- Khao Sam Kaeo: An Early Port-City between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea ed. by Bérénice Bellina
The last twenty years have witnessed increased interest in the identification of maritime connections and the reconstruction of transoceanic networks that operated during the late prehistoric and early historical periods. For example, research into Southeast Asia's early contacts with the Indian world and Han China has expanded to incorporate the results of archaeological work in coastal India, the Bay of Bengal, and those lands and islands which border the periphery of the South China Sea. Scholars that once saw India as the main engine driving culture change in Southeast Asia now admit the importance of reciprocal relationships linking the two regions and, more importantly, the autonomy and active involvement of Southeast Asia's inhabitants in local processes (Manguin et al. 2011). Similarly, this edited volume, which focuses on the late prehistoric urban site of Khao Sam Kaeo, reveals that trends towards urbanism, cultural emulation, and long-distance trade were already present by the last centuries b.c. and that these tendencies were themselves deeply rooted in local strategies for expressing social identity.
Located on the upper part of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, Khao Sam Kaeo is ideally situated at the center of the South China Sea and Bay of Bengal interaction sphere. Despite having been extensively looted and eroded, excavations at the site have uncovered a wealth of archaeological remains. Edited by Bérénice Bellina, this volume presents the results of five years of excavation and research conducted by the Thai-French Archaeological Mission and represents one of the first comprehensive studies of its kind in Southeast Asian archaeology. Its 23 essays (written by 25 authors) cover a range of topics relating to early trans-Asian exchange patterns and urbanism in maritime Southeast Asia. One of the volume's strengths is a multidisciplinary approach that integrates a range of archaeological data, including botanical, Gis, and geoarchaeological evidence, to reconstruct aspects of landscape formation, subsistence strategies, and settlement organization during the period in question. Also included are archaeometric and stylistic analyses of ceramics, stone ornaments, stone adzes, metal objects, glass, and stone seals and intaglios. The ideas put forward are in line with Bellina's (2003, 2014) earlier model of a cultural matrix shared throughout the Southeast Asian maritime sphere, along with the movement of Indian artisans relying on Indian techniques to produce ornaments which served Southeast Asian elites as symbols of legitimization.
Central to the study of exchange systems in the region are the volume's technical studies of material culture found at Khao Sam Kaeo. These not only highlight the multiplicity of links among micro-regions (such as the coastal areas of the South China Sea and the Bay of Bengal), they also reveal the economic and social dimensions of such early trans-Asian interaction. For instance, the essays by Bouvet and the one by Favereau, Bellina, Épinal, and Bouvet point to the sharing of certain ceramic traits among the people who inhabited the coastal regions of the South China Sea (including Khao Sam Kaeo). More specifically, decorative patterns associated with two types of ceramics—exogenous paddle impressed pottery (belonging to Khao Sam Kaeo Technical Group 4 or KSK-T.IV) and locally made polished ceramics (a fine paste variant of Khao Sam Kaeo Technical Group 1 or KSK-T.I)—indicate similarities with ceramics of the Sa-Huynh-Kalanay corpus. In addition, certain types of lustrous black and red wares with a similar paste to that of local ceramics were present in the ceramic traditions of the Sa-Huynh and possibly the Philippines. The authors argue that the coexistence of these varied local and Southeast Asian production techniques indicates the intensification of maritime contacts among populations of the South China Sea area, while [End Page 409] also pointing...