Editorial

By Carver, Martin | Antiquity, March 2010 | Go to article overview

Editorial


Carver, Martin, Antiquity


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What's happening in Southeast Asia? Everything! At the IPPA (1) congress at Hanoi more than 600 delegates in 107 sessions were enlightened, amazed and hugely entertained in the city of a million scooters. The mood was exhilarating--a feeling that the world was young and yet to be explored. Speakers addressed the peopling of the Pacific, volcanic environments, the reconstruction of the Sahul landmass and the extraordinary discoveries on Flores (where Mike Morwood probes deeper every year). Maybe it is the large number of islands that gives this part of the planet its adventurous feel--the crossing of innumerable waterways in slender craft laden with families, pigs and plants and their various genes. An old paradigm, the expansion of the Austronesian language group, still steams the seas and steams up the seminar rooms, but a new one is replacing it. More complex (of course) and more diverse: peoples migrate and colonise and reflux, but forest people may live parallel lives to coastal people, rice arrives--but doesn't always stick.

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Vietnam is the land of the Dong Song drum, hollow, bronze and decorative and featuring in extraordinary burials where a person lies with their head inside one. Vietnam has a historical archaeology like no other: the Ho Chi Minh tunnels and the crashed B52 bombers must rate among the most sobering monuments of any victorious people. And it was interesting to learn that, although the country has a state archaeological service and a socialist ethos, private museums are encouraged by the government as a way of preventing the haemorrhaging of looted objects abroad. Farmers find they can get a better price from collectors than from the state, and so .....

The archaeological community of Southeast Asia is strikingly comingled and sociable, often giving confident welcomes to scholars from abroad. The strongest such contingents were from Australia, and now China, where the burgeoning of new work, new ideas and a new style of professional expertise is a story of its own. As a first landfall your editor went to Hong Kong, Chinas newly repatriated ex-British colony, there to visit Ray Ma in his stunning new museum, the vigorous Archaeology Society in its premises in the Kowloon Sculpture Garden and an archaeological company, Archaeological Assessments Ltd, operating off Lamma island. I have a soft spot for Hong Kong having been a pupil in Kowloon's KGV (King George V) grammar school at the time of the coronation (Elizabeth II in case you were wondering), and recognised certain heritage items (like the Star Ferry) still in evidence among the clustered concrete towers. I felt not unlike a bit of heritage myself, learning that my dad's old camp at Fan Ling (he was a Ghurka colonel) was now a scheduled monument. Archaeologically, Hong Kong sits on fossil beds of empire, and now has unmatched potential for hosting the archaeological dialogue between east and west.

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And so to Adelaide for the [AAA.sup.2] meeting, where the mood was jaunty among a community of professional archaeologists who are possibly the most fun to be with anywhere. There are big new research projects, such as the one at Willandra Lakes directed by Nicola Stern, and big new CRM mitigations like the huge open-cast Rio Tinto mining sites. A new Australian prehistory is emerging, which breaks the mould of a perceived 30 000 years of conserved life-ways and reveals more diversity in culture, more responses to changing environments: in brief, an aboriginal past with a stronger narrative. The close involvement and occasional dominance of aboriginal TOs (traditional owners) in the new projects was also marked. The large CRM companies lead the field in many ways, but evaluation was sometimes less thorough than they would wish: at Pilbara not all the potentially occupied caves were given the same in-depth testing. …

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