Cultivating for the Sun Kings: A Land Use History of the Pre-Angkor to Angkor Period Political Transition at Prasat Basaet in the Battambang Region of Cambodia (6th–15th Centuries CE)

France, Phoebe
Stark, Miriam
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This dissertation investigates the relationship between political change and agricultural production strategies in the Battambang region of Cambodia during the political transition from the Pre-Angkor (c.500–800 CE) to the Angkor periods (c.800–1430 CE). It looks at the relationship between Angkorian state development and agricultural practices of the communities surrounding the 11th century Angkorian temple of Prasat Basaet. While the role of intensive agricultural production in archaic states has been identified as a salient topic in archaeological research, with increased production necessary for sustaining cities and non-producing elites, the actual trajectories of agricultural change have rarely been demonstrated using empirical data. Tracking trajectories of agricultural change related to early state development can depict the long-term processes involved in the development of social and economic inequality and ecological change. This study uses phytolith, soil chemistry, chronological, and spatial data from the landscape surrounding Prasat Basaet to investigate the location and mode of agricultural practices across the region during the Pre-Angkor and Angkor periods in relationship to the expanding temple economy. The phytolith analysis in this project with support from allied lines of data identified that both intensive and extensive agricultural strategies were employed in the landscape around Prasat Basaet during the Pre-Angkor and Angkor periods. Rice agriculture expanded and likely intensified during the Pre-Angkor period in relationship to the installation of temple economies, and expansion increased during the Angkor era to replace extensive strategies and open forest management. The changes in production strategies were part of political and economic changes that took place at the local level, and involved displays of power through ceremonial activities involving local elites with ritual functions that tied them to Pre-Angkorian and Angkorian kingship. These results tell us that the intensification and expansion of rice production was not just an Angkorian-era phenomenon, or one confined to the capital city. Local Pre-Angkorian elites in provincial Battambang had the power to dictate land use and mobilize labor to meet local temple and state tribute demands, and the processes of the expansion of rice cultivation associated with temple economies began during the Pre-Angkor period and increased in scale during the Angkor period. The findings also tell us that provincial farmers were reliant on extensive production practices through the Angkor period, which demonstrates that diverse agricultural strategies and not just specialization in rice were a part of both Pre- Angkorian and Angkorian economic organization. The outcomes point towards a longer-term local trajectory of political and agricultural change related to rice agriculture and forest management, and suggest a need to look at earlier political and economic developments to understand the course of change towards complexity and state-building in Cambodia, which cannot be attributed to the adoption of hindic-inspired temples and ideas. As the first study of phytoliths in a landscape context in Cambodia, this study contributes to the still emerging field of global comparative phytolith research by identifying and documenting the local phytolith forms found and their diagnostic specificity.
Archaeology, Angkor, Cambodia, phytolith analysis, spatial analysis, state formation
567 pages
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