Archaeologist wins inaugural Singapore history prize

via Straits Times, 12 January 2018: Congratulations to Prof. John Miksic for his book, Singapore and the Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea!

Singapore News -SINGAPORE – A pioneering archaeologist whose work emphasizes that Singapore’s history goes beyond the landing of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819 has been awarded the inaugural Singapore History Prize.. Read more at

Source: Archaeologist wins inaugural Singapore history prize, Singapore News & Top Stories – The Straits Times

New Singapore textbook integrates archaeology

Singapore’s new history textbook will include material on the country’s archaeology, rather than start its establishment as an British colony in the 19th century.

Prof John Miksic. Source: New York Times, 20140511
Prof John Miksic. Source: New York Times, 20140511

In New Textbook, the Story of Singapore Begins 500 Years Earlier
New York Times, 11 May 2014
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Public Lecture: Raffles, Archaeology and the British in Indonesia

In conjunction with an exhibition of Raffles’ Letters around the founding of Singapore, Professor John Miksic will give a talk about the man and his efforts to study ancient Southeast Asia.

Raffles, Archaeology and the British in Indonesia
Date: 24 November 2012, Saturday
Time: 2pm to 4pm
Venue: National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street Singapore 188064, Possibility Room, Level 5
Registration is required:
Admission: Free
Continue reading “Public Lecture: Raffles, Archaeology and the British in Indonesia”

Talk: Guerrilla Archaeologists and the Singapore Story

Readers in Singapore may be interested in this talk by Prof. John Miksic about the practice of archaeology in Singapore happening at the National University of Singapore Museum on Thursday.

Prof John Miksic, National University of Singapore
Prof John Miksic, National University of Singapore

Curating Nation: Guerrilla Archaeologists and the Singapore Story
Prof. John Miksic
Venue: National University of Singapore Museum
Date: 12 April 2012
Time: 6.30pm

Most people think Singapore and archaeology are boring subjects, but the combination of the two can be exciting. Since Singapore has no laws covering archaeology, it is possible and sometimes necessary to go about the exploration for new sites in unorthodox ways. The term “underground” can mean something different in Singapore than it does in normal archaeological contexts! In this talk Prof. John Miksic will provide an account of the history of archaeology in Singapore since 1984, and its connection with museums.

More details here.

Public Lecture: Sumatran Gold in Southeast Asian Context

Readers in Singapore may be interested in attending Dr. Miksic’s lecture this evening at the Asian Civilisations Museum in conjunction with the Sumatra exhibition.

Gold Land Lords: Sumatran Gold in Southeast Asian Context
Thursday, 14 October 2010
7.30 pm
Asian Civilisations Museum
Ngee Ann Auditorium, ACM Empress Place (Basement)

Sumatra has been known as a source of gold for 2,000 years, but very few gold objects come from known sites there. In this talk, Professor John Miksec from the National University of Singapore will reconstruct early Sumatran gold art by comparison with objects found in other parts of the region.

Archaeology unit set up in Singapore

At long last, an archaeology unit has been set up in Singapore, as part of the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies based in the National University of Singapore. The unit, run by Dr. John Miksic and Lim Chen Sian.

Singapore’s first formal archaeology unit
The Straits Times, 23 April 2010
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Public Lecture (Singapore): Recent Advances in Understanding Pottery in Southeast Asian History

Readers in Singapore may be interested in a public lecture by Dr John Miksic of the National University of Singapore on Southeast Asian Ceramics. For readers who might not be able to attend the lecture, you may want to purchase Dr Miksic’s latest book, Southeast Asian Ceramics.

Ceramics for the Archaeologist: Recent Advances in Understanding Pottery in Southeast Asian History
Venue: Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore
Date: 28 January 2010
Time: 7.30 – 8.30 pm

Public Lecture: KaalaChakra 'Wheel of Time’: An Archaeological Trail of Early Indian Influence in Southeast Asia

From the National Library of Singapore:
By: Associate Professor (A/P) John Miksic from the National University of Singapore’s Department of Southeast Asian Studies]

Date/Time : 29 Feb 2008, 7pm
Venue: National Library of Singapore, 100 Victoria Street, Visitors’ briefing room

If a person desires to relive the memories from ancient history, it will be impossible to ignore the importance of evidence based on archaeological research. The KaalaChakra exhibition at Level 10 of the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library showcases some artefacts, archaeological and inscriptional evidences which embark us on backward journey into time.
Come and be amazed by Associate Professor (A/P) John Miksic from the National University of Singapore’s Department of Southeast Asian Studies as he takes us through an explorative journey of archaeological traces in Southeast Asia that early Indians left behind in the region! In his talk, A/P Miksic will also touch on architectural influence in some of Southeast Asian temples, such as Angkor Wat in Cambodia, which evidence the ancient Indian touch in this part of Asia.

A/P John Miksic first arrived in Singapore in 1968 while in the Peace Corps in Kedah, Malaysia He has spent most of his life in Southeast Asia, namely Malaysia Indonesia and Singapore. A/P Miksic has had two types of careers: the first being a rural development adviser, the other as an archaeologist and lecturer.
His main activity over the past 20 years has been archaeological research in Singapore. He also continues research projects in Indonesia, particularly Java and Sumatra. In recent years, A/P Miksic also become deeply involved in Cambodia, especially the period leading to the foundation of Angkor, coupled with some work with graduate students on Myanmar.

