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Sites, survey, and ceramics: Settlement patterns of the first to ninth centuries CE in the Upper Mun River Valley, northeast Thailand

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 September 2016


Our understanding of the transition from the last centuries of prehistory to the Pre-Angkorian period in northeast Thailand has been limited by a lack of projects bridging both periods. This article examines settlement patterns of the first to the ninth centuries CE in the Upper Mun River Valley based on recent (2012–14) surveys. The findings highlight the gradual settlement trends in the region, with a focus on local modification rather than the sudden adoption of external ideas. Results reinforce the fourth to sixth centuries CE as a pivotal period, when large centres consolidated and cautiously expanded upriver, into previously uninhabited regions. A relatively modest, flexible, and resilient settlement strategy developed, attuned to wider supra-regional trends, but allowing for the demands of the local cultural and physical landscape.

Research Article
Copyright © The National University of Singapore 2016 

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1 Alluvial floodplains (123–140 m asl), shallow alluvial floodplains (140–160 m asl), low-mid terraces (160–200 m asl), and uplands (200–262 m asl), were surveyed using 50 m transects. Survey area D was based on notes from the earlier Khorat Basin Archaeological Project (KBAP). See Caitlin Evans, ‘Sites, ceramics, and settlement: New survey in the Upper Mun River Valley, northeast Thailand’ (Ph.D. diss., James Cook University, 2016). This survey was undertaken with the assistance of Jitlada Innanchai, Earthwatch volunteers, National Research Council of Thailand, and the Fine Arts Department of Thailand (FAD).

2 On SEBA, see Boyd, Bill and Chang, Nigel, ‘Integrating social and environmental change in prehistory: A discussion of the role of landscape as a heuristic in defining prehistoric possibilities in NE Thailand’, in Terra Australia 32. Altered ecologies: Fire, climate and human influence on terrestrial landscapes, ed. Haberle, Simon, Stevenson, Janelle and Prebble, Matthew (Canberra: ANU E Press, 2010), pp. 273–97Google Scholar. Ceramics referenced from Sarjeant, Carmen, ‘A characterization of mortuary ceramics from Ban Non Wat, northeast Thailand’, Bulletin of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association (BIPPA) 30 (2010): 163–77Google Scholar; Higham, Charles, The origins of the civilization of Angkor, vol. 6, pt 4. The excavation of Ban Non Wat: The Iron Age, summary and conclusions (Bangkok: FAD, 2009), pp. 187249 Google Scholar; Indrawooth, ‘Phasook, Index pottery of the Dvaravati period (in Thai) (Bangkok: Silpakorn University, 1985)Google Scholar; See also Higham et al., The origins of the civilization of Angkor, vols. 4 and 5, and Higham (this vol.) on the ceramics at Ban Non Wat.

3 Sites were grouped using the ArcGIS distance-density function. See Peterson, Christian E. and Drennan, Robert D., ‘Communities, settlements, sites, and surveys: Regional-scale analysis of prehistoric human interaction’, American Antiquity 70, 1 (2005): 530 Google Scholar. For a discussion of the term ‘site’ see Binford, Lewis R. et al. , ‘Archaeology at Hatchery West’, Memoirs of the Society for American Archaeology 24 (1970): i91 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Dunnell, Robert C. and Dancey, William S., ‘The siteless survey: A regional scale data collection strategy’, Advances in Archaeological Method and Theory 6 (1983): 267–87Google Scholar; and Bevan, Andrew and Conolly, James, ‘GIS, archaeological survey, and landscape archaeology on the island of Kythera, Greece’, Journal of Field Archaeology 29, 1–2 (2004): 123–38Google Scholar; Burger, Oskar and Todd, Lawrence C., ‘Grain, extent, and intensity: The components of scale in archaeological survey’, in Confronting scale in archaeology, ed. Lock, Gary and Molyneaux, Brian L. (New York: Springer, 2006), pp. 235–55Google Scholar; Dunnell, Robert C., ‘The notion site’, in Space, time, and archaeological landscapes, ed. Rossignol, Jacqueline and Wandsnider, LuAnn (New York: Springer, 1992), pp. 2141 Google Scholar.

