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Essay prompt: What are the characteristics of the Bronze Age? Why do some Southeast Asian archaeologists pushing back against the idea of a Bronze Age SEA?

Social Variation and Dynamics in Metal Age
and Protohistoric Central Thailand:
A Regional Perspective
Archaeological research in Thailand was established half a century ago and since then has made great strides in contributing to our understanding of the region’s prehistory (e.g., Bayard 1980a, 1980b; Glover 1990;
Gorman and Charoenwongsa 1976; Higham 1989; Higham and Kijngam 1984;
Sorensen and Hatting 1967). In the past three decades, applications of most current frameworks and methodologies (e.g., studies of gender and social identities;
economic production and exchange networks; and land uses and settlement patterns) (Bacus 2006; Bellina and Glover 2004; Boyd 2008; Ho 1992; Mudar 1995;
Penny 1984; Theunissen et al. 2000; Vincent 2004; Welch 1985) have led to a
growing awareness of regional variability and chronological distinctions between
technological and sociocultural developments of the bronze and iron ages (Eyre
2006; Natapintu 2007; White and Hamilton 2009; White and Pigott 1996).
In the discussion to follow, the period of primary focus is the ‘‘Metal Age,’’ the
prehistoric period during which the metal technologies of bronze and later iron
appeared in the region. In Thailand, the Metal Age precedes the appearance of
protohistoric states and follows a period of unknown length, here termed ‘‘pre–
Metal Age,’’ when villages and plant cultivation developed along with ceramic
and polished stone tool technologies. Despite attempts to argue that these technological transitions coincided with major social hierarchical transformations
(Higham 1996 : 316, 2002 : 224–227, 2004 : 53–55; O’Reilly 2007 : 5, 2008 : 386),
there does not appear to have been any overt, concomitant change in terms of sociopolitical elements of the kind that closely coincided with the appearance and
development of metal technology in some parts of the Old World such as Mesopotamia and the central plain of China (e.g., Childe 1944; Heskel 1983; Muhly
Regardless of continuing debates surrounding Thailand’s Metal Age chronological range and the role of metal technology, the Metal Age communities in
Chureekamol Onsuwan Eyre is a Consulting Scholar, University of Pennsylvania Museum of
Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia; Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA, Los Angeles.
Asian Perspectives, Vol. 49, No. 1 ( 2011 by the University of Hawai‘i Press.
asian perspectives
spring 2010
Thailand underwent two major technological transitions and can be divided into
two major periods: bronze age (c. 2000–600 b.c.) and iron age (c. 600 b.c.–a.d.
500) (Bacus 2006; Bronson and White 1992; White 2008; White and Hamilton
2009; cf. Higham and Higham 2008; Pigott and Ciarla 2007; Rispoli 2007). The
use of the terms ‘‘bronze age’’ and ‘‘iron age’’ is intended to emphasize a technological sequence that existed irrespective of chronological controversies (Bacus
2006) or sociopolitical organization (White 2002).
It is argued here that the prevailing model of hierarchical sociopolitical organization, existing exclusively during the Metal Age and protohistoric period, is
overly generalized. An alternative approach that incorporates underlying indispensable circumstances such as social variability and regional landscape is proposed
to enrich our understanding of the development of social complexity in the region. The goal of this article is to explore a heterarchy framework that can be
equally tested along with a hierarchical model. We summarize a recent intensive
survey in central Thailand that encompasses several adjacent environmental zones
and documents economic changes and shifting social networks over time. It is
hoped that this investigation will generate debate and spur future investigations.
beyond hierarchy
Social Complexity in Metal Age Thailand
Developments of social complexity may have first emerged in northeast Thailand
during the bronze age, as evidenced by variations of mortuary wealth and treatment at intra- and inter-site levels (O’Reilly 2003; Talbot 2007). Nevertheless,
the characteristics are di‰cult to categorize or generalize beyond individual sites
to a regional scale. Mortuary evidence at the sites of Ban Chiang, Ban Na Di, and
Ban Lum Khao show subtle representation of marked status di¤erentials supporting the interpretation that such communities could be characterized as small autonomous villages (Higham 2004; O’Reilly 2003; White 1995). The discovery of
some relatively ‘‘wealthy’’ pre–Metal Age burials at Khok Phanom Di and bronze
age burials at Ban Non Wat and Non Nok Tha (Bacus 2006; Higham 1996) indicates some form of social ranking (Higham 2002 : 154–155, 159–160, 2008, 2009;
O’Reilly 2003 : 304–305) (Fig. 1).
