Academic journal article Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific

Archaeology and Archaeozoology of Phum Snay: A Late Prehistoric Cemetery in Northwestern Cambodia

Academic journal article Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific

Archaeology and Archaeozoology of Phum Snay: A Late Prehistoric Cemetery in Northwestern Cambodia

Article excerpt


This paper analyzes faunal remains excavated from the late prehistoric cemetery of Phum Snay in northwestern Cambodia. The material comprises two different components: (1) animal bones as grave goods and (2) bone fragments originating from settlement activities. The mammal and bird remains from the graves derive exclusively from domestic animals and include water buffalo, cattle, pigs, and possibly a chicken. In most cases, one or two limbs from the left side of the body of one or two species were deposited in a grave. Fish were also incorporated in the grave cult. The animal bones found in nonburial contexts reveal a broad-spectrum foraging economy that exploited a wide range of ecosystems: forests, grass- and marshlands, rivers, and inundated fields, resulting in the capture of deer, boar, smaller carnivores, cranes, tortoises, turtles, monitor lizards, crocodiles, and fish. Keywords: animal bones, burial goods, economic activities, late prehistoric time, Cambodia.


This paper focuses on the analysis of the faunal material from a prehistoric site called Phum Snay, located in northwestern Cambodia. The prehistoric occupation of Phum Snay dates to the Iron Age (c. 500 B.C.-A.D. 500) and represents one of the first sites of this period excavated in Cambodia (for review, see Stark 2004 : 96-100). The archaeological significance of this site is clear, as it represents a settlement and cemetery site that predates the rise of the great state of Angkor less than 100 km to the east. The faunal remains discussed herein were recovered from both the settlement activity at the site and from the interments.

The site is also of interest because of its proximity to sites of a similar age in northeastern Thailand excavated by the University of Otago's Origins of Angkor Archaeological Project. The mortuary ritual and artifact assemblage of Phum Snay may be compared and contrasted to that of sites such as Noen U-Loke (Chetwin n.d.; Higham 1998; Wichakana 1991), Ban Non Wat, and Non Muang Kao (O'Reilly 1998). The most striking similarities include the presence of comparable ceramic black wares and grave beds lined with either clay or what appears to be resin. The most striking difference appears to be the greater emphasis on weaponry of many of the burials at the Cambodian site. This observation, however, is based on a limited number of graves and may prove to be a result of sampling error.

Phum Snay is a village located along National Route 6 in Preah Net Prey District, Banteay Meanchey Province, northwestern Cambodia (48P UTM 0305983/1506856 13[degrees]37'26.3"N, 103[degrees]12'23.5"E) (Fig. 1). The village is one of several small hamlets located on the edge of a large natural mound that is approximately 3 km in diameter. The Preah Net Prey River is located approximately 100 m to the west of the site. The archaeological remains at Phum Snay were discovered in 2000, during the construction of a road.


Excavations at Phum Snay were undertaken in 2001, 2002, and 2003 at three different locations (Fig. 2). In each instance the site was excavated in 10-cm spits. Major changes in the color of the matrix were signified by a change in the layer number, the uppermost being labeled Layer 1. The excavation in 2001 uncovered nine inhumation burials. Fourteen more burials were found during the 2003 campaign. The burials included the remains of men, women, and children buried in a supine position oriented on an east-west axis. Most burials contained grave goods, some of which were sexually differentiated. Some males were found with iron implements such as sickles, swords, daggers, and projectile points, while women more often were accompanied by semiprecious stones and spindle whorls. The graves of both sexes contained ceramic vessels, bronze ornaments including bangles, finger rings, and bells. …

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