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13 In 1984 and 1989, KBAP I and KBAP II examined a series of 1:42000 scale black and white aerial photographs taken in April 1954, for evidence of large archaeological mounds located within an area of 1,600 sq km surrounding the town of Phimai (the regional centre of Vimayapura during the Angkor period).

14 Welch, David J. and McNeill, Judith R., ‘Excavations at Ban Tamyae and Non Ban Kham, Phimai region, northeast Thailand’, Asian Perspectives 28, 2 (1988): 99123 Google Scholar.

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19 O'Reilly, Dougald J.W., von den Driesch, Angela, and Voeun, Vuthy, ‘Archaeology and archaeozoology of Phum Snay: A late prehistoric cemetery in northwestern Cambodia’, Asian Perspectives 45, 2 (2006): 195 Google Scholar; Pisnupong, Pirapon, History and archaeology of Muang Si Mahosot (in Thai) (Bangkok: FAD, 1992)Google Scholar; Bronson, Bennet and Dales, George, ‘Excavations at Chansen, Thailand, 1968, 1969: A preliminary report’, Asian Perspectives 15 (1972): 1546 Google Scholar.

20 See also Higham et al., ‘The excavation of Non Ban Jak’.

21 Higham, Charles, Kijngam, Amphan and Talbot, Sarah, The origins of the civilisation of Angkor, vol. 2: The excavation of Noen-U-Loke and Non Muang Kao (Bangkok: FAD, 2007)Google Scholar; O'Reilly, ‘From the Bronze Age to the Iron Age’.

22 Welch, ‘Archaeology of northeast Thailand’: 222.

23 Higham et al., ‘The excavation of Non Ban Jak’.

24 Sarah Talbot, ‘The analysis of the mortuary record’, in Higham et al., The origins of the civilisation of Angkor, vol. 2, pp. 305–51.

25 Higham, ‘The long and winding road that leads to Angkor’: 283.

26 Boyd, William E., McGrath, Roger J., and Higham, Charles F.W., ‘The geoarchaeology of Iron Age “moated” sites of the Upper Mae Nam Mun Valley, NE Thailand. 1: Palaeodrainage, site-landscape relationships and the origins of the “moats”’, Geoarchaeology 14, 7 (1999): 675716 Google Scholar; O'Reilly, ‘From the Bronze Age to the Iron Age’: 7–8.

27 Boyd, ‘Social change in late Holocene mainland SE Asia’: 11–23.

28 See Higham et al., ‘The excavation of Non Ban Jak’; Talbot, ‘The analysis of the mortuary record’, pp. 305–51; Welch and McNeill, ‘The original Phimai Black site’; Khemica Wangsuk, ‘The cultural development in the Mun River Basin: A case study of the archaeological site at Muang Sema, Sung Noen district, Nakhon Ratchasima Province’ (M.A. thesis, Silpakorn University, Bangkok, 2000).

29 Higham, ‘The long and winding road’: 272–7; Higham and Rispoli, ‘The Mun Valley’.

30 Higham et al., The origins of the civilisation of Angkor, vol. 2.

31 Higham and Rispoli, ‘The Mun Valley’: 17.

32 Observed by the authors on site, during the excavation of Non Ban Jak, Jan. 2014.

33 Higham et al., ‘The excavation of Non Ban Jak’.

34 See Higham, ‘The long and winding road’.

35 Fine Arts Department, The excavation of Phon Songkhram (in Thai) (Bangkok: FAD); translated courtesy Jitlada Innanchai.

36 FAD, ‘Plan and report of the survey and excavations of ancient monuments in north-eastern Thailand, Thailand’ (in Thai) (Bangkok: FAD, 1959); Welch, ‘Archaeology of northeast Thailand’: 223–5.

37 Wangsuk, ‘The cultural development in the Mun River Basin’, p. 209.

38 Murphy, Stephen, ‘Buddhism and its relationship to Dvaravati period settlement patterns and material culture in northeast Thailand and central Laos ca. sixth–eleventh centuries A.D.: A historical ecology approach to the landscape of the Khorat Plateau’, Asian Perspectives 52, 2 (2013): 300326 Google Scholar.

39 An exception to this are the upland sites of ‘forest monasticism’ described by Murphy, ‘Buddhism and its relationship to Dvaravati period’, p. 301.

