[Talk] The Mysterious Malay Jong and Other Temasek Shipping

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Reconstruction of a Javanese Jong

For readers in Singapore, a talk by Dr Michael Flecker in ISEAS on Friday.

Date: Friday, 15 February 2019
Time : 10:00 am – 11:30 am
Venue : ISEAS Seminar Room 2

About the Lecture

Apart from the European square riggers, the eclectic mix of vessels anchored off Kallang Basin during Raffles’ era would not have differed much from the shipping of five centuries earlier. Chinese junks and Southeast Asian traders would have swung alongside a smattering of Arab and Indian dhows in Temasek roads. During the 14th century the Southeast Asians were transitioning from the thousand-year-old lashed-lug tradition to the fabled jong that would fascinate the Portuguese upon their arrival. Sino-Siamese hybrid ships arrived with Siamese ceramics when various Ming emperors banned Chinese exports. While the numbers were slashed, smuggling ensured that junks from northern and southern China kept on sailing. Drawing on archaeological and historical evidence, we investigate the wide range of ships that plied Singapore waters from the 14th to the 17th century.

About the Speaker

Dr Michael Flecker, Managing Director of Maritime Explorations, has overseen some of the most important shipwreck excavations in Asia over the past 30 years. They include the 9th century Belitung (Tang), 13th century Java Sea, 15th century Bakau, c.1608 Binh Thuan, and c.1690 Vung Tau Wrecks. He earned his PhD from the National University of Singapore, based on the excavation of the 10th century Intan Wreck, and specialises in ancient Asian ship construction and maritime trade. He has twice been a Visiting Fellow at NSC.

Raffles in Southeast Asia: A multilayered exploration of the man, colonialism and re-looking our past

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Last week while I was back in Singapore I took the opportunity to visit the Raffles in Southeast Asia exhibition at the Asian Civilisations Museum. The exhibition coincided with Singapore’s bicentennial celebrations, a “celebration” that has been met with mixed reception because it commemorates the arrival of Raffles to Singapore, and hence the colonial period of Singapore.

The arrival of Raffles has traditionally been the start of beginning of the history of Singapore. This view has softened somewhat, due in no small part to Prof. John Miksic’s work on the archaeology of Singapore. With the discoveries at Fort Canning, school history books now acknowledge the Temasek period. Still, the idea of Raffles as founder of modern Singapore carries an air of preeminence and prestige, and some of the country’s top schools and institutions bear the name of Raffles.

The bicentennary, Raffles, the discourse of (de)colonisation and rejection of the ‘Big Man’ myth of Raffles all come together in this one exhibition. On one level, Singaporeans only learned about the Raffles who came to Singapore in 1819 but never knew the Raffles who was Governor of Java and his role in the rediscovery of Borobudur. Raffles never actually went to the now-Unesco world heritage site, but he commissioned the survey and is now credited for its discovery. This unearned claim to fame would be a recurrent theme in his career.

Plan of Borobudur, donated by to the British Museum by the great-grand-niece of Raffles but probably prepared by Hermann Cornelius, the Dutch engineer sent by Raffles to uncover the stupa.

The exhibition, through the lens of Raffles’ seminal History of Java and the items collected by Raffles and his contemporaries show a bias towards ancient Hindu relics but pay little attention to Muslim culture.

A collection of rare three-dimensional puppets which were owned by Raffles but not mentioned in The History of Java.
Painting of Candi Sukuh in East Java by T. C. Watson, during the time Raffles was Governor of Java. The Europeans at the time did not believe that the native Javanese were capable of building structures like these, and thought they might be related to the Egyptian civilization which is reflected in the painting.

Some of Raffles’ personal flaws also come through, now with 200 years of hindsight and other historical sources to draw upon. This story of the tapir publication is quite telling about Raffles’s conflict with his second, William Farquhar. Farquhar arguably should be credited as the actual founder of the Singapore settlement (having done the actual legwork) but even the named after him was erased in the 1990s, a victim of Singapore’s urban redevelopment. William Farquhar’s legacy was more recently redeemed in Nadia Wright’s book, William Farquhar and Singapore: Stepping out from Raffles’ Shadow

Juvenile Malayan tapir from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, National University of Singapore
I love this caption basically says Raffles was a dick.

