A New Chronological Framework for Prehistoric Southeast Asia, Based on a Bayesian Model from Ban Non Wat

By Higham, Charles; Higham, Thomas | Antiquity, March 2009 | Go to article overview

A New Chronological Framework for Prehistoric Southeast Asia, Based on a Bayesian Model from Ban Non Wat


Higham, Charles, Higham, Thomas, Antiquity


Introduction

As Movius observed of the European Upper Palaeolithic, 'Without ... a [chronological] framework the over-all picture becomes confused and, in certain instances, almost meaningless. Time alone is the lens that can throw it into focus' (Movius 1960: 355). The passage of time is equally vital for a proper understanding of the prehistoric sequence in Southeast Asia. While the cultural sequence is agreed by most scholars, its timing is not. The ancestors of the first rice farmers in Southeast Asia probably lived in the Yangtze Valley to the north (Liu et al. 2007), and spread south, via the coast and the major rivers, to enter the broad riverine plains of Southeast Asia. They brought their Austro-Asiatic languages, and a way of life that centred on settled village communities incorporating widespread exchange in exotica, a sophisticated ceramic industry, weaving, and a mortuary tradition that involved both extended inhumation and interment in lidded jars. This Neolithic settlement phase was followed by the adoption of copper-base metallurgy, in which copper and tin were alloyed from the earliest known contexts. The transition into the Iron Age has not been precisely dated, but it is known that early states were forming by the fourth to fifth centuries AD. The timing and the degree to which Iron Age communities developed social and technological sophistication prior to the rise of early states is poorly documented: Noen U-Loke is the only extensively-excavated Iron Age site in Thailand to be published (Higham, C.F.W. et al. 2007).

We do not know when the first farmers reached Southeast Asia and there remains a basic uncertainty over the date for the inception of copper-base metallurgy in Southeast Asia. This has generated a lack of understanding of the social changes that occurred with the early Bronze Age. As Muhly (1988: 16) stressed 20 years ago in a dictum still true, 'In all other corners of the Bronze Age world ... we find the introduction of bronze technology associated with a complex of social, political and economic developments that mark the rise of the state. Only in Southeast Asia ... do these developments seem to be missing.' One of the objectives of our recent excavations at Ban Non War has been to open an area large enough to identify just those variables Muhly describes.

In retrospect, the causes of controversies over chronology are readily understood (Solheim 1968; 1970; Bayard 1972, 1979; Gorman & Charoenwongsa 1976; Bayard & Charoenwongsa 1983; Higham 1983; Loofs-Wissowa 1983). Radiocarbon determinations have virtually all been derived from charcoal, with its problems of 'old wood'. Only very rarely has the species of tree been specified, a practice that needs to be addressed in future dating programmes. No recognition was given to the unreliability of mixed samples (Ashmore 1999). In many cases, the relationship between a charcoal sample and the event being dated was unreliable. Major cultural changes, such as the beginning of copper-base metallurgy, have been dated on the basis of only a handful of determinations. When a sample of dates was available, the construction of the site's chronology followed procedures now shown to be importantly wrong (Bayliss et al. 2007: 9).

Resolving this situation first requires a prehistoric site with a cultural sequence spanning the early Neolithic to the end of the Iron Age. Such sites are very rare in Southeast Asia. Phases within such a site would need to be ordered in terms of a relative chronology, and we would then require a sufficient number of radiocarbon determinations, preferably generated on the basis of samples with no inbuilt age, to provide dates for the successive cultural phases identified. Armed with such a series of dates we could apply the refinement of the Bayesian approach as outlined by Bayliss et al. (2007). The Bayesian method is able to provide us with quantitative, probabilistic estimates of archaeological events through a combination of calibrated radiocarbon likelihoods and given archaeological information, for example, the sequence of phases within a site's sequence (see Buck et al. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

A New Chronological Framework for Prehistoric Southeast Asia, Based on a Bayesian Model from Ban Non Wat
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.