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A course toward what? Evolution, development and change at Non Nok Tha, Northeastern Thailand

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Item Summary

Title:A course toward what? Evolution, development and change at Non Nok Tha, Northeastern Thailand
Authors:Thomas Bayard, Donn
Date Issued:Dec 1971
Publisher:[Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [December 1971]
Series:Theses for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (University of Hawaii at Manoa). Anthropology.;
Abstract:This dissertation is concerned with testing two general assumptions commonly held by prehistorians, historians, and other social scientists: first, that human societies tend to pass through a regular sequence, or closely related sequences, of stages which exhibit significant parallels in terms of technology, economy, and socio-political organization; and second, that human social and cultural institutions tend to change in a fashion orderly enough to demarcate such changes.

The test is effected by applying various of the theoretical models concerned with delineating stages and the changes taking place between them to a single body of data drawn from a single site: Non Nok Tha, in western Khon Kaen Province, northeastern Thailand. Supplementary data are drawn from the immediate area (Phu Wiang), as well as from other sites in Mainland Southeast Asia. Some amount of ethnographic data obtained from the contemporary inhabitants is also provided.

At present, we believe the Non Nok Tha sequence spans some 7,000 years of human use of the site; data pertinent to this use have been obtained in two extensive excavations on the site, the first in 1966 and the second in 1968. Most of the data used ln this study were obtained from the second excavation, under the direction of the author (he also assisted in the first excavation). The results of the two excavations indicate the presence of rice, domestic cattle and possibly pigs, and sophisticated ceramic and stone technologies in mainland Southeast Asia by the Fifth Millennium B.C., and the indigenous development of an advanced bronze metallurgy by the end of the Fourth Millennium B. C. Iron tools and presumably paddy (as opposed to swidden) cultivation of rice followed much later, in the middle of the First Millennium A.D. The prehistoric sequence in the Phu Wiang area thus features extensive and pervasive changes in technology, economic adaptation, and socio-political organization (i.e., the transition from folk organization and animism to peasant organization and Indian religious concepts).

The specific data utilized include burial typology, attribute analysis of all occupational and refuse potsherds, faunal and floral remains, structural features, and stone and metal technology. Attempts are made to organize these with reference to 1) stages of economic development: the food-producing and urban “revolutions” of the classic Near Eastern sequence; 2) stages of increased social integration and stratification, following Steward's "formative-flores­cent-cyclical conquests" model; and 3) several recently developed models which attempt to define the overall mechanisms of change which determine the boundaries between these stages.

The conclusion reached is that the data from Non Nok Tha in particular and from mainland Southeast Asia in general cannot be meaningfully interpreted ln terms of any of the above models. The sequence of economic development from food-collection (based on data from sites earlier than Non Nok Tha) to sedentary food production does not appear to correspond to the stages postulated for other areas of incipient agriculture. Increases in social stratification did in some cases follow on the heels of technological and economic innovations, but were followed in turn by a reduction in stratification; in other cases no increase in stratification occurred. Change and variation ln burial typology, pottery, and non-ceramic technology do not appear to have followed the orderly, interrelated patterns postulated by the general models.

Rather than attempt to force the Non Nok Tha data into one of the models considered, a particularistic model of the sequence is derived from these data themselves. The sequence may best be viewed as consisting of three relatively long periods of stability, each of which is terminated by a relatively brief period of readjustment to differing combinations of technological, economic, and socio-political innovation or introduction; the last of these three readjustments is still in progress at present.

Finally, it is argued that the Non Nok Tha sequence may well not be atypical in its lack of fit to the models considered; rather, the models themselves are in large part derived from a single atypical sequence in a single small area of the world (Mesopotamia and the Zagros Mountains), and this latter sequence, or any other, cannot be taken as typifying “courses" of human society toward urban life or any other particular destination.
Pages/Duration:400 pages
Appears in Collections: Ph.D. - Anthropology

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