Category Archives: Links

What do we know about Angkorian society?

Things have been busy these past few months with lots of developments and exciting new changes to come.  Since June I’ve been directing an excavation project looking at a house mound within the Angkor Wat enclosure.  This project is part of the Greater Angkor Project research program, a collaboration between the APSARA Authority and the University of Sydney. I’ll follow-up with a longer post on this work later, but in the meantime you can read a short article on this work in The Phnom Penh Post here.

I have also been tweeting regular updates on the excavation and you can follow along at @alisonincambo.

The Phnom Penh Post article describes this project as one of the first to focus on the common people and in a way, this is true. This is the first research-driven project focused on excavating a house mound and understanding the lives of the people who lived there (non-elite members of society) through the material remains of activities within and around a house.  This is a branch of archaeology known as household archaeology.  However, there have been several research projects recently that have expanded our understanding of Angkorian habitation and Angkorian society more generally.

A photo of our excavation trenches within the Angkor Wat enclosure.

A photo of our excavation trenches within the Angkor Wat enclosure.

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Januray 2012 link dump

Things have been busy as I’ve been preparing to head back to Cambodia in just over a week.   Before I go, I thought I’d share a few interesting links:

– The NY Times has an interesting story about the growth of higher education and its tie to the tourist industry in Siem Reap.  Siem Reap seems to be growing and growing and every time I return (even after only a few months) there are new parts of the city that weren’t there before.  It’s a good to keep in mind that many people you encounter as a tourist are working extremely hard (for themselves or a family member) for an opportunity at an education. However, my friends who study this kind of thing express some doubts about the quality of education people are receiving.  But that is a whole ‘nother topic.

-UNESCO has an short little video on Ban Chiang, one of the most famous and important prehistoric sites in all of Southeast Asia. Plus bonus footage of salt production!

-An article on the damaged sites at Ayutthaya from the Bangkok Post.   Thai archaeological sites often leave portions of the burial pit open with objects and burials in situ.  It’s believed this makes the site more interesting for tourists, but I’ve heard many archaeologists question it’s utility, as exposing these objects to the elements does not help their preservation. One of the first photos from this article (below- before on the left, after on the right) highlights this point.

-I mentioned the amazing Cardamom Jar Burials in an earlier post.  Here are some really lovely photos of this site.

-Banteay Chhmar has been in the news lately.  A story here and another one here discuss plans for restoration of the temple and increased tourism.

-A very cool Angkorian period inscribed silver plate has recently been returned.  Makes me wonder how many other pieces like this one are in private collections around the world.

-Speaking of artifacts with dubious provenance, this article in the Guardian on Chinese “tomb-raiders” was disheartening to me. Looting on this scale is highly organized

Officials say tomb thefts have become increasingly professionalised. Gangs from the provinces worst hit – Shanxi, Shaanxi and Henan, which all have a particularly rich archaeological heritage – have begun exporting their expertise to other regions. One researcher estimated that 100,000 people were involved in the trade nationally.

Wei Yongshun, a senior investigator, told China Daily in 2011 that crime bosses often hired experienced teams of tomb thieves and sold the plunder on to middlemen as quickly as they could.

I honestly don’t know much about looting operations in Cambodia, but anecdotal stories I’ve heard suggest that there is some kind of organization behind looting there too. It’s not all opportunistic looting by poor farmers.

-Lastly, back to the NY Times where they ask the question “What does UNESCO recognition mean exactly?” In Cambodia, it means a lot of potential tourist dollars.  World Heritage recognition re-started the border skirmish between Cambodia and Thailand and Cambodia has numerous sites it would like to nominate and encourage tourists to visit.  However, as this article notes, mass tourism to sites can be overwhelming and harmful to people who aren’t prepared for it.  There is also an interesting discussion on the listing of  Intangible Cultural Heritage. In Cambodia, this list currently includes the Royal Ballet and Shadow Theater, although you might remember some tension between Cambodia and Thailand (again) about the registration of a hand gesture.

The next posts should be from the field in Cambodia.  As always, thanks for reading!

December Links

There have been quite a few interesting archaeological stories in the news lately:

-Following up on the Cham cremation ceremony I mentioned earlier are photographs of a Cham wedding ceremony.

-Kerdomnel Khmer has a nice post on Prasat Sdok Kak Thom in Thailand.

-A VOA story on Khmer chants known as Smot. They specifically mention Trent Walker, who also has this fantastic website on Smot.  I’m in awe of his language ability and dedication to this craft.

