Special Section Heritage and Archaeology in the Far East

Article excerpt

It is rare to encounter East Asian Archaeology in English, and in a form accessible to a general readership. We are delighted to present this Special section, which started life as a Session at the Society of American Archaeology in Seattle in 1998. The Session was organized, and the papers subsequently edited, by Clare Fawcett and Hyung Il Pai.

Cultural tourism has become a major activity in East Asia in recent years, and it is becoming increasingly possible to travel to see the extraordinary heritage of many of the countries of the region, many of which have been closed to visitors. The whole business of heritage and cultural tourism is a mixed blessing, as seen in many countries, including our own, where commercial over-exploitation is becoming increasingly dominant. In the rich countries such as Japan and South Korea, enhancement of the national image is something which sees vast investment for tourism and marketing; whereas in rapidly developing countries, such as China and Viet Nam, concerns of continuity with the ancestral past, local consumption as well as internal image are all competing concerns.

These papers offer us a perspective which is written in part from outside, by scholars with close ties to the various countries presented here. They offer not only an analysis of particular issues and sites, but also set these in the broader context of the politics of cultural nationalism. This is, of course, a concern in Britain and elsewhere, with the emphasis of archaeological heritage increasingly on cultural identity, fostering local, regional and national aspirations. Recently, we have seen this on the broad scale with the celebration of the Bronze Age in Europe, which has finally completed its round of conferences and exhibitions, fostering just this broad, nationalistic identity. Asia still lacks such a comparable sense of regional identity, but in these papers we can see an emerging pattern of manipulation for political ends, combined, and on occasion competing, with the proper concerns of archaeologists for conservation and historical integrity.

The Jomon of Japan is presented here by JUNKO HABU & CLARE FAWCETT, who describe how the cultures of this prehistoric period are now being appropriated by popular culture as a civilization preceding modern Japan, which is more in tune with the idealized contemporary values of environmental sensitivity and awareness. The excavations of Sannai Maruyama, a vast, complex hunter-gatherer Jomon site, have attracted quite extraordinary interest, popular support and tourism. The paper demonstrates how the combination of increased public visibility, the provision of accessible archaeological information, local pride and tourism have resulted in a new phenomenon of prehistoric interest in Japan. …