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  • The Excavation of Khok Phanom Di: A Prehistoric Site in Central Thailand. Volume VII: Summary and Conclusions
  • Anna Källén
The Excavation of Khok Phanom Di: A Prehistoric Site in Central Thailand. Volume VII: Summary and Conclusions. C.F.W. Higham and R. Thosarat, with contributions by B.F.J. Manly and R. A. Bentley. London: Society of Antiquaries, 2004. (Distributed by Oxbow Books.)

The long-awaited seventh and last report volume from the Khok Phanom Di excavations in 1984 and 1985 was recently published by the London Society of Antiquaries. The authors, Rachanie Thosarat and Charles Higham, are here summarizing and concluding the results from the six preceding report volumes from Khok Phanom Di, the renowned prehistoric mound site in central Thailand. The book is produced in an accessible hardcover format of 182 pages, including appendices, bibliography, and index, with 21 tables and 92 figures. It is a suitable report format, apart from the photographs, which would have benefited from a more careful layout and a finer raster.

The text is divided into five chapters. The first is a short introduction to the site and the 1984–1985 excavations, followed by a summary of the results in the second chapter. Chapter three contains the analysis of mortuary remains. The fourth chapter deals with social organization, and the final one presents Khok Phanom Di in wider perspective, with comparisons to linguistic theories and interpretations of other excavated sites in Southeast Asia.

An area of 10 by 10 meters was excavated at the mound site Khok Phanom Di in 1984–1985. A series of radiocarbon dates indicate that the cultural layer, which is up to 12 meters deep, accumulated rapidly between 2000 and 1500 B.C. The first human activity at the site is described as an estuarine settlement of maritime hunter-gatherer-fishers who interacted with intrusive rice cultivators in its hinterland. The activities that followed over four centuries display cultural continuity as well as major cultural changes.

The human activities at Khok Phanom Di have been divided into eight cultural phases, while the recovered burials have been subdivided into seven mortuary phases, illustrated neatly as a diagram in Figure 25. With mortuary phase 3, there are considerable changes in the attitude to ceramics, and the skeletal remains suggest a change in activity patterns. Rice is now more common in burials, whereas there is a decline in fishhooks and shell jewelry. These indications of change are backed up with substantial references to biological data suggesting major transitions in the habitat from marine to freshwater, back to marine and finally, to dry land conditions, during the time that the site was used. [End Page 99]

Human remains from 154 burials have been analyzed with emphasis on health. The human remains basically reconfirm the impact of the environmental changes on the community, with changes in activity patterns and health status. Strontium isotope analysis of teeth indicates that some of the interred individuals were raised elsewhere and have come to the site as adults.

Among the artifacts were clay net sinkers, bone points and awls, stone adzes, hoes, shell knives, shell beads and bangles, turtle carapace ornaments, potters' anvils and burnishing stones, clay cylinders, and extraordinary pottery and potsherds. Most artifacts were recovered from mortuary contexts and have been analyzed foremost in terms of raw material. A number of computerized analyses have been performed, such as multiple regression analysis, cluster analysis, four-dimensional non-metric multidimensional scaling, and a multiple varimax rotated factor matrix for each mortuary phase.

At the end of the volume, Higham and Thosarat summarize as follows:

Our preferred view is that Khok Phanom Di was occupied by a community whose forbears had occupied coastal habitats in Southeast Asia for millennia. With the intrusion of agriculturalists ultimately from the area of the Yangzi valley, they entered into a new web of social relationships which brought females into the community, and with them the exotic dog, a knowledge of rice and its potential as a cultigen, and new opportunities for the exchange of artefacts fashioned from the local shellfish and clay resources.

(p. 158)

"One of the principal objectives in completing this analysis of Khok Phanom Di, is...