Saturday, 1 March 2014

PhD Offer at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)

 I applied for a PhD in the History of Art and Archaeology Department at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at Christmas time.  The School is part of the University of London, and is known for its excellent inter-disciplinary research on Africa and Asia, including the Malay and Indonesian world.  The research proposal I sent in is below, and the topic is archery in eastern Indonesia, a neglected but actually rather fascinating subject.  As I said recently, I have an offer, and I thought I'd tell you a bit about the project.
This is great news, of course.  There's a bit of a hiccup, which I'll detail below the proposal, but hopefully it can be overcome with your help (as ever, it involves money).  If you have any comments on the proposal, I'd be happy to hear them.  It's been extensively vetted and commented upon by most of the relevant scholars, but there may be some useful articles and ideas that have not been included, so if you know of any, don't hesitate to tell me.

Here's the proposal:
            I want to research archery equipment in eastern Indonesia as a window into the region’s prehistoric past.  This research will be interdisciplinary, but will focus on museum specimens of bows and arrows, with linguistic reconstruction, archaeological reports and specimens, and ethnographies providing necessary supporting data.  Material from related societies elsewhere will be also play a minor role.  The objective is to determine when, how, and by whom the bow was introduced, what impact it had on the societies that used it, and whether any non-Austronesian heritage was present in eastern Indonesian archery.
            Eastern Indonesia as I define it is a linguistically- and genetically-diverse, population-sparse region of Southeast Asia that includes the independent nation of Timor Leste and the Indonesian provinces of Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT), Maluku, and Maluku Utara.  The largest islands are Timor, Halmahera, Seram, Flores, and Sumba, the total land area being around 122,000 km2 (Monk et al 1996).  Humans have been present throughout the region for at least 40,000 years (Bellwood 2013:78).
            The dominant language family is Austronesian (‘AN’), a large and widespread family with a mid-Holocene homeland on Taiwan.  All AN languages outside of Taiwan are in the Malayo-Polynesian (‘MP’) branch.  AN/MP languages in eastern Indonesia are sometimes considered to belong to either the Central Malayo-Polynesian (‘CMP’) or Central-Eastern Malayo-Polynesian (‘CEMP’) branch of MP; neither of these is universally accepted, with some linguists suggesting that a non-Austronesian substrate is responsible for the similarities (see Blust 1993, 2013; Klamer 2002; Ross 2003).  In the standard model proposed by Peter Bellwood, MP speech arrived with a migration of agriculturalists in the mid-Holocene, c.4000 BP, along with a host of associated technologies and cultural practices (Bellwood 1997).  This has been challenged as inadequate, given the supposedly limited archaeological evidence for the transmission of farming from Taiwan into the area and the fact that many cultivars had origins in island Southeast Asia before the arrival of Austronesian speakers (Denham 2011; Denham and Donohue 2010).[1]

In spite of the controversy surrounding the diffusion of AN speech, comparative Austronesian ethnological research has shown that much of eastern Indonesian life – including the important traditions of loom weaving (PAN *tenun) and headhunting (PAN *kayaw), as well as the form of oral poetry – may have precedents in early Austronesian-speaking communities, and uncovering their legacy is key to making sense of the area (Baldick 2013:2, 87-113, 175-178; Barnes and Kahlenberg 2010:35; Bellwood et al 1995; Fox 1988).  Whether the traits associated with the Austronesian expansion had local Southeast Asian origins and coalesced in early multi-ethnic communities dominated by an MP-speaking elite (Denham and Donohue 2010), or whether they were transmitted to the area by a small population of MP speakers diffusing in pulses from the north (Bellwood et al 1995; Bellwood 1997, 2013:191-204), the impact of Austronesian speakers appears to have been considerable.

There are several non-Austronesian (‘NAN’; sometimes ‘Papuan’) language families in eastern Indonesia, including Alor-Pantar, spoken on Alor and Pantar, NTT; Halmahera, spoken in Maluku Utara; and East Timor, spoken in Timor Leste (Holton et al 2012).  There have been attempts to link these families to one another and to the NAN languages of New Guinea (the Trans-New Guinea phylum), in addition to an attempt to link them to Tambora, an extinct language from Sumbawa (Foley 2000:362-363; Donohue 2007).  There is, however, no consensus about their broader relationships.  Lasting eastern Indonesian NAN cultural influence is debatable (Holton et al 2012; McWilliam 2007), but it is the possibility that NAN speakers contributed to the material culture of MP speakers that makes eastern Indonesia an interesting area for this study.

