Sunday, October 31, 2010

A report on the Berlin conference...finally!

Ok, I've finally found time to gather my thoughts and write about goings-on at the EurASEAA conference just passed in Berlin. All in all, a roaring success! Held at the Free University of Berlin (nestled in the midst of a leafy residential area on the Southwest edge of the city...unfortunately far from a diversity of food options), but still within quick metro ride to the heart of Berlin, and the conference venues were sleek, modern, and provided excellent acoustics. Participation stood at around 200 people (by my estimate); small but comfortable as conferences go, with only two-three overlapping sessions at any one time, and easy movement between rooms.

Sessions covered topics ranging from new research on prehistoric exchange networks in beads and glass, to maritime archaeology itself (shipwrecks, boat construction, merchant marine iconography etc.), new insights into the Southeast Asian Palaeolithic period (i.e. the "Hoabinhian"), a small representation of bioarchaeologists/palaeoanthropologists (like myself), and a session covering/reassessing the terminology, and archaeological, linguistic, and skeletal evidence we use to define and understand the still-vague "Neolithic" period (c. 6,000-3,500BP?). This was where I presented...the "only bioarchaeologist in the village." Regardless, I feel that our session came together particularly well, raising many critical issues. The need for more data and more excavations is never ending in archaeology, especially in this still under-explored region.

Other panels discussed new GIS/geophysical/archaeological work on the Angkorian road system, the increasing number of late prehistoric (c. 500BC-50AD) sites knows from the Mekong Delta region (some represented by very large, but partially looted burial grounds), new rock art research in Malaysia, new archaeological survey work in the Laos/Cambodia border region, new excavations in Sumatra, and even the discovery of vast burial grounds, with associated settlement sites and metal weapon/jewelry manufacturing centres, in the still under-explored Yunnan-Guizhou area of southern China, dating to as early as 3,300BP. Sessions were well moderated, timely, and usually feedback was relevant. Several authors had books for sale, and Prof. Ian Glover (something of a deity in this field) was signing copies of an edited volume devoted to his life and times. I got mine!

Although catering was a bit lacking, we all had a lovely reception at the German Archaeological Institute and the Ethnological Museum, with mid-conference tours on offer to the Pergamon Museum and Neues Museum; repositories of the early 1900's German contribution to both nascent world archaeology (mostly Classical), and the "encyclopedic museum," with all its pros and cons as far as Heritage and the antiquities trade is concerned. Seeing the original "Helen of Troy" artifacts from the Schleimann excavation, and the original bust of Nefertiti (along side impressive exhibits on European prehistory etc.) was certainly awe-inspiring, displayed as they were within suitably contextualized exhibits, but the same arguments can be leveled against these institutions as can be directed towards the major museums of any former colonialist power regarding their retention of such artifacts for so many decades; enough already! It was fascinating to me to learn so much more about Germany's pre-and post World War role in the development of archaeology as a discipline, in the city to which so many early excavations returned, and from which many of Germany's current contributors to Southeast Asian archaeology hail from.

Throughout the conference, only minimal attention was given to the issue of looting, or sites under threat from such activities, but it was clear to me that many of the new sites discovered and recently excavated were only done so because archaeologists found them first; not due to any sudden uptick in the protection of the region's prehistoric past. Of course, this is a problem needing to be further monitored, as the antiquities trade continues to take its tole. While the new research disseminated at the conference certainly represents (for the most part) cutting edge analyses of new discoveries, it remains to be seen how the Southeast Asian archaeological community itself will continue to address, and more proactively deal with, the looting the extent that we can control it. Thus, while still presenting new research, this blog will continue to put the antiquities trade front and centre....where it belongs!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Take 2

Ok, maybe promising "live blogging" when on a conference schedule, still jetlagged, and having many colleagues to catch up with was a bit of a stretch! However, I can report that I took copious notes which I'll share the highlights of very soon; attending more than 3/4ths of all presentations, and leaning many new things about SE Asian art history/archaeology...the bulk of these new discoveries remaining under threat. I am in New York for one week now to visit SAFE ( colleagues. A real update soon, I promise.