Around the Web – the Archaeology edition

Southeast Asian Prehistory

New DNA evidence overturns population migration theory in Island Southeast Asia

An international research team has discovered new DNA evidence to overturn conventional theories that suggest that the present-day populations of Island Southeast Asia (covering the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysian Borneo) came from Taiwan 4,000 years ago. The researchers show that population dispersals came earlier, from within the region, and probably resulted from flooding.

So Bellwood might have been wrong… The Out-of-Taiwan hypothesis is such an important part of my Archaeology classes in Uni that we have almost swallowed it. I wonder what Bellwood’s reaction is regarding this particular study. Does he have a rebuttal?

Philippine Archaeology

Shard find in the Philippines show an ancient form of writing

An archaeological team has dug up a pot shard with an inscription around its shoulder, at the San Ignacio archeological site in Intramuros, Philippines, which shows an ancient form of writing.

This is a really cool finding. Evidence of ancient script is very rare in the Philippines. This makes the sherd (edited; shard? what was I thinking? It’s a sherd!!!) an important artifact.

South American Archaeology

500yr Old Inca Mummies Found Drugged

Archaeologists have found three Inca child mummies dating back to 500yrs on the top of the 22,000ft summit of the Mount Llullaillco volcano in Argentina. One of the mummies found is that of a thirteen year old girl, now dubbed as the ‘Llullaillaco Maiden’, the other two mummies are that of a boy and a girl aged around four years old. The mummy of Llullaillaco Maiden is remarkably preserved whereas the remains of the boy and the girl were struck by lightning and so are charred.

Sacrifices are very significant rituals in a lot of cultures around the world. (Note: I just want to give a sneak peak about something similar in the Philippines) In the Philippines, sacrifices of chickens, bulls or pigs are done as proxy for an actual human sacrifice. This is done to appease gods or spirits, to ensure good yield of crops, among others. I remember my Anthropology prof who told us a story about one of his informants. Seeing Manila, he made a comment that the reason why a lot of children die in Metro Manila is because no proper sacrifice and ritual was done for the construction of buildings and infrastructure.

European Archaeology

Archaeology: The milk revolution

The mystery potsherds sat in storage until 2011, when Mélanie Roffet-Salque pulled them out and analysed fatty residues preserved in the clay. Roffet-Salque, a geochemist at the University of Bristol, UK, found signatures of abundant milk fats — evidence that the early farmers had used the pottery as sieves to separate fatty milk solids from liquid whey. That makes the Polish relics the oldest known evidence of cheese-making in the world1.

Here’s an article about how the consumption of milk evolved in Europe. It also answers how Europeans overcame lactose intolerance through the lactase gene, while other populations in the world did not.

On Solheim’s Nusantao — Filipino Origins

I’ve posted something about Bellwood’s hypothesis on the peopling of Southeast Asia and Oceania somewhere in this blog. And I believe that when one discusses Bellwood, s/he is also obliged to discuss Wilhelm Solheim’s hypothesis. The Nusantao Maritime Trading and Communication Network is something that Solheim has been thinking through since the 1960s – aside from his Sa-Huynh Kalanay complex.

First off – what the heck does Nusantao mean? It was derived by the linguist George Grace from the root words “Nusa” which means “South” and “Tau” which means “Human”. We can see in the etymology itself how it differs from Bellwood’s hypothesis. Solheim suggests a South-to-North dispersal of the Austronesian-speaking peoples starting from Sarawak and Southern Mindanao.

The most striking part about Solheim’s thoughts is his emphasis on the cultural aspect of the peoples of Southeast Asia, East Asia and Oceania – yet again another alternative to Bellwood’s thinking who puts more emphasis on the biological origin of the peoples in the area. Solheim stresses that the spread of language and culture in the aforementioned areas was not a product of migration but a product of years of trading – the Nusantao Maritime Trading and Communication Network.

Beyond Bellwood’s given date of the spread of the Austronesian-speaking peoples, Solheim suggests that there had been massive maritime network in parts of the areas as far back as 30,000 BC. This is evident through the commonalities in culture in Southeast Asia’s Hoabinhian, Korea’s Early Neolithic and Japan’s Early Jomon, Jomon and Yayoi period (up to Eastern Honshu). Some linguists  even say that there are certain Japanese words – mostly related to farming – that might have originated from Southeast Asia. A species of rice – Javanica – which originated in Sarawak, is also present in parts of Japan. Moreover, Japonica, the rice species that they have in the Mainland China (where Bellwood thinks the proto-Austronesians originated before moving on to Taiwan) is not archaeologically present in Insular Southeast Asia.

The Nusantao Maritime Trading and Communication Network started, as Solheim thought, in 5000 B.C. He suggested four lobes dividing parts of East Asia, Southeast Asia and Oceania – the Eastern Lobe, the Central Lobe, The Northern Lobe and the Southern Lobe. All of these lobes’ point of origin is the Central Lobe.

