Conservation Science

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At the Freer and Sackler galleries, workshop participants concentrated on historic period ceramics. We were able also to see behind-the-scenes storage and the exhibition, “Taking Shape: Ceramics in Southeast Asia,” featuring about 200 ceramic vessels providing a record of human activity in the region from prehistoric times to the present. At the Penn Museum, workshop participants discussed the state of study of prehistoric pottery from Southeast Asia and examined at first hand vessels from Ban Chiang and related sites. Several presentations on studies of modern day potters in Southeast Asia also enriched the discussions. Some comments from the workshop participants:

“Thank you very much for such an interesting workshop! The presentations and the discussions were really rewarding and stimulating. It was a rare and precious moment which will recur I hope! The organisation of this workshop was amazing and I hope to be able to participate in the organisation of the next one” –Béatrice Wisniewski, École pratique des hautes études, France “This was a great time, I have not only learned more from other sites in Southeast Asia but also build good connections with other researchers. Furthermore, I had good advices from them and got some precious documents and some program for improving my research career in Cambodia. I am so proud what you have done.” –Visoth Chhay, National Museum of Cambodia/Denver A layperson may not realize the central importance of ceramics in the study of most prehistoric archaeological societies. Ceramics are often the primary basis for studying everything from the chronology and cultural sequence of a site, to the economic organization of the past society, to the ritual behavior at ancient funerals. The study of ceramics is labor-intensive, often lasting several years and involving several researchers. Reconstructing broken vessels, technical drawing, photography, measuring and other descriptive tasks, studying their in situ context, plus a wide array of scientific analyses all contribute to gleaning the knowledge ceramics can hold so that archaeologists can make statements about past societies. The data from pottery of Ban Chiang are particularly important to the study of Southeast Asian prehistory. Because most were grave goods from over 150 burials spanning more than 2000 years (2100 BCE to 300 CE), their condition, contexts, and range of styles and technologies are highly informative about life at the core of Southeast Asia thousands of years ago. Not only is the collection internationally renowned among scholars and laypersons alike, but Penn’s Ban Chiang Project has pioneered the application of techniques such as radiography and refiring to understanding how the Southeast Asian vessels were made. During our Year of Ceramics, we are building on these past pilot studies by systematically recording evidence from each of the 500+ vessels. Taking the lead in this effort are our visiting scholars, Bounheuang Bouasisengpaseuth and Sureeratana Bubpha, who are coding the vessels into our Access regional database (see page four). Although we will have collected a lot of data on Ban Chiang pottery by the end of this fiscal year, a monograph synthesizing the data from pottery into a larger picture remains to be written. Given the wonderful post-doc ceramics specialist we have in Dr. Marie-Claude Boileau and the need to eventually return all Ban Chiang materials to Thailand, I am working to find support for Dr. Boileau to remain here for another year (through July 2012) to assist us in writing the Ban Chiang pottery monograph. Other participating specialists include petrographer Dr. Brian Vincent of New Zealand. We also would like during this year to complete the Ban Chiang metals monograph. The metals monograph, which I have co-written with Dr. Elizabeth Hamilton and other contributing scholars, is about 85% finished. By focusing on monograph preparation for Academic Year 2012, we aim during our “Year of...
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