Eastern Indonesia is genetically diverse, and genotypes associated with the Austronesian expansion are not in a majority on most islands, although they are present even in non-Austronesian-speaking communities (Bellwood 2013:193, 202).  There is almost no correlation between Austronesian-associated haplogroups and speaking an Austronesian language in current populations in eastern Indonesia (Lansing et al 2007; Mona et al 2009).[2]  On the other hand, little ancient DNA (‘aDNA’) analysis has been performed.  Weaving was not practiced on largely NAN-speaking, NAN-genotype Alor, indicating that material culture may be able to provide clues to the prehistoric past, although prohibitions on weaving were also in force in Austronesian-speaking areas in East Flores (Barnes and Kahlenberg 2010:348).

Words for ‘bow’ (*busuR) and ‘to shoot’ (*panaq) can be reconstructed to proto-Austronesian, meaning that its speakers possessed bows and arrows (Blust 1995; Baldick 2013:2).  Museum specimens afford us an additional opportunity: to surmise what prehistoric AN speakers’ bows may have looked like (see e.g. Chen 1968:149-150).  After an initial survey, I claim that the paradigmatic AN bow is 100-200 cm long and is a ‘self’ bow, made of wood or bamboo (with no horn or sinew) carved into a gently tapering D-cross section.  The string is two-ply twisted rattan; one end is tied to one nock, while the other end forms a non-slip loop that allows the bow to be braced with ease.  I intend to analyse eastern Indonesian bows further to find similarities in material; the incomplete data available suggest that Areca catechu and Arenga pinnata were the preferred woods.

The paradigmatic arrow has no fletchings and is often long in an attempt to compensate for this.  The main shaft of the arrow is invariably made of reed.  The arrowheads are large and diverse in material: iron was preferred in recent times, but hardwood and bone, including human bone, are by far the most common materials, and must have been more important in prehistory.  Stone arrowheads are uncommon, making it difficult to identify arrowheads archaeologically.  Slate arrowheads are known from Neolithic sites on Taiwan, meaning that the prevalence of wood and bone arrowheads may be a specifically Malayo-Polynesian trait (Bellwood 2013:193).  Their large size also means that they can be mistaken for harpoon heads, and vice versa.

Use of the bow is not well-documented, besides the Polynesian limiting of the bow to sport and ritual rather than warfare.  The string was probably drawn with the thumb and index finger, as Roy Ellen reports of Nuaulu archers (personal communication, 2013).

The closest NAN Indonesian arrowheads have been found in South Sulawesi: the ‘Maros’ points from Ulu Leang I, stone arrowheads with ‘bifacial, serrated retouch along the margins and a retouched hollow base’ associated with the non-agricultural Toalean industry, c.5500-3500 BP (Bulbeck et al 2001:71).  This is a technology unrelated to the AN style and disappears soon after the hypothesised arrival of AN speakers.  Later eastern Indonesian bows, however, are consistent with paradigmatic AN equipment.  A few bows in museums can be identified as NAN in origin, including a bamboo bow in the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde in Leiden (370-2264) identified as snapan djoebi from Halmahera – apparently a Galelarese (NAN) bow for target shooting (Catalogus 1883:85).  It resembles paradigmatic AN weapons.  Moreover, the bows and arrows of New Guinea resemble those I reconstruct as ancestral AN.[3]

Ethnographic references to bows are few.  Drabbe’s section on hunting in Tanimbar is a valuable exception (Drabbe 1940:93-94), and there are several photographs of archers and their bows from eastern Indonesia in the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam – #60002205, for example, a photograph (c.1895-1905) depicting Alorese warriors with bows.  Besides this, I intend to search for references to and descriptions of bows and archery in ethnohistoric materials, whether Dutch, English, Portuguese, or Chinese reports on the area.
Roger Blench has proposed that the paradigmatic AN bows may be an indigenous Southeast Asian technology that was borrowed back to Taiwan (personal communication, 2013).  An alternative is that the bow was introduced by MP speakers, and, where bows were present before this, the pre-existing technology was superseded either by the AN bow or by blowpipes, as Ian Caldwell has suggested for South Sulawesi (personal communication, 2013) and Philip Piper for Borneo (personal communication, 2013).  A further model is that MP speakers brought archery equipment that changed in response to local influences in ways that may be recoverable by looking at local bows, languages, and archaeological cultures.