A/P Miksic’s academic qualifications encompass a Ph.D. in Anthropology (Cornell University), M.A. Anthropology (Cornell University), an M.A. International Affairs (Ohio University) and B.A. Anthropology (Dartmouth College)

Public lecture: Pan-regional Responses to Indian Inputs in Early Southeast Asia by Prof Pierre-Yves Manguin

Registration details here. The talk is on Tuesday!

Date: 22/01/2008
Time: 16:00 – 17:30
Venue: Asia Research Institute, 469A Tower Block, Level 10, Bukit Timah Road, National University of Singapore

A/P John Miksic, Southeast Asian Studies Programme, NUS

The term ‘Indianization of Southeast Asia’ has caused more trouble than most in the Southeast Asian history business. Used in a colonial era, particularly by the Greater India school of Majumdar and Nilakanta Shastri, to imply colonial types of colonization, political domination and cultural transfer, it was reinterpreted in a nationalist era to imply selective adaptation and localization of some Indian ideas found useful to Southeast Asian rulers. Now that Southeast Asianists and South Asianists are at last resuming their interrupted conversation on a more equal basis, how can we best understand this process of cultural change? Professor Manguin will use the recent archeological finds in various corners of Southeast Asia to suggest an even-handed approach to one of the greatest turning-points in Southeast Asia’s evolution.

Pierre-Yves Manguin joined in 1970 the research staff of the Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO, French School of Asian Studies), where he now holds a position of “directeur d’études” (professor). He also teaches at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS, Paris). He obtained his PhD in History from Sorbonne University. He lived and worked in Indonesia for extended periods, and headed the Research Centre of the EFEO in Jakarta. His research focuses on history and archaeology of the coastal states and trade networks of Southeast Asia. He has lead archaeological programmes in Indonesia and Vietnam, on the archaeology of Srivijaya (South Sumatra), of Tarumanagara (West Java), and of Funan (Vietnam). He has published on themes related to maritime history and archaeology of Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean and South China Sea.

Karimun Inscription

Over the weekend, I made a trip to nearby Karimun Island, some 30 km west of Singapore in search of an ancient stone inscription.

Over the weekend, I made a trip to nearby Karimun Island, some 30 km west of Singapore in search of an ancient stone inscription.

Karimun region

The island of Karimun Besar (Greater Karimun) is a croissant-shaped island resting at the end of the Melaka strait – a great strategic position because from the north shore one can see Sumatra at the left and the Malay Peninsula in the right. In fact, the British once considered setting up base there because of its location – but Raffles opted instead for Singapore with the romantic notion of resurrecting the civilization (Temasek) that was mentioned in the Malay Annals.

I read about the inscription a long time ago, and was recently reminded by it when I attended a short course on the archaeology of Singapore. Dr. John Miksic, the course conductor, mentioned the Karimun inscription and inspired me to take a trip down to look for it. Finding the inscription was the tricky part, however. Dr Miksic mentioned visiting the place almost 20 years ago, so I was working with 20-year-old information. The only lead I had was that it must have laid on the north shore of the island, possibly by a beach. Locating the stone was also compounded by the fact that Karimun of late was mired in some tension over importing granite to Singapore – and that the granite quarry was also in the north side of the island.

So I was rather fortunate to have met with Tres, one of the taxi drivers who aggressively touted visitors to Karimun. For something like S$30, Tres would drive my party of three up to the northern Pasir Panjang beach. When he found out that we were looking for the stone inscription, he told us that he knew where it was and offered to drive us directly there.

It was a good thing he did – as it turns out the inscription was, as feared, inside the grounds of the granite quarry. We had to pass through two security checkpoints, as well as surrender our cameras at the second checkpoint where we continued on foot. Our guide was good to his word when he led us to a shed 100 metres away from the security post – the stone inscription was carved on the side of a large granite hill, in an area of about 3 metres by 3 metres. At a distance, trucks rumbled carrying workers and granite. The area around the inscription was fairly untouched and protected – a small wall, fence and roof were erected over the inscription, and the presence of incense offerings also indicated that the place was venerated as a shrine. There was even a government notice that indicated the inscription was protected.

Karimun shrine

(Yes, I snuck my phone camera in.) I think the current worshippers at the shrine are Sikhs, judging from the images placed at the shrine. This is quite strange, considering that the inscription was probably written by a Buddhist author:

karimun inscription

karimun inscription 2

According to Dr. Miksic, the inscription is written in Devanegari script and dates to the 9th or 10th century AD. It reads, “These are the footsteps of the illustrious Gautama the Mahayana Buddhist who possessed a round instrument.” Which was why I found it strange that it has become a site of Sikh veneration. Dr. Miksic also noted that the characters that formed the word “round instrument” are unique – they are not found in any other Indian inscription anywhere in the world. When I got home, I merged the two photos in photoshop-cleanup for better clarity:


What about the footprints that our illustrious Gautama left behind? At first, I thought it was the rounded depressions on the side of the hill beside the shrine. But Tres our guide came to the rescue again, pointing us to the footprint at the foot of the hill, 20 feet away.

Karimun Buddha footprint

The footprint was carved in the rock, but was partly covered by sand which was also wet. As a result, we couldn’t see if there were carvings at the bottom, but we managed to scoop out enough water to see the outline of the foot. Maybe the task for the next time I visit?

Related Books:
The article on Malaysia in Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by I. Glover and P. S. Bellwood (Eds) mentions the Karimun inscription but not much else.