Prof John Miksic: Unearthing Singapore’s forgotten treasures

25 June, 2019

Photo: NUS News

NUS News features a short summary of NUS Department of Southeast Asian Studies Professor John Miksic’s archaeological life and career. Prof Miksic’s interest in archaeology began even before his university days, when he would recall finding arrowheads from Native Americans with his grandfather on his family farm. After pursuing his undergraduate studies in anthropology at Dartmouth College, his brief stint with the US Peace Corps and in international affairs never extinguished his love for archaeology. In 1974, Prof Miksic received a Fulbright scholarship from Cornell University to conduct a PhD project in Sumatra. This marked his first foray into the field of Southeast Asian archaeology, which led him to take up a teaching position in Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. He was also invited to conduct archaeological test excavations in Singapore.

Two of the discoveries Prof Miksic recalls were that of a 14th century layer still preserved from his Fort Canning dig in Singapore, as well as ‘The Headless Horseman’, a statue of a man, depicted in an Indonesian style, riding on a winged horse. He cites ‘The Headless Horseman’ as his most significant discovery as of yet, explaining that it is a one-of-a-kind object, completely unique to Singapore. In his own words, ‘You just can’t predict what’s going to happen, but you have to try. That’s what archaeology is.’

(Photo: ‘The Headless Horseman’ from NUS News)

Prof Miksic is currently working on a display that will be featured at Fort Canning Park in the newly unveiled ‘From Singapore to Singaporean: The Bicentennial Experience’, a digital multimedia interactive installation that aims to capture the history of Singapore in 700 years. It celebrates the 200th anniversary since Sir Stamford Raffles first stepped foot on the island that he would later claim for the British.

Prof Miksic specialises in the ancient history of Southeast Asia, focusing on ancient ports along the Straits of Melaka, early cities in Indonesia, Cambodia, and Myanmar, and ceramic analysis. He also manages the Archaeology Laboratory in his home department.

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