As the bow is a powerful technology that may have contributed to the diffusion of several language families, including Na-Dene, Algonquian, and Niger-Congo, unravelling its presence in eastern Indonesia is not trivial (Bellwood 2013:215, 235; Fiedel 1990).  I want to examine the data in-depth – from linguistic and archaeological reports, ethnographic documents, colonial archives, and museum collections – to establish what archery in eastern Indonesia was like in prehistory; to find out when the bow was introduced, how, and by whom; to search for NAN elements in eastern Indonesian archery; and to look at AN/NAN interactions through this lens.

Baldick, J.  2013.  Ancient religions of the Austronesian world.  London: I. B. Tauris.
Barnes and Kahlenberg (eds).  2010.  Five centuries of Indonesian textiles.  Munich: Delmonico.
Bellwood, P.  2013.  First migrants.  Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Bellwood et al (eds).  1995.  The Austronesians.  Canberra: ANU Press.
Bellwood, P.  1997. The prehistory of the Indo-Malaysian archipelago. 2nd ed. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.
Blust, R.  1993.  Central and central-eastern Malayo-Polynesian.  Oceanic linguistics.  32:241-293.
Blust, R.  1995.  The prehistory of the Austronesian-speaking peoples.  Journal of world prehistory.  9:453-510.
Blust, R.  2013.  Southeast Asian islands and Oceania.  In Ness and Bellwood (eds).  Encyclopedia of global human migration.  1:276-283. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Bulbeck et al.  2001.  Culture history of the Toalean of South Sulawesi, Indonesia.  Asian perspectives.  39(1-2):71-108.
Catalogus der Afdeling Nederlandsche Kolonien van de Internationale Koloniale en Uitvoerhandel Tentoonstelling, Groep II. 1883.  Leiden: E. J. Brill.
Chen, C. L.  1968.  Material culture of the Formosan aborigines.  Taipei: The Taiwan Museum.
Craig, B.  1995.  Arrow designs in northern and central New Guinea and the Lapita connection.  In Schmidt et al (eds).  Pacific material culture.  Leiden: Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde.
Craig, B.  2005. What can material culture studies tell us about the past in New Guinea?  In Pawley et al (eds).  Papuan Pasts, cultural, linguistic and biological histories of Papua-speaking peoples. 493–513. Canberra: ANU Press.
Denham, T.  2011.  Early agriculture and plant domestication in New Guinea and Island Southeast Asia.  Current anthropology.  52(S4):S379-96.
Donohue, M.  2007.  The Papuan language of Tambora.  Oceanic linguistics. 46(2):520-537.
Drabbe, P. 1940.  De Tanembarees.  Leiden: E. J. Brill.
Fiedel, S.  1990.  Middle Woodland and Algonquian expansion: a refined model.  North American archaeologist.  11:209-230.
Foley, W.  2000.  The languages of New Guinea.  Annual review of anthropology.  29:357-404.
Fox, J. J. (ed.)  1988.  To speak in pairs.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Holton et al.  2012.  The historical relations of the Papuan languages of Alor and Pantar.  Oceanic linguistics.  51(1):86-122.
Klamer, M.  2002.  Typical features of Austronesian languages in central/eastern Indonesia.  Oceanic linguistics.  41(2):363-383.
Lansing et al.  2007.  Coevolution of languages and genes on the island of Sumba, eastern Indonesia.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA.  104(41):16022–16026.
McWilliam, A.  2007.  Austronesians in linguistic disguise.  Journal of southeast Asian studies.  38(2):355-375.
Mona et al.  2009.  Genetic admixture history of Eastern Indonesia as revealed by Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA analysis.  Molecular biological and evolution.  26(8):1865-1877.
Monk et al.  1996.  The ecology of Nusa Tenggara and Maluku.  Sydney: University of New South Wales Press.
Ross, M.  2003.  Typology and language families: a comment on Klamer’s ‘typical features of Austronesian languages in central/eastern Indonesia’.  Oceanic linguistics.  42(2):506-510
Solheim, W.  1984–1985.  The Nusantao hypothesis: the origin and spread of Austronesian speakers. Asian Perspectives.  26(1):77–88.
Solheim, W.  2006.  Archaeology and culture in Southeast Asia: unravelling the Nusantao.  Quezon City: University of Philippines Press.