-If you’ve visited Angkor lately, you’ll know it seems that the whole park has been taken over by giant tourist buses, apparently full of Asian tourists. This is having an impact on the local economy, as the local tuk-tuk drivers are getting less business.

3D Angkor Wat! The Google Earth integration is pretty cool.

-Ever wanted to watch Angkor Wat: City of Gods? KI-Media has links to YouTube videos from this documentary.  (I haven’t watched this yet, so I can’t vouch for its quality).

-Khmer speakers might enjoy this short video from RFA on a university project studying old French buildings in Kampot.

-Last but not least are recent articles about two different archaeological projects involving friends of mine:

-The Phnom Penh Post details recent research on Angkorian period sculpture workshops, lead by Dr. Martin Polkinghorne.(KI-Media Link).

-Dr. Nancy Beaven talks about her work on jar burial sites in the Cardamom mountains.

Fall links

There have been quite a few interesting archaeology stories/websites I’ve come across lately.  Now seems like time to share them.

-I’ve been reading a Vietnamese archaeology blog via Google Translate for while now. Recently the owner re-posted an interesting series of photos showing various steps in a Cham cremation ceremony. I can’t seem to get Google Translate to work on the original website, which is here.

-Exciting news out of Angkor, that a giant Buddha sculpture was discovered while doing restoration work at Ta Prom.

-A few months ago Andy’s Cambodia had a short blurb on the very interesting jar burials in the Cardamom Mountains.

-Related to my earlier post on NOT buying looted artifacts is this article from Tess Davis on the sale of Khmer antiquities.

A great post from the Cambodia Stone Project on Khmer quarries.

-A shout-out for the Kerdomnel Khmer blog, a companion to the Khmer archaeology magazine (in Khmer with some English).

-A Phnom Penh Post article from this summer on the restoration of Banteay Chhmar.

-Lastly, I could kill hours just staring at these amazing photos from the May Ebihara collection and Then and Now: Historical Photographs of Cambodia.  Both are stored online at the Southeast Asian Digital Library. The photo below is from the Then and Now collection, showing a flooded street in Phnom Penh. Flooding in Cambodia and Thailand has been severe this year. My thoughts go out to everyone in these regions dealing with the floods.


June links

There have been a flurry of interesting small articles I’ve come across lately, which means it’s time for another link dump!

Tattoos

-Every now and then there’s a new article about magical Khmer tattoos and here’s another.  However, it is also interesting to hear that Thailand is cracking down on foreigners getting religious tattoos:

Citing a survey in Phuket Island, Culture Minister Nipit Intarasombat admitted that a number of foreigners coming to Thailand are interested in having their skin tattooed with Buddha images or Hindu god Ganesh in several parts of their bodies such as arms, legs, ankles or chests.

The minister indicated that using religious objects as tattoo patterns is inappropriate according to the Thai tradition and culture as well as affect the faith of people toward those religions. 

He probably has a point there, but I don’t necessarily see this practice ending any time soon.

Cloth

-There is an interesting RFA video on traditional Krama-weaving in Mondulkiri province.  Even if you don’t speak Khmer it’s neat to see them weaving scarves using a pretty simple lap loom.  Weaving cloth was probably an important part of the ancient Southeast Asian economy (there’s fairly strong evidence for cloth weaving at Ban Non Wat in Thailand).  However, you can see here that most of the materials used are organic (bamboo etc) and would probably degrade in the archaeological record, so we know less about this than other craft techniques, like ceramic production.

-Speaking of which, there’s a new  article on the movement of iron and cloth across the Bay of Bengal in the latest edition of Antiquity that looks interesting. Unfortunately, our library doesn’t get digital copies of this so I’ll have to check out the hardcopy.

-Actually, that whole issue of Antiquity (June 2011) has several articles on Southeast Asia, including a few in honor of Peter Bellwood.

Looting

-I’ve discussed the problems of looting in Cambodia before.  However, in addition to looking for ancient artifacts, there is also quite a bit of hole-digging looking for mysterious (mythical) Khmer Rouge treasures.

Rumours of buried treasure have long been circulated in rural Cambodia since the fall of the Khmer Rouge, who abolished money and even blew up the country’s central bank after they took power in 1975, forcing soldiers and civilians alike to stow away their wealth…..

“From my observation, the group will come back to dig for the treasure one day in the future, because they still think the treasure is there,” he said.

Everybody likes easy money.

