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Image of Flores, Indonesia

In a number of earlier posts I have touched on some topics around Southeast Asia’s distant past.

Revisiting that theme was prompted by the thought provoking article here.

A one sentence summary of the article is that our understanding of the role and prominence of Asia in human evolutionary history is changing…again.

A couple of points I would make in response.

One point is the article’s reference to the cave art of Sulawesi being potentially the oldest in the world. I guess I will never see that art in person, but I will put a visit on my lifetime wish list. I have visited the ancient Aboriginal rock art at Mootawingee in Australia and that is something I will never forget.

Another point I would make (again) is that the article reminds us just how recent and arbitary our modern political boundaries are. These delineations are not reasonably undersood as a contest btween Asian history v Southeast Asian history or Indonesian history v Malaysia, this is our history.

And yet that concept is hard work. A sense of self built on national identity makes knowing our identity easier for us, in the same way that football team colours make it easier for us to identify us and them.

But these ancient people (or often, like Flores hobbits, maybe people) challenge us. Is their history our history or theirs alone? Is any greater understanding of this era a journey into the past as cultural insiders or outsiders?

Perhaps the answer rests on whether we can draw a sufficiently clear link from this past to our national identity.

An interpretation founded on the existence (or not) of this link would trap us in the constraints of our contemporary political realities, but sadly that may just be inescapable.

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