Raffles in Southeast Asia was enjoyable in many layers. For many Singaporeans, it was an eye-opener to the influence of Raffles on the rest of the region and not just the country he ‘founded’. The exhibition can also be seen as a critique to the legacy of colonialism, and how its perspective was selective in many ways.

Raffles in Southeast Asia is on display at the Asian Civilisations Museum until 28 April 2019. Admission fees apply.

Visitor numbers for museums, heritage centres hit record high in Singapore

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National Museum of Singapore by saiko3p/Shutterstock
National Museum of Singapore by saiko3p/Shutterstock
Stock photo of the National Museum of Singapore by saiko3p/Shutterstock

via Straits Times, 31 January 2019: 5.4 million visitors to national museums and heritage institutions in Singapore in 2018!

Museums and heritage institutions in Singapore are gaining popularity, with visitor numbers hitting a record high in 2017, according to data from the 2018 Singapore Cultural Statistics released yesterday.

Visitor numbers to national museums and heritage institutions reached 5.4 million in 2017, up from 5.1 million the year before.

This was in tandem with the record-high attendance of 11.3 million at free arts and cultural events, a figure released earlier, on Jan 22, by the Ministry for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY).

Source: Visitor numbers for museums, heritage centres hit record high, Arts News & Top Stories – The Straits Times

In search of the real Singapore stories, beyond Raffles

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Excavations at Fort Canning. Source: Channel NewsAsia 20190203
Excavations at Fort Canning. Source: Channel NewsAsia 20190203

via Channel NewsAsia, 03 Feb 2019: Singapore celebrates its bicentenary this year which has been met with mixed reactions as critics say it is a celebration of colonialism. However, one good thing that has come out of this is an enhanced discussion of Singapore past, e.g. its precolonial period. This article from Channel NewsAsia mentions Prof. John Miksic’s work in Fort Canning Hill, among other stories.

One man who has spent three decades hunting for clues to Singapore’s secrets has found them hidden on a hillside. Bukit Larangan (Forbidden Hill) – now known as Fort Canning – was once revered as the final resting place of Malay kings.

It is where Professor John N Miksic and his team started excavating in 1984, when “there’d never been an (archaeological) dig anywhere in Singapore”. They discovered 14th-century artefacts and a wealth of evidence of a flourishing society.

Source: In search of the real Singapore stories, beyond Raffles – Channel NewsAsia

[Video] Becoming Singapore

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Becoming Singapore on Channel NewsAsia

Singapore is celebrating its bicentenary this year, and this documentary by Channel NewsAsia explores aspects of Singapore’s past, including archaeology. Link to the video below.

Eunice Olsen explores Singapore’s – and her own – forgotten past. Tracing back hundreds of years, this is an insightful and emotional journey into the faded histories of our ancestors.

Over two episodes, the series takes us on an evocative journey through Singapore’s landscapes to meet a variety of people with rich and diverse stories to tell. The series reflects that there’s not just one singular Singapore narrative, but a meeting of many tales.

We explore bustling streets, excavation sites, mangrove swamps and lush green parks, galleries and museums teeming with national treasures, in search of fading stories that reveal where we came from and just how far we’ve come. Eunice takes a bold step into understanding her own roots – and discovers far more than she ever expected. How does her own personal family history mirror that of Singapore’s story?

Read more at https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/video-on-demand/becoming-singapore/episode-1-11098652

Source: Becoming Singapore – Channel NewsAsia

[Symposium] What’s so Fascinating about Ceramics?

