The mid-first millennium CE represents a crucial period in the emergence of early polities in Southeast Asia. However, disagreement remains between archaeologists and art historians as to the precise dating of this shift from prehistory to history. This article focuses on the Dvāravatī period and re-evaluates evidence in Thai and Western language publications. A growing number of sites excavated over the past two decades in particular show occupation from c. the fourth to fifth century onwards while others provide a continual sequence stretching back well into the Iron Age. I argue that evidence from these sites makes a strong case for postulating a proto-Dvāravatī period spanning c. the fourth to fifth centuries. In doing so this article proposes this period as the timeframe within which the nascent traits and characteristics of what becomes Dvāravatī in the seventh to ninth centuries are present and gradually developing.
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