Interviews of Researchers: Samantha Elsie Jones




Cet entretien avec Samantha Elsie Jones est le premier d’une série de rencontres que nous souhaitons publier sur ce blog. En quelques questions-réponses, nous souhaitons illustrer l’actualité de la recherche archéologique et anthropologique à Bornéo, à partir de la parole de ceux qui en sont les acteurs, chercheurs jeunes et seniors.

This interview with Samantha Elsie Jones is the first interview of a serie we wish to publish on this blog. Through few Q&A we aim to give a view on the current research in Borneo, from the witness of the (young and senior) researchers who do it.


Where did you train and in which field of research ?

“2005-2006: I completed an MSc in Environmental archaeology at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland. 2007-2012: I completed a PhD in tropical palynology from the Kelabit Highlands of Borneo, also at Queen’s University  Belfast. 2014-present: I am currently undertaking a Marie Curie Post-doc at IPHES, Tarragona in Spain, which includes continued training in the use of various different proxies in the field on palaeoecology.”

What drove you to study this research field?

“It was during an Erasmus year in Switzerland, which I undertook during 2002-2003. This was part of a Geography and German joint honours degree, based at Plymouth University in England. Geography is a very broad topic and it wasn’t until I began studying in Bern that I was introduced to the field of palaeoecology, which inspired me to continue once I got back to Plymouth, leading eventually to where I am today.”

What research are you doing/have you done in Borneo and Indonesia?

“During my masters dissertation I completed a palynological reconstruction from lake sediments, extracted from a place called Logan Bunut in the lowlands of Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. During my PhD research I undertook a multi-proxy investigation using pollen, phytolith, loi & magnetic susceptibility from the Kelabit Highlands of Sarawak. The work involved two months in the Kelabit Highlands collecting the data as well as the lab work and analysis after the field seasons. My PhD research was also part of the ‘Cultured Rainforest Project’ a multi-disciplinary project, involving anthropologists, archaeologists, botanists and palaeoecologists, which was set up to investigate long term and present day interactions between people and the rainforest in the Borneo highlands.

My own research produced a 50,000 year environmental history, a 6000 year record of potential human activity and a 3000 year record of likely clearance and sago palm management. The 3000 year record correlates quite well with the archaeological findings. I also produced a pollen reference collection from the Kelabit Highlands containing over 200 species of flowering plant.”

What is your opinion on the current state of anthropological/archaeological research in Borneo and in the South East Asian region?

“There has been a lot of good work by archaeologists and anthropologists over the years; however tropical forests including those in SE Asia are still some of the least explored areas in the world, particularly for archaeology. Location of sites is often difficult due to the vast canopy cover, the harsh terrain and dangers which might be associated with working in tropical forests; on top of this the warm wet climate often means preservation of bones and artefacts is poor. I also feel that archaeological training and research at a national level remains under-developed in Borneo and the SE Asian region, particularly in island SE Asia. There remains a wealth of archaeology undiscovered and many unanswered questions (regarding early hominid development, past cultural practices, the development of arboreal and agricultural practices etc…).”

What research developments in anthropology and archaeology would you like to see in these regions?

“I would like to see the development of archaeology and palaeoecology at universities within island SE Asia. I would also like to see more integrated approaches with different disciplines working together, particularly anthropologists, archaeologists and palaeoecologists. Anthropologists are able to provide a deep understanding of how different communities live today and in the recent past (e.g. their spiritual beliefs-practices, foraging-farming strategies, tool use and different uses of landscape) which can be used to aid the interpretation of archaeological/palaeoecological records from the more distant past. For example uses of various artefacts uncovered during excavations or perhaps the importance of specific plants over time.

Most importantly I would like to see archaeology and anthropology develop a stronger educational approach, highlighting the importance of conservation, protection of monuments, and providing information on how people’s ancestors lived in the past. Today logging is taking place at an alarming rate not just in SE Asia but in many tropical areas of the world. By highlighting areas of outstanding archaeological and anthropological interest brings awareness to why we should all work together in protecting our environment. Local people play an important role in this.”

What is the most important or exciting anthropological/archaeological discovery in these regions during the last years?

“There have been many exciting discoveries in SE Asia over the years. For example Homo floresiences on the island of Flores; Early tool use by Homo erectus on the island of Java; Early evidence of Homo sapiens at Tam Pa Ling in Laos and in the Philippines. The presence, plant use and potential forest manipulation at Niah cave in Sarawak as well as on the island of New Guinea; Development of arboreal practices/, particularly in New Guinea and in the Highlands of Sarawak during the Holocene; and many others not mentioned…”


Her page on the IPHES website : link
Sa page sur le site de l’IPHES : lien

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