(Image via Flessen’s Article)

The NMTCN (Nusantao Maritime Trading and Communication) isn’t ripe yet, in my opinion. Indeed, most people will adhere to Bellwood’s claims as it has a more biological approach. However, I see many points and potentials in Solheim’s thinking – though it is still very early to say which one among them is right or if really anyone is indeed exclusively right. Bellwood has his points and Solheim has his. In my view, we need more data. Excavations in the Philippines and much of Southeast Asia and Oceania are not yet sufficient to give a clear picture. Much of Mindanao – which is archaeologically crucial, in my opinion – has been left out in framing hypotheses (though Solheim looked into it more than Bellwood did, the latter concentrating more on Northern Philippines and no attention whatsoever in the South).

In the end, both of them might be right. They just might be two sides of the same coin. There might be clashes in their hypotheses, but there’s also a way to fit them in – if fit them in is what we should do.

Flessen, C. 2006. Bellwood and Solheim: Models of Neolithic movements of people in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Available:[Accessed: 11/26/2009].

Solheim, W. 1996.Nusantao and the North-South Dispersals. Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association Bulletin, 2: 101-109.

Solheim, W. 2006. Archaeology and Culture in Southeast Asia: Unraveling the Nusantao. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press.

Pattern of Settlement and Colonization

By Kert

(Image via John’s Thoughts and Deeds)

The coming of the Europeans in Southeast Asia caused a lot of changes especially when they started colonizing the polities that used to compose the present-day Southeast Asia. They imposed laws, organizations, rules, hegemonies and ideologies which were mostly alien to the Southeast Asians of the time.

The pattern of settlement is perhaps the most greatly affected by the colonization. And with this, the changes in other matters followed – such as transformations in leadership, intensification of the effects of imposing a new religion by the colonizers, and even groups were separated because of this.

So how was pattern of settlement changed? Territories were clearly demarcated by the Europeans for they divided Southeast Asia then among themselves. Groups were moved from their original settlement – some were forced to come down from the mountains, some were removed from their homes and villages and some were lumped together in places with other groups which result into conflict and disputes.

In the Philippines, this can be clearly observed in the Spanish implementation of reduccion. Centers were built by the Spanish and the landscapes were carefully planned. Indios – as they called the native Filipinos then – were removed from their houses and were forcibly resettled in the centers so they can be easily monitored and ideologies can be easily perpetuated. Confession and conversion to Christianity became easier for the Spanish within this set-up. Those who did not belong in the clear demarcation of the Spanish center’s territory was said to be barbaric.

Form of leadership is an example of the things changed during the colonization. With the change in patterns of settlement came the change in the form of kinship ties and leadership. In the center, not everyone is “family”. The “datu” or the headman is no longer a kin-member. The leader is no longer seen as “family” but someone who is superior and someone who could collect tax.

Change in patterns of settlement was transcendent as it affected many other things. The colonizers transformed it to suit their needs and to further subsume and extend their power towards the inhabitants of Southeast Asia.

*This was submitted as a minor requirement for SEA 30 (A.Y. 2010-2011), a general elective course in UP Diliman


Austronesia: Reclaiming the Civilization of the Voyaging Canoe

To supplement the essay I wrote a while back, here’s a very informative video about Austronesia and how Austronesian-speaking cultures are related to each other.

Around the Web

Medical Anthropology

Medical Anthropology: How culture influences the experience of illness

I would be translating between the med students and the patients, and sometimes the patient would express things that I could translate in literal terms—like “bone pain” or “kidney pain”—but I often felt the medical student and or doctor would, in their diagnosis, transform what that meant. Bone pain might become rheumatoid arthritis, for example—but I always was uncertain about the jump to a diagnostic conclusion and found myself wondering, “What is this person really trying to say? What does he really mean by bone pain?”

 In an interview, Kristin Yarris tells us about how illness is experienced and expressed in various ways across cultures. With this in mind, it might not be that easy to give out Western diagnosis to people of various cultures. It is then important to figure out how the culture works — get to know people — so as to give a sound diagnosis of illness.


Tiny tarsier makes big, ultrasonic noise

The tarsiers communication is “comparable to the highly specialized vocalizations of bats and dolphins, which are used primarily for echolocation,” says lead author Nathaniel Dominy with Dartmouth in a press release. He calls the Philippine tarsier’s sounds “extreme,” and listening to a sample slowed down eight times so we can hear it, one comprehends the adjective.


Scientists find out that the tiny tarsier, found in the Philippines, communicate with each other through ultrasonic sounds (70 Hz-91 Hz). This is to avoid detection from possible predators. Hearing ultrasonic sounds can also help them catch insects. It may also be used as an alarm signal.


Trowelblazers: In search of the female Indiana Jones

Why hadn’t I heard of these women? Not the individual names — I can barely name any male archaeologists from that period — but the idea of these women, working in such numbers and even leading their fields. It was as though we’d blithely wiped them all from our popular imaginations, and thus allowed each woman to be easily dismissed — albeit with an approving pat on the head — as anachronistic and an exception-to-the-masculine- rule.

The article lists down kickass women in the world of archaeology. I just find it sad that the history of archaeology as written in books is dominated by male archaeologists. We also need to know about women who made their mark in the discipline as they will inspire more female archaeologists in the field. Their appearance in the archaeology modules will also show a more realistic view of archaeology — that it is for women as much as it is for men.