- Before Siam: Essays in Art and Archaeology ed. by Nicolas Revire, Stephen A. Murphy
The millennium-long period that began c. 500 b.c.e. has long vexed Southeast Asian archaeologists and historians for its odd mix of archaeological, documentary, and art historical data that mark a change from the prehistoric period to one recorded by local and visiting historians. We still struggle to understand this period, called variously the Iron Age, the protohistoric period, the Early Historic period, or simply Early South East Asia (with credit to Smith and Watson 1979), during which Southeast Asians embraced profound organizational and ideological transformations (Murphy and Stark 2016). Indianization, Hindicization, localization, Sanskritization: each of these terms captures some elements of settlement, subsistence, and political dynamics of the time. Yet each term reflects an outsider perspective; it is only in the last few decades that archaeologists and art historians have buckled down to do the hard work of understanding the material record of this “millennium-long no-man’s land” from the bottom up (Manguin 2011:xvi).
Nicolas Revire and Stephen Murphy have done our field a great service by producing this 2014 edited volume, which includes 18 essays by 22 contributors and spans the period from protohistory to the end of the thirteenth century. HiramWoodward’s prologue surveys current knowledge of Thailand’s proto- and early historical periods. Southeast Asian archaeologists will gravitate toward the chapters that report on recent excavations in central and peninsular Thailand (i.e., Promthin Thai, Phong Tuek [central Thailand], Kamphaeng Saen; Yarang, Ban Bana, Khuan Mahut [peninsular Thailand]) and points as far west as lower Myanmar and as far north as southern Laos. Some sites are entirely new to the archaeological community; included in this group are the central Thai sites of Kamphaeng Saen and Phromthin Tai (Gallon, Lertcharnwit), Pattani sites of Ban Bana and Khuan Mahut (Noonsuk), and Muttama (Martaban, reported by Moore and San Win). In other places such as the Middle Mekong Valley, it is Michel Lorillard’s identification of a broader settlement pattern that is novel. Careful field-based archaeological research, and Hutangkura’s geoarchaeological study of Thai shorelines, in this volume’s chapters help clear the log jam that Karl Hutterer (1982:563) claimed prevented us making substantive linkages between the region’s ‘prehistoric’ and ‘historic’ traditions.
Several of the book’s authors focus on excavated objects to offer essentially new archaeological and art historical research. Ian Glover and Shahnaj Husne Jahan’s analysis of a bronze bowl from Khao Sam Kaeo pinpoints potential new South Asia source areas for technological traditions that mark Thailand’s protohistoric period. Analysis of Mediterranean goods from peninsular Thailand by Borell and colleagues deepen our understanding of the range of goods and routes that linked Southeast Asia with the West. Himanshu Prabha Ray’s discussion of religious maritime linkages across the first-millennium c.e. Bay of Bengal to India’s eastern coast (and Nagarjunakonda [Andhra Pradesh]) [End Page 260] expands our knowledge of routes and the South Asian context. These linkages were robust, carrying ideas eastward from a complicated mix of South Asian traditions by the early sixth century. Paul Lavy’s carefully-argued analysis of conch-on-hip images in early Vaişņava sculpture not only provides a comprehensive survey of these early images, but also lays a convincing foundation for a sustained indigenous development of Brahmanical art in the region.
A few of the book’s chapters interrogate discrete data classes to understand Thailand before Siam. Nicolas Revire’s painstaking analysis of Buddhist practice and ritual uses Dvāravatī period inscriptions (Buddhist donation and dedicatory; Pāli citation and Ye Dhammā) from first-millennium Thailand to move between what he calls material and ritual cultures. Pinna Indorf uses Dvāravatī cakras as analyzable texts; her seriation organizes these key artifacts through time and across space to understand historical and political events within the Dvāravatī period. Wesley Clark’s contextual analysis of burial...