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  • Fishbones and Glittering Emblems: Southeast Asian Archaeology 2002
  • John N. Miksic
Fishbones and Glittering Emblems: Southeast Asian Archaeology 2002. Anna Karlström and Anna Källén, eds. Stockholm: Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities (Östasiatiska Museet), 2003. 540 pp. 396 Swedish kronor.

The European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeologists (EurASEAA) held their ninth biennial conference in Sigtuna, a historic city in Sweden, in May 2002. This volume contains a large proportion of the papers presented at that conference, published in what constitutes record time for such large and diverse archaeological meetings as the EurASEAA meetings have become. The meetings of this association must be considered one of the two most important gatherings of scholars working in this field, along with the congresses of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association (IPPA).

The desire to publish as many contributions as possible leads to a wide variation in the quality of papers in the association's conference volumes. One of the compensating advantages of this philosophy is that we learn the names and work of some scholars, particularly Asians, who would not otherwise have their voices heard. Eighteen contributors of the 73 (approximately 25 percent) in this volume are Asian. The organizers put in hard labor to raise funds to enable the Asian scholars to attend the conference; for this as well as their timely issue of this publication, they are to be commended.

Because the papers are published soon after they are presented, they tend to be little changed from the conference versions. They are brief, and many of them concern research projects at various intermediate stages of implementation, for which no conclusions are yet available. Some are "opinion pieces"; others concentrate on presenting data in various states of digestion or analysis. A total of 50 papers (and two "poster sessions," which are equivalent to papers in length) are included in this book.

As a means of grappling with the problem of discussing such a varied book, I will isolate a few themes that bridge the different sessions and choose—on the basis of my own subjective evaluation—those papers that best exemplify these themes for special mention.

One interesting topic concerns the role of the European archaeologist in Asia. This theme is introduced in the conference's keynote address by Ian Glover. As he notes (p. 24), "What follows is in no way a history of European involvement in the development of archaeology in Southeast Asia for that would take a substantial volume." The recent publication of a history of the École Française d'Extrême-Orient indicates what such a history might contain. It is to be hoped that such a volume, largely written by Southeast Asians, will appear someday. In the 1960s, some Southeast Asians began to study at archaeology graduate schools in other parts of the world. Others, however, such as R. P. Soejono and Pisit Charoenwongsa, remained in their own countries and served as directors of the major archaeological research institutions; foreign-trained archaeologists became significant only in the late twentieth century.

As Glover notes (p. 27), too many foreign archaeologists continue to ignore the work of local scholars and "sometimes attempt to circumvent, rather than to collaborate with the local researchers, do not communicate their results, forget to send copies of the publications, and do not send back material allowed out on loan." A large proportion publish outside the region, in English, French, or German, "and are reluctant to become involved with the academic life of the host country" (p. 29). It is genuinely a wonder that Southeast Asians continue to be as hospitable to foreign archaeologists as they are. One hopes that [End Page 105] the younger generation of scholars will reflect upon the sins of their elders and strive to better their record.

Attitudes that might be termed nationalistic have surfaced in Southeast Asian archaeology, although such a stance is more overt in some countries than in others. Glover himself, who previously perceived nationalism as divisive and malign in its effects, admits the validity of the argument of the Philippine archaeologist Victor Paz that despite excesses, nationalism can be positive: It legitimizes the subject, encourages the flow of resources, and generates data...