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Southeast Asia is a paradox to Western scholars. Few are familiar with its history, yet Southeast Asia has been a veritable intellectual resource extraction zone for twentieth- and twenty-first-century social thought: imagined communities, galactic polities, agricultural involution and the moral economy of peasants all emanate from work done in Southeast Asia. The region's archaeological record is equally paradoxical: late Pleistocene ‘Hobbit’ hominins disrupt models of human origins, the world's largest Buddhist monument of Borobudur now sits in a wholly Muslim land mass in central Java, and the world's largest premodern city of Angkor is located in Cambodia, a country that remains resolutely rural. So we should not be surprised that Scott's Against the Grain: A deep history of the earliest states draws from a career in Southeast Asian studies to study human history (the entire Anthropocene). This essay concentrates on how Scott believes early Mesopotamian states became legible.
Radiocarbon dates from recent excavations of a range of Angkorian Khmer (~9th–14th CE) stoneware kiln complexes provide a new and independent perspective on the timing and geography of Khmer ceramic production. These data demonstrate a clear two-phase sequence. The first, in the late 9th to late 12th centuries CE, marks a period of intensive production located both to the east of Angkor and to the south at Cheung Ek, south of Phnom Penh. A second shorter phase of production occurred in the late 13th to late 14th CE at more distant provincial settings following the collapse of the Angkorian state.
Studies of early Southeast Asia focus largely on its ‘classical states’, when rulers and their entourages from Sukhothai and Ayutthaya (Thailand), Angkor (Cambodia), Bagan (Myanmar), Champa and Dai Viet (Vietnam) clashed, conquered, and intermarried one another over an approximately six-century-long quest for legitimacy and political control. Scholarship on Southeast Asia has long held that such transformations were largely a response to outside intervention and external events, or at least that these occurred in interaction with a broader world system in which Southeast Asians played key roles. As research gathered pace on the prehistory of the region over the past five decades or so, it has become increasingly clear that indigenous Southeast Asian cultures grew in sophistication and complexity over the Iron Age in particular. This has led archaeologists to propose much greater agency in regard to the selective adaptation of incoming Indic beliefs and practices than was previously assumed under early scholarship of the nineteenth and early to mid-twentieth century.
Considerable attention has been devoted to the architecture and art history of Cambodia's Angkor Wat temple in the last century. There has, however, been little research on the functions and internal organisation of the large rectangular enclosure surrounding the temple. Such enclosures have long been assumed to have been sacred precincts, or perhaps ‘temple-cities’: work exploring the archaeological patterning for habitation within them has been limited. The results of LiDAR survey and excavation have now revealed evidence for low-density residential occupation in these areas, possibly for those servicing the temple. Recent excavations within the enclosure challenge our traditional understanding of the social hierarchy of the Angkor Wat community and show that the temple precinct, bounded by moat and wall, may not have been exclusively the preserve of the wealthy or the priestly elite.
As archaeologists, we seek to understand variation and change in past human societies. This goal necessitates a comparative approach, and comparisons justify the broad cross-cultural and diachronic scope of our work. Without comparisons we sink into the culture-bound theorizing against which anthropology and archaeology have long sought to broaden social science research. By undertaking comparisons that incorporate long-term social variability, archaeologists not only improve our understanding of the past, but also open the door to meaningful transdisciplinary research. Archaeologists have unique and comprehensive data sets whose analysis can contribute to dialogues surrounding contemporary issues and the myriad challenges of our era.
In the past two decades, the pendulum seems to have swung away from comparative research in archaeology. Many archaeologists focus on detailed contextual descriptions of individual cases, and only a few have dedicated themselves to explicit comparative work. Yet in that same time span, fieldwork has expanded tremendously throughout the world, leading to an explosion of well-documented diachronic data on sites and regions. We now have substantial detail on the variation inherent in phenomena such as cultural assemblages, settlement patterns, and economic activity. New methods, from dating techniques to digital data processing, promote comparative analysis and greatly advance our understanding of human societies and change. The time is ripe for a renewed commitment to comparative research in archaeology.
Interest in the material correlates of economic specialization has led to numerous quantitative studies of standardization (or the lack of it) in craft production, particularly of ceramics. Most of this research has focused on measures of variation and conventional statistical procedures in the treatment of the empirical data, many of which are dependent on unrealistic assumptions (such as normal populations), yielding results that can be questioned. To resolve this crisis more robust statistical methods are investigated including the “jackknife” method (for confidence interval construction) and a multigroup test for homogeneity of variance known as the Brown-Forsythe Test. Computer simulations show that the latter is robust under a variety of distributional forms. These new methods are used to reanalyze ethnoarchaeological ceramic data from the Philippines; it is shown that markedly different conclusions can be reached when compared with the results of more conventional procedures.
A well–established dialogue concerning “post–processualism” reflects a current lack of consensus in archaeological theory. Post–processualists advocate a particularistic, hermeneutic approach to archaeological inquiry and thereby challenge the “explicitly scientific” approach of what has now become known as processual archaeology. This debate has produced a substantial corpus of literature, only some of which will be considered here. Ethnographic data form the foundation for many archaeological interpretations, and have been used in both processual and post–processual frameworks. Moreover, ethnoarchaeology represents a research strategy of increasing importance in supplying both processual and post–processual archaeologists with ideas for interpretation. Accordingly, this analysis broaches the post–processual discussion by focusing on strengths and limitations of ethnoarchaeological research.
In the post–processual spirit of polemic strategies (Shanks and Tilley 1989: 8), this paper challenges the premise that “varieties of empiricism do not form an appropriate medium for a materialist practice” (ibid. 1989: 44). Embodied in Hodder's (1986: 79) claim that empirical science is a “cracked and broken facade” (and resounded elsewhere, e.g., Shanks and Tilley 1989: 3), the paper focuses on the domain of current ethnoarchaeological research and argues that archaeologists and ethnoarchaeologists are compelled by the nature of their data to maintain methodological rigor in research.
This paper considers symbolic analyses of material culture that are conducted within traditional (i.e., nonindustrialized) societies as post–processual ethnoarchaeological research.