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  • The Excavation of Nong Nor, a Prehistoric Site in Central Thailand
  • Karen Mudar
The Excavation of Nong Nor, a Prehistoric Site in Central Thailand. Charles F. W. Higham and R. Thosarat, eds. Otago: University of Otago Studies on Prehistoric Anthropology, No. 18, 1998. xxi + 557 pp.; 243 figures, 65 tables, bibliography. Hardcover.

This book is the most recent publication of a long-term project investigating prehistoric habitation on the eastern margins of the Gulf of Siam. Research to date has included settlement survey, excavation, and analysis of the Neolithic habitation and mortuary site of Khok Phanom Di, dating 2000-1500 B.C., and three seasons of excavation and analysis of materials from Nong Nor (see Higham and Bannanurag 1990, 1991; Higham and Thosarat 1993 for references). Nong Nor, a multicomponent site situated in a marginal environment for cultivation, was excavated in order to provide a larger framework within which to interpret the social organization, settlement system, and subsistence regimen at Khok Phanom Di.

Nong Nor comprises a habitation component dating c. 2450 B.C. and a mortuary component dating 1100-700 B.C. Chronologically, the occupation of Khok Phanom Di occurs between the two Nong Nor components; thus, the two sites were not part of the same settlement system. Nonetheless, we are fortunate that the excavators persisted in the campaign at Nong Nor, for this is a tremendously important, well-excavated site, providing detailed data for a third millennium B.C. coastal adaptation not yet reported for this part of the Southeast Asian mainland, and provides a large sample of well-excavated Bronze Age burials as well.

Fourteen authors contributed analytical chapters to this compendium and editors C.F.W. Higham and R. Thosarat wrote contextualizing introductions, providing background and overviews of the research. The chapters can be roughly divided into three sections: environmental overview, analysis of habitation, and analysis of mortuary [End Page 198] activity. Authors T.F.G. Higham, A. Hogg, W. E. Boyd, and C. Pailles provide a good chronological and environmental overview. Boyd's contribution, in particular, provides a well-articulated reconstruction of the geomorphology of the region based on stratigraphic sampling.

The majority of the analyses of materials from the early occupation layer was carried out by D.J.W. O'Reilly as part of his master's thesis. Lithics, bone tools and bone tool debris, potting tools, and a large corpus of ceramic fragments were excavated. C.F.W. Higham, R. E. Fordyce, and G. M. Mason carried out analysis of faunal remains. Faunal remains consisted of both terrestrial and marine vertebrates, as well as a large array of shellfish and crab remains, but dogs and pigs were absent. The shellfish, crabs, fish, crocodiles, turtles, rays, sharks, and cetaceans identified demonstrate that a wide variety of marine environments were utilized, ranging from estuarine to off-shore habitats. No plant remains or human remains were recovered. The authors argue that Nong Nor was occupied c. 2500 B.C. for a short period of time (approximately six months) by a group of people who hunted both marine and terrestrial animals and were engaged in ceramic production. Estimates of occupation length are based on the amount of pottery found on the site.

The Nong Nor excavations provided a unique opportunity to examine artifact patterning in an open-air foraging site on coastal mainland Southeast Asia. The almost mutually exclusive distribution of worked and nonworked bone, and the clustering of similar types of ceramic anvils were particularly intriguing. It is unfortunate, however, that there is little discussion of the complex site stratigraphy. Profiles show a red layer with charcoal and pottery both over- and underlain by layers of shell fish remains, extending across the site. In the absence of information about site stratigraphy, the shifting loci of several classes of artifacts in each stratigraphic layer suggest that the same activities took place in slightly different areas in succeeding occupations of the site, although the authors argue that there was only a single occupation. The figures accompanying O'Reilly's spatial analysis do not do justice to the importance of the data or to the conclusions. The crowded figures (four to a page) are too small, and...


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