Saturday, September 22, 2012

"Live blogging" from Dublin

As promised, this is a brief report of the activities and goings on that transpired at the 14th EurASEAA conference in Dublin; just finished yesterday! I am pleased to announce that overall, it was a roaring success! My panel, entitled "Living and Dying in Prehistoric Southeast Asia: Advances in Human Bioarchaeological Science," proceeded smoothly (in my humble opinion), even though two individuals had to withdraw at the last moment. I am confident that I have begun a positive trend of ensuring a bioarchaeological presence at this conference, and that my colleagues can carry this forward in two years time!

Topics covered in my panel included: New isotopic analysis (migration and diet) research from sites in Cambodia (Iron Age), Thailand (multiple time periods) and the Phillipines (multiple sites and periods), preliminary details (age, sex, stature, pathology, etc.) of a new Pleistocene-aged skeleton from Java, the preliminary results of tooth blackening (i.e. deliberate staining) analysis from two Iron Age Cambodian sites, and my own work on "biomechanical" (i.e. mobility and activity) before and during the transition to agriculture in northern Vietnam. The conference itself was held in the incredible Chester Beatty library and Dublin Castle, excellent venues indeed, and our hosts, from the University College Dublin, went out of their way to make everything work. This is exactly why I prefer smaller conferences; for their cordiality, camaraderie, ease of networking and fun!

Other panels ranged from new research in rock art across the region to ceramics, historic period Khmer archaeology and the relevance of archaeology to "modern" questions of heritage, site conservation, governmental policy and educational outreach. While the antiquities trade was not addressed specifically in any talk (in favor of discussion of baseline archaeological research), certain presentations, such as the discussion of the excavation/illicit salvage of a 13th century ship wreck off Java) brought up what is by now a firmly ingrained topic.

Other talks within the "contemporary relevance" panel addressed historical instances of theft or illicit trade, and challenged the idea that Western concepts of  what constitutes tangible and intangible heritage (as defined by UNESCO) might not be so applicable to Southeast Asia. This has been suggested for some time, but it bares repeating, especially as attempts to quantify, document, and ultimately  prevent looting in the first place continue (slowly) across the region. All in all, I feel that all delegates left very enthusiastic (if not somewhat melancholy, like me, in the realization that years can pass before seeing ones. close colleagues/friends again).

My time on the road before Dublin has also been a time of adventure, exploration, good multi-cultural food, great pubs, and incredible scenery. Numerous archaeological museums, both "encyclopedic" and not, including the British Museum, Museum of London, National Museum of Scotland and National Museum of Ireland (and numerous smaller ones) will deserve discussion in their own right in due time. I was also very fortunate to meet and discuss the issues with almost everyone involved in the new Trafficking Culture project of the University of Glasgow; to me, a great honour! I look forward to much collaboration with them in future. In two days, I set out to see the sights, scenery and, of course, archaeology, of more rural western Ireland. For those who read this, please wish me safe travels, good weather, and luck!

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