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The Southeast Asian Ceramic Society together with the Singapore Management University (SMU) is holding a one-day symposium on 23 February entitled “What’s so Fascinating about Ceramics” that will consist of three panels discussing the roles ceramics have played throughout history as vehicles of culture, propaganda, greed, community and heritage. Panelists include experts in fields including art, history, archaeology, media, politics, curating, collecting, dealing, art conservation and the law.

Date: 23 Feb 2019
Time: 10:00 am to 4:30 pm
Venue: SMU Law School, Singapore on Saturday 23 February.

Free admission with registration: https://seacs23feb.peatix.com

[Lecture] Artifacts Beneath Your Streets

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Readers in Malacca may be interested in this double lecture organised by ICOMOS Malaysia on 23 Feb 2019 focusing on the archaeologies of Singapore and Malaysia.

Date: 23 February 2019
Time: 10:30-13:00
Venue: Tun Tan Cheng Lock Centre, No. 54-56 Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, Banda Hilir, Melaka

Organised by ICOMOS Malaysia & ICOMOS Singapore
Supported by Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia & NUS Tun Tan Cheng Lock Centre

Session 01
Port Settlements & Urbanisation: Historical Archaeology in the Malay Archipelago by Lim Chen Sian

In popular imagination, archaeology is typified by dust-covered individuals excavating for wondrous artifacts from lost civilizations hidden in the jungle or desert. While certainly not factually incorrect, it is a somewhat romantic portrayal of the work and people. Increasingly, archaeologists can be encountered quietly excavating in the city center or a suburban neighborhood nearby. Archaeology is the study of past societies, and the archaeology of urbanization and modern settlements are some of the many themes of research.

Archaeological investigations of port settlements such as Melaka and Singapore are still underexplored and much can be told from the material cultural remains that lay unobtrusively around us. Melaka and Singapore are prominent examples of the long history and evolution of harbors and cities in island Southeast Asia over the past millennium. What does the archaeology of downtown Singapore and Melaka and other port settlements in the Malay Archipelago reveal? What connects these seemingly disparate polities?

This talk looks at how archaeologists study and interpret the distant and more recent past of port settlements, and how the specialized sub-field of historical archaeology is making inroads unveiling new dimensions to our understanding.


Session 02

Ruination in the City: Challenges in Malaysian Urban Archaeology by Shaiful Shahidan

Urban development in Malaysia frequently ignores or relinquishes the need for saving and safeguarding the history of a place. A constant “collision” between conservation values and the need for development, present a continuous challenge in the field of urban archaeology and heritage conservation in Malaysia, as reflected by few cases in the recent past. What are the factors that cause this collision? What is the best approach to balance the development needs and sustainability of heritage within the city? Nonetheless, in recent years, there has been a considerable change in the urban areas, especially among the stakeholders and the public, with increasing mindfulness regarding the preservation and conservation of heritage.

This presentation will feature a problem encountered in archaeological works in urban areas as well as its future sustainability. It will also discuss on few approaches of bringing the local community together to conserve and preserve their heritage, in both urban and semi-urban setting.

Profile of Speakers

Lim Chen Sian is the Vice President of ICOMOS Singapore, and an Associate Fellow at the Archaeology Unit, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore. He is a historical archaeologist interested in the transitional period between pre-and-post European contact in Southeast Asia and the development of port settlements, military fortifications, and the material culture of trade. He has excavated in Central America, Burma, Egypt, Java, Kampuchea, Malay Peninsula, and Sumatra. He has been involved in Singapore archaeology since 2002. As of 2006 he led all the major archaeological investigations in the country, and works extensively on lobbying for legislative changes pertaining to the necessity for impact assessments, protection of archaeological sites, and artifact ownership.

Shaiful Shahidan is a Council Member of ICOMOS Malaysia, as well as an ASTS Fellow at the Centre for Global Archaeological Research, Universiti Sains Malaysia. He was a recipient of the Erasmus Mundus Scholarship under European Commission and has spent several years of training in field archaeology in Europe and Southeast Asia. He was also one of the expert panels for the Lenggong Valley dossier preparation, before its inscription into the UNESCO World Heritage Site. For the past 15 years, he has been involved in archaeological research in Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia, covering extensive research and analysis. His current work focuses on field archaeological project in key sites within the Georgetown World Heritage Sites.

