Prehistoric and Proto-historic communities in the eastern Upper Chao Phraya River Valley, Thailand: Analysis of site chronology, settlement patterns, and land use

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Archaeological Anthropology
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Onsuwan Eyre, Chureekamol

Southeast Asia is one major region where applications of socio-political frameworks emphasizing progressive development and increasing degrees of social hierarchy have been argued as inadequate for understanding past societies. Settlement systems in Thailand that existed throughout the period of technological change incorporating the bronze and iron ages have not yet been investigated from a heterarchical viewpoint. The dissertation goal is to test heterarchical and hierarchical frameworks for best fit with settlement patterns in the region of Kok Samrong-Takhli Undulating Terrain (KSTUT) in the eastern side of the Upper Chao Phraya River Valley. A two-stage survey, a reconnaissance survey followed by a 58 km2 intensive survey, was conducted in order to locate sites across different landscapes, identify subregional ceramic variation and possibly geographic shifts in ceramic subregions over time, and determine evidence for economic specialization among sites of varying sizes. Twenty-five open-air sites were identified across the alluvial plain, middle terrace, and upland zones. The KSTUT data indicate a long occupational history from the bronze and iron ages into the Proto-historic period. The prehistoric settlement data are compatible with a heterarchical settlement model. The Metal Age agrarian communities with various site sizes exploited diverse environmental zones; they developed sustainable and sufficient subsistence strategies with no marked changes over time. Upland cultivation of a number of crops was likely the dominant subsistence mode. Shared ceramic stylistics within the KSTUT region defines the area as a "ceramic subregion;" such subregions are argued to be products of enduring social networks that, in the case of the KSTUT, encompassed various environments. The iron age settlement data do not support a close relationship among the appearance of iron, wet rice agriculture, and development of chiefdoms. Although the iron age communities experienced some gradual changes (e.g., increasing regional integration and broader trade networks) and the possible movement of people from upland to lowland areas during the Late Iron phase, the KSTUT ceramic subregion was relatively unchanged in extent. No evidence for hierarchical settlement patterns occurred until the Proto-historic (Dvaravati) period.

Joyce White
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