On Chronology-Building for Central Thailand through an Attribute-Based Ceramic Seriation

Article excerpt

ARCHAEOLOGICAL KNOWLEDGE HAS INCREASED about the prehistory and early history of Thailand during the past several decades, frequently as the result of major long-term archaeological research projects. Numerous problems have been pursued that include changes in subsistence, settlement pattern, technology, sociopolitical organization, trade, and the nature of foreign influence (Anderson 1987; Bayard 1972; Bhumadhon 1999; Bronson 1979; Charoenwongsa 1982; Gorman 1971; Higham 1998; Higham and Kijngam 1984; Mudar 1993; Natapintu 1988a; Nitta 1991; Santoni et al. 1990; Shoocongdej 2000; White and Pigott 1996; Wilen 1986-1987). These ambitious studies have, however, been hampered by lack of fine-grained chronologies, and in some areas, by lack of an ability to place sites and assemblages into any but the most general periods (e.g., prehistoric, Bronze Age, Iron Age). It appears that insufficient attention has been paid to that most basic of archaeological enterprises: developing precise chronologies based on stratigraphy, chronometric dating techniques, and systematic analysis of stylistic change in common artifact types. This paper improves the cultural chronology for central Thailand by applying a quantitative seriation method to a number of late prehistoric and early historic period (c. 2000 B.C.-A.D.). 500) assemblages from central Thailand.

There are several reasons to pursue ceramic chronology in central Thailand. First, a large number of ceramic materials have been discovered through systematic surveys and excavations during the past two to three decades. With an adequate sample of ceramics from a number of sites, it is worthwhile to conduct such ceramic studies. It should be noted also that the cost of radiocarbon dating is often prohibitive for Thai scholars, and that relative dating--so long as it can be anchored into some stratigraphic, dated sequences from systematic excavations--provides a viable strategy for building regional chronologies. Second, those ceramic collections exhibit enough stylistic and technological variation to indicate their potential for ceramic seriation. Third, radiocarbon dating in this area has been rare and presents potential pitfalls; ceramic chronology is another way to elucidate the temporal dimension of the archaeological record. Seriation helps to date surface collections, where the only absolute dating technique available is thermoluminescence, and this strategy is both expensive and not yet proven. Seriation is useful for assessing the age and significance of archaeological sites before we excavate them. Finally, as noted earlier, little work of this sort has been done in Thailand relative to that productively followed in many parts of the world. Exploratory research presented here is intended to begin to fill this archaeological gap.

Much recent archaeological research in Thailand has focused on topics such as settlement patterns (Higham and Kijngam 1984; Mudar 1993), the development of early metallurgy (Natapintu 1988a; Pigott and Natapintu 1988), trade-exchange patterns (Welch 1989; White and Pigott 1996), and cultural interaction (Lertrit 2002). Careful reconstruction of the chronology of sites and regions has been of secondary significance. Complicating matters further is the fact that scholars from different fields such as art history, history, and epigraphy have developed their own chronologies based on evidence specific to their fields. The result, noted by Bellwood (1992), Higham (1989, 1996), Hutterer (1982:563), and Miksic (1995), is an overlap and contrast in chronological sequences used by those scholars (archaeologists included). Among archaeologists themselves, controversies have risen over the construction of cultural chronologies (e.g., Bayard 1992). The dating problem is not easy to tackle, but it is critical to archaeological research in Thailand, and is thus worth pursuing. It is believed that this research on ceramic chronology can contribute to a better understanding of cultural developments in Thailand in general and in central Thailand in particular. …