[1] The controversy is significantly older than Denham and Donohue’s paper, as Wilhelm Solheim had proposed similar concepts decades before (Solheim 1984, 2006).
[2] It is also apparent that mtDNA haplogroup B4a1a1a, extremely common in Polynesia, has an eastern Indonesian origin, indicating at least some NAN eastern Indonesian influence in Austronesian-speaking communities of the Pacific (Bellwood 2013:203).
[3] Barry Craig has shown possible Lapita (i.e., Austronesian-speaking ancestral Oceanic) influence in the design of arrows and arrowheads from northern and central New Guinea, and Austronesian linguistic influence in New Guinea is demonstrable (Craig 1995).  Suggesting Austronesian introduction of the technology is not outlandish.  See also Craig 2005.

This photo is the one I mentioned in the proposal, showing Alorese warriors with bows around the turn of the twentieth century.  h/t Tropenmuseum.
This is exactly the research I want to conduct and SOAS is exactly the place I want to do it.  I have the skills to do it well, including strong knowledge of the anthropology of island Southeast Asia, understanding of the methods of historical linguistics, and good reading abilities in Dutch, Chinese, and Malay (needed for the ethnohistorical aspects).  I have a good understanding of Austronesian material culture, especially when it comes to hunting, weaponry, and the linguistic side of things.  I am also an amateur draughtsman and I intend to use that skill in identifying and illustrating the features of eastern Indonesian archery equipment as found in photographs and museum specimens.  This research is worthwhile, with the potential to reveal a lot about the Austronesian expansion, and I'm the right person for it.  The trouble is, I received the offer a weekend after the deadline for MPhil/PhD scholarships from the School. 

A map showing most of the area covered by the proposal, except for Sumba, Flores, and most of Timor in the southwest.  The red dot indicates the small island of Ternate, which became a powerful spice-trading Sultanate before its annexation by the Netherlands.
In the US, a PhD can take a little under a decade to complete, there are several years of taught content included in the programme, and funding is often an integral part of an admissions offer.  In the UK, by contrast, a PhD is almost pure research with little or no taught content.  Programmes tend to last between three and four years and funding is rarely included in an offer; it must be applied for separately, with many funding applications dependant on the candidate receiving an offer before a certain deadline.  In my case, the offer came late by exactly one working day.  I left the recommended 4-6 week gap between my application and the deadline, but I assume the volume of applications was too great.

SOAS has an enormous amount of funding specifically for Southeast Asia.  It was recently given £20,000,000 by the Alphawood Foundation in Chicago specifically for Southeast Asian PhDs in the History of Art and Archaeology department.  This is great news for Southeast Asian studies, but unfortunately for me, applicants have to be normally resident in Southeast Asian nations.  I can hardly object to that, of course.

The Austronesian languages of island ('maritime') Southeast Asia.  I'm particularly interested in the areas coloured green and purple, where speakers of Central-Eastern or Central Malayo-Polynesian languages (depending on who you speak to) live alongside speakers of non-Austronesian languages. h/t Wiki.
So I've got an offer of admission at the university I want to attend for the research I want to conduct, but I've got no solid source of funding at the moment.  I'm probably going to add a donations box for this blog and I'll set up an academic crowd-funding page for anyone who wants to help out a little.  I'll be using the Alternative Guide to Postgraduate Funding to seek out under-used sources of funding as well, but there's little guarantee that any single source of funding will be able to make the difference.  If you have any suggestions, contacts, or money, do let me know.  I'll be very grateful.

I've got quite a bit of money to raise - a scholarship in the UK normally gives around £15,000 (~$25,000) per year, and I don't have savings approaching that right now.  Fees are high and neither Oxfordshire nor London are cheap places to live.  But I have until autumn this year to find the money, and I hope, with your help, that I can do it.

One possible source of funding was the British Museum, which contains some of the materials I need for my research.  The possibility of a collaborative award was floated, and I emailed the Southeast Asia curator at the Museum about the possibility.  Unfortunately, the Southeast Asia curator is no longer responsible for the Indonesian collection, and the position for an Indonesia curator advertised last year was not filled, meaning that nobody at the British Museum can supervise dissertations or provide financial support to anyone studying an Indonesian topic.


  1. Great news! This is indeed a fascinating subject. Best wishes.

  2. Can't agree more with your phrase "a neglected but actually rather fascinating subject" (commenting as a commoner though). I've shared this link to a friend whose an archaeology alumna from UI, hope you don't mind.

    By the way, the word "kayaw" reminds me of early 2000s' Sampit conflict, since it was said that Dayak shamans practiced kayau to the Kalimantan Madurese as a massacre aid.

    1. as a mean of remote massive decapitation I mean.


You can post anonymously if you really want to, but I'd appreciate it if you could provide some means of identifying who you are, if only for the purpose of knowing who has written what.