Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Archaeology and Politics
I’ve been thinking recently about the many similarities between Indonesia and the USA (maybe driven by obsessive Obama TV watching). There are lots. But I don’t believe there has ever been a street demonstration about archaeology in the US. Last week in Yogyakarta, over 100 archaeology students and senior scholars marched down the main shopping street Jalan Malioboro to protest the destruction of part of the huge Majapahit site of Trowulan in East Java. The destruction was caused, ironically, by the construction of a government sponsored “Visitor Information Center” on the site. Leading archaeologists had reviewed the plans for the project before construction and objected to the location, but the project went ahead anyway. Many believe that it was rushed to be completed before next year’s election so that certain politicians could take credit for it.
Majapahit plays a central role in Indonesian post-colonial political identity and the situation has been widely covered in the Indonesian media (see the Jakarta Post for some English language reports). Our Field School co-director, Daud, has been widely quoted in the media (he opposed the construction plans) and has had to fly to Jakarta several times in the past few weeks to advise the government on what to do now. Interestingly, the case has spurred a new interest in archaeology of all kinds—one of the leading daily papers (Kompas) has had at least one archaeology article a day, not always just on Trowulan.
Although the damage to Trowulan can never be really repaired, at least the situation has raised the public’s awareness of the fragility of archaeological sites. Let’s hope we archaeologists can take advantage of this new attention and get the public more involved in site protection of all kinds.