When it was decided to dedicate an issue to current archaeology research in Asia involving Australians I was a little unsure where this might lead. Defining archaeology was the first hurdle, as many of us work with archaeology departments in Asia, but we may not be archaeologists ourselves.
Archaeology covers such a diverse range of activities, from the more usual field archaeology through to restoration of historic sites. Also, while Australians have been working for many years across the region, research is usually funding based and this is highlighted by a current concentration of funding for research in mainland Southeast Asia and China in particular – as reflected by the topics covered in this issue. Another factor that has influenced the direction of many of the articles is the more recent research focus on inter-regional exchange. Tracing exchanges along trade routes has brought academics from a wide range of disciplines together in research teams. This multi-disciplinary network has seen our knowledge of the broad Asia region expand dramatically as we are now appreciating the complex networks of human exchange of goods and ideas that have existed for millennia.
The articles traverse broad themes. Mirani Litster is an archaeologist whose PhD focussed on the Maldives, tracing early evidence of human colonisation. Her research has led her to trace human movement via cowrie shell deposits, an early form of currency. Her article outlines how this type of research enhances our understanding of regional interactions along monsoonal trade routes. Just as cowrie shells can trace human movement across Asia, so do glass beads. Don Hein and Ross Ramsay’s article discusses a glass making furnace at Bagan, Myanmar, highlighting that glass bead making technology travelled widely, and arguing for Myanmar’s inclusion in debate about regional glass bead making traditions.
Dougald O’Reilly and Louise Shewan are working on a major project in Laos at the Plain of Jars, and are investigating links between similar sites across the broad South and Southeast Asian region, using burial practices as a link. Reconsidering how we interpret large sites such as these is something that is at the forefront of research and Michael Leadbetter discusses how contemporary thinking is encouraging us to reconsider how we view sacred sites, using Angkor in Cambodia and the Thu Bon Valley in central Vietnam as examples.
In developing countries in the region, collaborations are important for capacity building. Judith Cameron has worked with her Vietnamese counterparts for many years and is very familiar with the archaeological challenges in the region, some of which are brought to the fore as she discusses the recovery of a canoe and textiles from the bottom of a canal. These challenges inevitably extend into the cultural heritage sphere and Natali Pearson outlines some models for collaboration related to Vietnam’s maritime archaeology, particularly those involving public and private partnerships.
Myanmar features prominently in this issue. Wendy Reade and Mark Allon have authored papers about their involvement in the Kuthodaw Pagoda restoration project in Mandalay. This is an excellent example of inter-disciplinary engagement. Wendy is both an archaeologist and conservator, and brought her skills to the restoration and conservation of the pagoda’s stone slabs that are inscribed with the Pali canon. Mark is well–known for his expert knowledge of Buddhist literature. His article explains the importance of translating the entire Pali canon as it appears in the Kuthodaw stele, in the context of understanding the evolution of Buddhist thought.
This type of collaboration is demonstrated by Tonia Eckfeld et al’s article on mural paintings from Tang Dynasty tombs. A wide range of disciplines has been brought together to study, preserve and undertake technical analysis of these paintings. Like Wendy and Mark, Tonia and her team have been working with local staff sharing knowledge and expertise.
I will give the last word to archaeologist Bob Hudson. His article on the re-writing of contemporary history relating to a colossal Buddha image in Yangon, Myanmar, makes me think about how this object will be written about in 100 years’ time. Will it have lost its original narrative, and how will we know? Will this change in history be recorded in the written record or become the thing of legends? With my own research in Myanmar, I am always mindful that any of my findings will have elements of both fact and fiction.
In this last TAASA Review for the year, TAASA would like to wish all of its members the very best for the holiday season and for 2017, when we hope to provide another year of interesting and enjoyable Asian art events.
3 EDITORIAL: AUSTRALIAN ARCHAEOLOGISTS IN ASIA - Charlotte Galloway, Guest Editor
4 CHINA’S LOST MURAL PAINTINGS: AUSTRALIA-CHINA CONSERVATION RESEARCH TO REDISCOVER ANCIENT ART - Tonia Eckfeld, Caroline Kyi, Nicole Tse and Alex Xiaofei Duan
7 ‘THE WORLD’S BIGGEST BOOK’: THE KUTHODAW PAGODA MARBLE-STELAE INSCRIPTIONS, MANDALAY, MYANMAR - Mark Allon
9 PRESERVING THE KUTHODAW PAGODA COMPLEX, MYANMAR: COLLABORATIVE CONSERVATION OF THE ‘WORLD’S BIGGEST BOOK’ - Wendy Reade
12 THE MYSTERIOUS MEGALITHIC JARS OF CENTRAL LAOS - Dougald O’Reilly and Louise Shewan
14 MARITIME ARCHAEOLOGY IN VIETNAM: AUSTRALIAN INVOLVEMENT - Natali Pearson
16 ARCHAEOLOGICAL TEXTILE RESEARCH AND THE DONGSON TEXTILE PROJECT - Judith Cameron
19 OLD CURRENCY, MONSOON TRADE AND THE MALDIVES - Mirani Litster
21 THE GLASS FURNACES OF MYINKABA, MYANMAR - Don Hein and W. Ross H. Ramsay
24 BEYOND THE TEMPLE TRAIL: THE SACRED LANDSCAPES OF SOUTHEAST ASIA - Michael Leadbetter
27 RECENT TAASA ACTIVITIES
29 TAASA MEMBERS’ DIARY: DECEMBER 2016 - FEBRUARY 2017
30 WHAT’S ON: DECEMBER 2016 - FEBRUARY 2017