40 Higham, ‘The long and winding road’: 272–7; Bennet Bronson, ‘The late prehistory and early history of central Thailand with special reference to Chansen’, in Smith and Watson, Early South East Asia, pp. 327–8; Welch, ‘Adaptation’, p. 150; Talbot, Sarah and Chutima, Janthed, ‘Northeast Thailand before Angkor: Evidence from an archaeological excavation at the Prasat Hin Phimai’, Asian Perspectives 40, 2 (2001): 183 Google Scholar.

41 Bronson, ‘The late prehistory and early history’, p. 327.

42 Pichard, Pierre, Pimay: Étude architecturale du temple (Paris: EFEO, 1976), p. 22 Google Scholar; Talbot and Chutima, ‘Northeast Thailand before Angkor’: 188; Buranrak, ‘Report on the restoration of Prasat Hin Phanom Wan. Tambon Ban Pho, Amphoe Muang, Changwa Nakhon Ratchasima’ (in Thai, unpub., 2000).

43 Bennet Bronson, ‘Excavations at Chansen and the cultural chronology of protohistoric central Thailand’ (Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1976); Indrawooth, Index pottery of Dvaravati; see also Murphy, this vol.

44 Welch and McNeil, ‘Excavations at Ban Tamyae’.

45 Solheim and Ayres, ‘The late prehistoric and early historic pottery’; Welch, ‘Adaptation’, pp. 130–32; Higham, ‘The Iron Age’: 104.

46 Higham and Rispoli, ‘The Mun Valley’.

47 Welch, ‘Late prehistoric and early historic exchange’.

48 Welch, David J. and Judith R. McNeil, ‘Settlement, agriculture and population changes in the Phimai region, Thailand’, BIPPA 11, 2 (1991): 210–28Google Scholar; Patreau, Jean-Pierre, Pauk, U. Pauk and Domett, Kate, ‘Le cimetiere de Hnaw Kan, Malhaing (Mandalay), Note preliminaire’, Aseanie 8 (2001): 73102 Google Scholar.

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50 Complete distance-to-salt results can be found in Evans, ‘Sites, ceramics, and settlement’. Evidence for salt production in UMRV can be found in Yankowski, Andrea, and Kerdsap, Puangthip, ‘Salt-making in northeast Thailand: An ethnoarchaeological study in Tambon Phan Song Khram, Nakhon Rachasima province, northeast Thailand’, Silpakorn University Journal of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts 13, 1 (2013): 231–52Google Scholar; Duke, Belinda, Carter, Alison and Chang, Nigel, ‘The excavation of Iron Age working floors and small-scale industry at Ban Non Wat, Thailand’, Papers from the Institute of Archaeology 20 (2010): 123–30Google Scholar.

51 Welch, ‘Late prehistoric and early historic exchange’.

52 However, if the Pre-Angkorian period results are a component of a much larger pan-regional settlement system and we have not included the largest site size, these results might not be representative.

53 This culture is characterised by displays of post-Gupta and Pala Indian art styles of Indian origin; Coedès, George, The Indianised states of Southeast Asia (Honolulu: East-West Center Press, 1968)Google Scholar; Hutterer, Karl, ‘Early Southeast Asia: Old wine in new skins? A review article’, Journal of Asian Studies 41, 3 (1982): 559–70Google Scholar; Paul Wheatley, ‘Urban genesis in mainland Southeast Asia’, in Smith and Watson, Early Southeast Asia, pp. 288–303; see also Murphy, this vol.

54 Dvaravati is also described on a seventh-century coin, see Vallibhotama, Srisakra, ‘Political and cultural continuities at Dvaravati sites’, in Southeast Asia in the 9th to 14th centuries, ed. Marr, David G. and Milner, Anthony C. (Singapore: ISEAS, 1986), p. 229 Google Scholar; Diskul, M.C. Subhadradis, Art in Thailand: A brief history (Bangkok: Amarin Press, 1972), pp. 45 Google Scholar.

55 Vallibhotama, ‘Political and cultural continuities’, p. 229; Brown, Robert, The Dvaravati wheels of the law and the Indianization of South East Asia (Leiden: Brill 1996)Google Scholar; Revire, this vol.

