British Museum
Thu 14 Dec 2023
5:30 pm - 6:30 pm
Ancient Kingdoms of Myanmar image

This discussion reflects and expands on the diverse art and material culture of ancient Myanmar as explored in the new exhibition Burma to Myanmar.
Drawing on archaeological, art historical, ethnographic and critical heritage perspectives, we consider key moments in the long history of cultural exchange during the first millennium AD. From the earliest evidence of urbanisation in the early centuries, to the establishment of Burmese dynastic rule at Bagan (in the 11–13th centuries), this history is one of intersecting narratives. Most notable is the wealth of unique artistic traditions that resulted from the support by Buddhist patrons and rituals of merit-making. A core practice in Buddhist Southeast Asia, merit-making is the ritual of practising good deeds, particularly generosity, in the belief that the merit earned will positively affect the quality of one’s next life. 
We consider too the architectural legacy of Bagan, a UNESCO nominated site since 2019, and highlight key challenges in the management of this living sacred site of national importance.
Heidi Tan, a lecturer and expert on Burmese culture, will introduce this session with an historical overview, and will consider how the rich material cultures of ancient Myanmar have come to be understood, particularly in the context of museum collections and recent exhibitions.
Archaeologist Thaw Zin Latt will introduce the early and diverse urban centres spread across present-day Myanmar. The presentation will focus on the regional and cross-cultural connections of those sites, through the lens of museum objects and tangible heritage.
Cultural heritage practitioner Daw Ohnmar Myo will introduce the cultural landscape of Bagan and its glorious past, and will also discuss the current challenges of managing this pre-eminent ancient heritage site. From the 11th to the 13th centuries, Bagan was an important centre of Buddhism in Southeast Asia, renowned for its rich artistic legacy, including sacred architecture, painted murals and sculpture. 
However, Bagan now faces many challenges in the safeguarding of its tangible and intangible heritage. Daw Ohnmar Myo will share critical insights into issues affecting Bagan’s conservation, such as the impact of tourism and the effects of climate change, government policy and management, and the importance of sustaining local community involvement.