Rare book on early Singapore stories back in Republic

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The Sejarah Melayu at the National Libray of Singapore. Source: Straits Times, 20190123

via Straits Times, 23 Jan 2019: The National Library has acquired an 1840 edition of the Sejarah Melayu, edited by Munshi Abdullah. The book is on display at the National Library until March 24.

A book that holds the stories of early Singapore, including Sang Nila Utama’s experience on the island when he arrived in 1299, has made its way back to the Republic.

The Sejarah Melayu, or Malay Annals, was printed in Singapore in the 1840s and edited by Munsyi Abdullah, a scribe for Sir Stamford Raffles.

Source: Rare book on early Singapore stories back in Republic, Singapore News & Top Stories – The Straits Times

[Lecture] What More Can Archaeology Tell Us About Singapore’s Past?

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Recent excavations at Empress Place, Singapore. Source: Straits Times 20150221
Recent excavations at Empress Place, Singapore. Source: Straits Times 20150221
2015 excavations at Empress Place, Singapore. Source: Straits Times 20150221

Date : Tuesday, 29 January 2019
Time : 10:00 am – 11:30 am
Venue : ISEAS Seminar Room 2

About the Lecture

This month marks the 35th anniversary of Singapore’s first archaeological excavation and the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the British under Sir T.S. Raffles. Since then, over half a million artefacts have been recovered from Singapore. These cover two periods: the Temasek era (14th to 16th century) and the Singapore era (1819-present). The artefacts from these excavations have succeeded in proving that Singapore had a sophisticated multicultural society and complex economy before 1350. There are still important questions about Singapore’s history which further research, particularly laboratory analysis, may be able to answer. This seminar will address important questions over provenance of artefacts; ancient ecology and environment of Singapore; reconstruction of artefacts; statistical analysis of intrasite variation; and comparisons with other sites in the region.

About the Speaker

Professor John N. Miksic received his BA from Dartmouth College, MA from Ohio University, and PhD from Cornell University based on archaeological fieldwork on a trading port of the 11th-13th century in Sumatra. He has worked in Malaysia as a Peace Corps Volunteer teacher and agricultural extension worker, in Sumatra as a Rural Development Advisor under USAID, and at Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, for six years under a grant from the Ford Foundation and the Asian Cultural Council. In 1987 he moved to the National University of Singapore, where he is professor in the Southeast Asian Studies Department. He has been affiliated with the Department of History, University Scholars Programme, and Asia Research Institute. He founded the Archaeology Unit at ISEAS. He received a Special Recognition Award and the Pingat Bakti Setia long service award from the government of Singapore, and the title Kanjeng Raden Harya Temenggung from the Susuhunan of Surakarta (Indonesia). His book Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea won the inaugural award for best book on Singapore history in 2018. His specialties are the historical archaeology of Southeast Asia, urbanization, trade, Buddhism, and ceramics.

To register, please write to nscevents@iseas.edu.sg

Preliminary Report on the Archaeological Investigations at the Victoria Concert Hall

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via the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre, a newly-published report on the excavations at the Victoria Concert Hall in Singapore.

In September 2010, the Victoria Concert Hall and Victoria Theatre were closed for major redevelopment amounting to the sum of $158,000,000. The construction project saw extensive demolition works and the compound within was impacted. An archaeological evaluation conducted in July 2010 revealed pockets of cultural deposits from both the colonial and pre-modern eras. This discovery of an in-situ archaeological reservoir led to a three-week large-scale rescue excavation in September 2011. While the excavations were restricted to only a small area of the construction impact zone, the archaeology team successfully recovered approximately 654 kg of artifacts and ecofacts. This preliminary site report details the excavation sequences conducted at the site.

Source: NSC Archaeological Reports – ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute