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  • Earthenware in Southeast Asia: Proceedings of the Singapore Symposium on Pre-Modern Southeast Asian Earthenwares
  • Laura Lee Junker
Earthenware in Southeast Asia: Proceedings of the Singapore Symposium on Pre-Modern Southeast Asian Earthenwares. John Miksic, ed. Singapore: Singapore University Press, 2003. Published with the assistance of the Southeast Asian Ceramic Society. 370 pp. + xxii, maps, tables, b/w photos, index. US$49.00, Singapore$75.00. ISBN 9971692716.

This edited volume on the earthenware pottery studies by prominent scholars working throughout Southeast Asia is a very welcome addition to the Southeast Asian archaeological literature, with John Miksic bringing together for the first time work by a broad range of archaeologists working in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Assam. I believe there would be little disagreement between archaeologists working in Southeast Asia about Miksic's clearly stated rationale for publishing this 22-chapter compendium of work on Southeast Asian earthenware pottery. Comparing Southeast Asia to other major cultural regions of the world, where regional scholars have collaborated more on developing comparative chronologies and shared interpretive frameworks for their earthenware ceramics, Miksic rightly notes that there has been relatively limited communication between archaeologists working with earthenware remains in Southeast Asia. Miksic sees the limited dissemination of earthenware pottery studies through publication, conferences, and other forms of international collaboration as a formidable obstacle to making substantial gains in comparative studies between regions, not only in terms of pottery-based regional chronological frameworks, but also in terms of more contextual issues such as how pottery production is organized and technologically implemented; what ceramics can tell us about the migration of human groups, trade interactions, and the dissemination of widespread symbolic systems [End Page 242] (whether through actual colonization, socially or politically charged exchange interactions, or emulative production); how pottery reflects aspects of social and political relations (e.g., gender relations, kin groups, social ranking, factional competition, political alliance); and the cultural meanings of pottery in various past societies (e.g., why are anthropomorphic burial jars found at Ayub Cave in the Philippines? Why are certain earthenware forms used in burial, feasting, and other ritual contexts?).

In his introduction, Miksic identifies what I also view as key factors that have impacted the publication and dissemination of an empirical database on Southeast Asian earthenware. First, he notes the difficulty of finding publishing venues, specifically academic or more popular presses that will publish well-illustrated (but often expensive) books that are really specific and emphasize basic data on sites or artifactual categories, since many presses see these kinds of books as having low marketability and potential for profit. Secondly, he emphasizes the fact that earthenware studies are often eclipsed by archaeological investigations of what are considered more "spectacular" finds in Southeast Asia, such as monumental architecture, foreign porcelains or beads, Buddhist or Hindu religious statuary, and inscriptions. This primacy given to architectural studies and emphasis on ceramics associated with "royal" or "elite" areas of sites rather than nonelite households is also underlined in a paper by Mundardjito, Pojoh, and Ramelan on Javanese ceramics (chapter 9) and a paper by Miriam Stark on Cambodian earthenware (chapter 15). I would add to this list of factors limiting comparative work on earthenware in Southeast Asia the fact that the university tenure process in many countries emphasizes the publication of cutting-edge theoretical work rather than more empirically oriented aspects of research, and therefore professors and beginning scholars are discouraged from publishing "basic data" and "site reports" in favor of these more academically splashy theoretical papers and books in the first decade of their professional career in academics. I can very well relate to Miksic's refreshingly honest reflections on his regret that his dissertation and many early works on ceramics were not published and hence unavailable to many scholars, since I too, now "safely" tenured and in the "mid" part of my career, am feeling the same regret about unpublished empirical work and reprioritizing publication plans to include more detailed descriptive writings on excavation, archaeological survey, and artifact analysis. I should note that linguistic barriers to communication between scholars working in the arena of Southeast Asian archaeology are formidable, since we as a...