-Lastly, my friend Damien is shifting the focus of his looting/antiquities blog.  He’ll now be exploring additional questions regarding what drives trade of antiquities, how the antiquities trade in the Southern hemisphere differs from that in the North, the role of fakes in the antiquities market,how the collecting of “other people’s treasure” justified and other topics.  I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes!

Springtime links part 2

A few additional interesting stories around the web:

-Not strictly Cambodia related, but several archaeologists have been testing the “bamboo hypothesis” (the idea that early humans in Southeast Asia were making tools out of bamboo which have become invisible in the archaeological record). From the article:

“The ‘bamboo hypothesis’ has been around for quite awhile, but was always represented simply, as if all bamboo species, and bamboo tool-making were equal,” says Eren, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “Our research does not debunk the idea that prehistoric people could have made and used bamboo implements, but instead suggests that upon arriving in East and Southeast Asia they probably did not suddenly start churning out all of their tools on bamboo raw materials either.”

-I had never heard about the Tasik Chini legend until KI-Media posted a short article about it:

PEKAN: The existence of seven pyramid-like hills near Tasik Chini has again sparked interest in the legend of a lost civilisation in the area that could date back to the 12th century. While there is no proof that the hills are man-made, there is a possibility that it is part of a lost city or may at least shed some light on the mystery.

It is long believed that the ancient city could only be found in the depths of the lake. This is based on a theory that the area was inundated with water after the fall of the Khmer empire, of which the city was a part of in the 15th century.

A little internet-searching also turns up a legend about a dragon living in this same lake. This same website also dates the Khmer occupation of the site to the 5th century.  The Funan-empire polity is rumored* to have expanded into the Malay peninsula, although there is no archaeological research yet to convincingly show this is the case.  Has anyone else heard about this legend? Feel free to leave a comment.

*That Wikipedia article on Funan has several factual errors, so take it with a grain of salt. Note-to-self: it would make good procrastination project to update it!

-Lastly, there looks to be a very interesting short conference on Gold in Southeast Asia at Yale University in  May.

A few early spring links….

As the weather is starting to thaw here in Wisconsin there are few interesting archaeology-related stories to share:

-I, along with my colleague Wes Clarke, have started an American Association of Southeast Asian Archaeology (AASEAA) website and Google Group. The overall goal was to connect scholars doing research in Southeast Asia (but based in the US) with one another (virtually and in person at US conferences).  We had an excellent dinner at the recent Society for American Archaeology meetings (photos come to the AASEAA website soon) that also included several East and South Asian archaeologists. If you read this blog, you’d probably also be interested in checking out the website and joining our Google Group!

-Also at the SAA meeting: An interesting session on  “blogging archaeology.” I only got to see a few papers, but if you’re interested in other archaeological blogs I encourage you to check out the blogging archaeology discussion over at Middle Savagery and this link on Past Thinking collating several other archaeology blogs.

-The Phnom Penh Post recently had an article about villagers in a town in Takeo province protesting the sale of their ancient hill (home to an archaeological site).

Heng Try, A representative of Thmey village said employees belonging to an unknown businessman were repelled by the villagers when they attempted to clear Tuol Ang Yeay Pov hill using land clearing machinery and trucks.

“They want to destroy it to dig up artifacts [which] the villagers don’t want, the villagers want to keep it and build a Buddhist hall for worship,” Heng Try said.

Tuol Ang Yeay Pov hill, a 30 by 40 metre ancient site of worship dating back at least 800 years to the reign of king Jayavarman VII, is recognised as a protected site of worship and as state property by Tram Kak district’s cultural department, Heng Try said.

This is one of those stories where I’m dying to know more and hear a follow-up. Regular readers will know I’ve done a lot of survey of archaeological sites in Takeo province with the LOMAP project and so I have a particular fondness for this area. I’ve never been to this site and I can’t seem to find it listed in the CISARK database either.  I am really excited to see the villagers fighting to preserve this site and I hope they’ve had some success.

-There is a neat article in the Bangkok Post (with some nice photos) on archaeological/historic sites in Ratchaburi province, Thailand–including some Khmer sites.

-Penn Museum blog has an ongoing series of entries from a visiting Thai scholar who is in the US working with the Ban Chiang ceramics collection. The entries are posted in both English and Thai.

In other news, it looks like I’ll be heading back to Cambodia to do fieldwork this summer. I’m looking forward to getting back in the field and sharing the experience on the blog!