56 Wales, H.G. Quaritch, Dvaravati: The earliest kingdom of Siam (London: B. Quaritch, 1969)Google Scholar; Diskul, Subhadradis, ‘Mueng Fa Dæd: An ancient town in northeast Thailand’, Artibus Asiae (1956): 362–7Google Scholar.

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58 Wesley Clarke, Ohio University, pers. comm., 16 June 2014.

59 ‘Unique early Cambodian sculptures discovered’, Illustrated London News, 28 Aug. 1965; Boisselier, Jean, ‘Notes sur l'art du bronze dans l'ancien Cambodge’, Artibus Asiae 2 (1967): 275334 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Lerner, Martin, The flame and the lotus: Indian and Southeast Asian art from the Kronos Collections (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1984)Google Scholar; Talbot, Sarah, ‘Before Angkor: Early historic communities in northeast Thailand’, Journal of the Siam Society 91 (2003): 7589 Google Scholar; Bunker, Emma, ‘The Prakhon Chai story: Facts and fiction’, Arts of Asia 32, 2 (2002): 106–25Google Scholar.

60 Vallibhotama, ‘Political and cultural continuities’, pp. 229–36.

61 Ibid., p. 231.

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63 Also translated as ‘inside Kambudesa’ by some; see Brown, The Dvaravati wheels of the law, p. 26.

64 Coedès, George, Inscriptions du Cambodge, vol. 6 (Paris: EFEO, 1954), pp. 83–5Google Scholar; Brown, The Dvaravati wheels of the law, pp. 25–6.

65 Although it should be noted that Chinese records describe the 8th century CE capital of Wendan (Land Chenla), as located in northeast Thailand, likely along the Mun (mul) River. Ferlus, Michel, ‘Linguistic evidence of the trans-peninsular trade route from North Vietnam to the Gulf of Thailand (3rd–8th centuries)’, Mon-Khmer Studies 41 (2012): 1019 Google Scholar; Woodward, Hiram, ‘Dvaravati, Sri Thep, and Wendan’, BIPPA 30 (2010): 8797 Google Scholar. The exact location of this centre, however, is unknown.

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68 Bauer, ‘Notes on Mon epigraphy’; Talbot, ‘Before Angkor’: 76.

69 Higham and Rispoli, ‘The Mun Valley’.

70 Eyre, ‘Prehistoric and protohistoric communities’; Eyre, ‘Social variation and dynamics’.

71 Survey conducted by Supajanya, T. and Vanasin, P., The inventory of ancient settlements in Thailand (Bangkok: Toyota Foundation, 1983)Google Scholar and latter added to by Mudar, Karen, ‘How many Dvaravati kingdoms? Locational analysis of first millennium A.D. moated settlements in central Thailand’, Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 18, 1 (1999): 128 Google Scholar.

72 Murphy, ‘The Buddhist boundary markers’, p. 149.

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76 Higham, ‘The long and winding road’: 285; Jacques and Freeman, Angkor, p. 57, Talbot and Chutima, ‘Northeast Thailand’: 179.

77 With the potential exception of Si Thep, which allied with Wendan and maintained ties with Cambodia entering the Sitrasena/ Bhavavarman periods. Jacques and Freeman, Angkor, p. 69, Seidenfaden, ‘Complement a l'inventaire’: 32–64; O'Reilly, Dougald, Early civilizations of Southeast Asia (Lanham, MD: AltaMira, 2007), pp. 91126 Google Scholar.

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84 Malleret, Louis, L'archéologie du Delta du Mékong, 1. L'Exploration archaeologique et les fouilles d'Oc-Eo (Paris: EFEO, 1960), pp. 99100 Google Scholar. Stark, ‘Pre-Angkor earthenware ceramics’: 76–80.

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87 Moore, Elisabeth, Moated sites in early north east Thailand (BAR International Series 400, Oxford, 1988), p. 9 Google Scholar.

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90 Stark and Allen, ‘The transition to history in Southeast Asia’: 166.

91 McNeill and Welch, ‘Regional and interregional exchange on the Khorat’.

92 Gallon, ‘Ideology, identity’, p. 291.

93 Ibid., pp. 292–3.

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