.

Take this blog for example – English is the primary language of this website (and also my first language), but English is not the first language for most people in Southeast Asia. Occasionally I highlight news stories in non-English languages but it is usually dependent on readers alerting me to such. Last year when I ran the informal poll about the most influential books in Southeast Asian Archaeology, the majority of books suggested by a mixed audience of Southeast Asians and non-SEAsians were also in English. This suggests there is a bias towards English as the language of archaeology in the region.

Why is this a ‘problem’? But it means for a large portion of Southeast Asians, a good portion of archaeological knowledge isn’t really accessible. Besides the dominant language barrier, books can be really expensive and academic research published in journals is often locked behind paywalls. It doesn’t help that most professional academics (including those from Southeast Asia) are increasingly under pressure to publish in English and in (often-paywalled) journals as part of their professional requirements.

There are other aspects of this problem that I am still trying to articulate. For example, I know very little about how archaeology is taught in the region, so my sense of which local-language texts are being used (if any) is limited. There is the difficulty in translating archaeological terminology, and in this regard I’d like to highlight the Southeast Asian Archaeological Vocabulary by the Institute of Southeast Asian Archaeology as an ongoing project to translate archaeological terms from English into multiple Southeast Asian languages and vice-versa. If you are a regular reader of this website, I would love to hear your thoughts about this Two-World Problem. I don’t think that it is a single problem to be ‘solved’ but rather trying to find ways to mitigate systemic imbalances and improve communication across cultures.

For most part, I think most archaeologists and researchers in this region would like to have their research made more accessible. As a small starting step in trying to address this imbalance in language I would like to encourage my colleagues to start including dual-language titles and abstracts in their research – in English and in the relevant local language – and also start insisting that journals publish titles and abstracts in two languages. This small tweak in the way we present our research would have the instant benefit of allowing the text to show up in internet searches and reach a larger and more relevant audience.

Disaster Risk Management resources

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Brazil Museum fire Photograph: Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

By now you would have heard about the terrible fire that consumed the Brazil National Museum which destroyed the largest museum collection in Latin America. The emerging story is that poor maintenance and funding cuts played a large role into this disaster of cultural heritage. The tragedy in Brazil could just as easily happen in Southeast Asia – just this year, we already saw fires at the Jakarta Maritime Museum and the National Archives of the Philippines. In this light I want to share some resources in Disaster Risk Management for cultural heritage that might be useful reading.

Brazil Museum fire Photograph: Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

Brazil Museum fire Photograph: Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

If you have any other resources to suggest, please leave a comment or send me an email and I will update the list.

Bringing salvaged wooden ships and artifacts back to life with ‘smart’ nanotech

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via ScienceDaily, 21 August 2018: Not about Southeast Asia, but of interest to underwater archaeologists. A possible way to preserve wood recovered from underwater contexts through the use of smart nanocomposite particles.

When a shipwreck is brought up from the sea depths, the wood quickly starts deteriorating. Scientists are reporting a novel way to use ‘smart’ nanocomposites to conserve a 16th-century British warship, the Mary Rose, and its artifacts. The new approach could help preserve other salvaged ships by eliminating harmful acids without damaging the wooden structures themselves.

Source: Bringing salvaged wooden ships and artifacts back to life with ‘smart’ nanotech

CFP: International Convention of Asia Scholars 2019

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ICAS 11 Leiden, 16-19 July 2019
The 11th International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS) is the most inclusive international gathering in the field of Asian Studies. ICAS attracts participants from over 60 countries to engage in global dialogues on Asia that transcend boundaries between academic disciplines and geographic areas. The meeting place for the eleventh edition of ICAS is Leiden, the Netherlands. The historic city of Leiden is home to one of the oldest universities, Leiden University, and several of the most renowned Asia research centers. Leiden University will be the main host of ICAS 11, partnering with the city, research institutions and museums, who share equally rich Asian and global connections.

Call for proposals – deadline: 10 October 2018
The submission deadline for proposals of Individual Abstracts, Panels, Roundtables, Book presentations and PhD Dissertation presentations is 10 October 2018.

Official website: International Convention of Asia Scholars 2019

ArchaeoGlobe: Join the first Global Assessment of Archaeological Knowledge on Land Use

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The ArchaeoGlobe Project is a “massively collaborative effort” (see Gowers & Nielsen 2009) to assess archaeological knowledge on human land use across the globe over the past 10,000 years.

Join our broad network of archaeologists to share your expert knowledge on past land use across the globe, through a questionnaire on regional land use in 10 distinct timeslices (10,000 bp, 8,000 bp, 6,000 bp, 4,000 bp, 3,000 bp, 2,000 bp, 1,000 bp, 1500 CE, 1750 CE, 1850 CE). With your regional expertise, we can build the first global inventory of archaeological expert knowledge on Earth’s long-term transformation by human use of land.

View the global map of regions and subregions in Google Maps.
ArchaeoGlobe Survey Structure Diagram
Archaeologists completing the questionnaire for at least 4 subregions will be listed as co-authors on the resulting paper (unless they opt out), which we aim to publish in a high profile cross-disciplinary journal (e.g. Nature, Science, PNAS). Filling out the questionnaire for a single subregion takes 7-10 minutes, so we are asking co-authors to devote 1-2 hours of their time. Coauthors are invited to participate further in paper production, as desired.

Survey-based approach, ‘crowdsourcing’ expert knowledge
Co-authorship for substantial knowledge contributions
All results will be fully available in an open-source format
Assess levels of knowledge on four land use categories:
Extensive agriculture
Intensive agriculture

Source: ArchaeoGlobe

Archaeological Ethics Database

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An interesting web resource:

This database is an ongoing project by the Register of Professional Archaeologists (the Register) and the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA). The goal of the database is to bring together sources on archaeological ethics in a single place for the use of students, researchers, and professional archaeologists. The archaeological ethics database includes over five hundred sources relating to ethics in archaeology.

Archaeological Ethics Database

Reality Check: Who owns treasure hidden under the sea?

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via BBC, 4 June 2018: The article is based on the 300-year-old San Jose wreck found off the coast of Cartagena, but discusses various issues surrounding the claiming of shipwrecks, the preservation of cultural heritage and claims under international laws which are relevant to Southeast Asia.

Claims over shipwrecks have led to long legal battles over the years.

Source: Reality Check: Who owns treasure hidden under the sea?

An Incredibly Detailed Map Of Medieval Trade Routes

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via Merchant Machine, 19 May 2018: Trade routes of the world in the 11th and 12th centuries, including Southeast Asia!

Map created by reddit user martinjanmansson. Click to zoom in. The map above is probably the most detailed map of Medieval Trade Routes in Europe, Asia and Africa in the 11th and 12th centuries you can find online. It includes major and minor locations, major and minor routes, sea routes, canals

Source: An Incredibly Detailed Map Of Medieval Trade Routes