SOAS University of London

Centre of South East Asian Studies

When Pots Whisper: Ceramics, Society, and Life in a Medieval Burmese Palace

Goh Geok Yian

Date: 6 March 2020Time: 5:15 PM

Finishes: 6 March 2020Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: B202

Type of Event: Seminar


Myanmar archaeologists have worked at the site of the Anawrahta-Kyanzittha palaces (AKP) for almost 30 years. Few palaces have been excavated in Southeast Asia, so the study of the AKP site can shed significant light on our understanding of both ancient Myanmar and ancient palaces in the entire region. Burmese archaeologists have unearthed a huge quantity of evidence which supports the argument that an elite group inhabited the site, in all probability early rulers of the Bagan kingdom. The most convincing evidence comprises foundations of very large buildings, such as bricks, wood, and ceramic tiles. Artifacts recovered mainly consist of a wide variety of ceramics, votive tablets and statuary, enabling us to use them to draw inferences about daily life in the palaces.

The Myanmar-Singapore Archaeological Training Project (MSATP), a joint effort between Myanmar and Singapore funded by Singapore Ministry of Education grants, focuses on analysis of ceramics and secondarily on other materials, as well as capacity building of our Burmese counterparts for whom ceramic studies are a new realm. The aim of the project is to reconstruct activities conducted in the palaces and possible socio-economic and religious changes over a period of three centuries. This presentation provides an update on research at Bagan with a focus on a project the author and her co-investigators have been undertaking since 2014. In the long term, this research should expand to provide important insights into medieval Burmese urbanism.

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Speaker Biography

Goh Geok Yian is Associate Chair (Research) and Associate Professor of History at the School of Humanities, Nanyang Technological University Singapore. She is a historian and archaeologist of premodern Southeast Asia who has conducted field work in Myanmar, Indonesia, and Singapore since 1991. Her research interests include archaeology and early history of Southeast Asia, premodern communication, cultural and trade networks, and early urbanization. She is leading a multi-year project combining Bagan, Myanmar and Singapore, focusing on ceramics analysis and urbanization.  Her publications include The Wheel-Turner and His House: Kingship in a Buddhist Ecumene (2015), Ancient Southeast Asia (with John Miksic) (2017), and the edited volume Bagan and the World: Early Myanmar and its Global Connections (2017).


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This event is made possible by generous support from SOAS's Southeast Asian Art Academic Programme.

Organiser: SOAS Centre of South East Asian Studies and SOAS Southeast Asian Art Academic Programme

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