The ambiguity extends well into the context of the bronze age economic systems. The dearth of hierarchical manifestation within the northeast and central
Thailand landscape, in terms of organization forms with super- or subordination,
is worth noting (Mudar 1995 : 179; Welch and McNeill 1991 : 213–214). Exotic
artifacts commonly found at northeast and central Thailand sites represent a continuation of the long tradition of community participation in production, exchange and trade in the absence of centralized controlling elites (Bayard 1984;
Higham 2002; White 1995; White and Pigott 1996). However, research questions in northeast Thailand have rarely deviated from a pursuit of the existence
of hierarchy. Survey locations have been focused on areas conducive to wet-rice
cultivation and, in turn, have discovered similar patterns of land use (Higham
et al. 1982; Kijngam et al. 1980; Wilen 1987) (Fig. 2). The majority of settlements were less than five hectares and located on relatively elevated terrain adjacent to low-terrace soils in the middle courses of tributary streams. Based on these
social variation and dynamics in metal age
Fig. 1. Map of important Metal Age sites in northeast and central Thailand.
limited locations, some scholars contend that the bronze age communities relied
heavily on a wet-rice agricultural regime supplemented by wild fauna, accumulated wealth, and later developed hierarchical sociopolitical organizations (Higham
2002 : 225–227; Higham and Higham 2008 : 15; Higham and Thosarat 1998 : 127–
128). Bronze Age settlements in northeast and central Thailand di¤er significantly
in terms of site size and distribution relative to landscape. In central Thailand, an
intensive survey in the Chao Phraya River Valley has challenged the universality
of the wet-rice subsistence regime and has argued for consideration of variability
in settlement systems (Mudar 1993, 1995). Bronze Age settlements were larger
here than in northeast Thailand and occupied diverse environmental zones,
mostly located on soils unsuitable for wet-rice cultivation (Fig. 2).
The hierarchical view has continued to dominate interpretations of Thailand’s
iron age sociopolitical development. Some scholars have argued that chiefdom
levels of political organization emerged with the coming of iron based on evidence for di¤erentiation of grave goods at sites such as Ban Don Ta Phet and
Noen U-Loke (Glover 1990; Higham 2008; Talbot 2007) and changes in settle-
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Fig. 2. Map of prehistoric site survey locations mentioned in the text, including the KSTUT.
ment patterns, including the presence of large sites with encircling earthworks
near wet-rice-producing soils (e.g., Non Muang Kao) (Higham and Thosarat
2004, 2006; O’Reilly 2008). The emphasis on rank has undermined archaeologists’ abilities to account for social variables and changes such as how burial representations reflect wider social relations, particularly how social groups attain and
sustain power (De Lucia 2008; McGuire and Saitta 1996). Evidence for power
and wealth deflation is downplayed. For example, Ban Non Wat, where Higham
and Higham (2008) suggest there is evidence of social ranking during the bronze
age, seems to lack di¤erentiation of wealth in subsequent iron age burials. ‘‘The
[late Bronze Age] burials are markedly poorer in terms of mortuary wealth, and
bronzes are very rare . . . BA 5 developed seamlessly into the early Iron Age . . . it
is only on the basis of the presence of iron artifacts that on occasion one can distinguish the two . . .’’ (Higham and Higham 2008 : 7–8).
Current regional understandings, in northeast and central Thailand, do not
support generalized correlations of the appearance of iron technology with the
social variation and dynamics in metal age
emergence of hierarchical settlement systems as is expected with chiefdoms and
states. In central Thailand, the presence of large bronze age sites, continually
occupied into the iron age, often occur in uplands outside of areas where wet
rice can be grown (Kanjanajuntorn 2005; Mudar 1995; Onsuwan 2003). A phenomenon of long gradual growth in settlement patterns, without abrupt change,
was also witnessed in the Phimai region of northeast Thailand where intensive
regional exchanges and two levels of economic hierarchy occurred around mid–
iron age (200 b.c.–a.d. 300) (McNeill and Welch 1991). Many constructions of
encircling earthworks in this area have been argued to have addressed water availability concerns rather than to serve political purposes (Boyd 2008; McGrath et al.
2008). Here such changes occurred around the mid– to late iron age (a.d. 0–600)
and preceded any clear evidence for political centralization and the emergence of
Applications of Heterarchy: Methodological Refinement
More complex and unequal societies have long been equated with hierarchical
models of chiefdoms and states. These neo-evolutionary models sought the presence of power concentration and decision-making in a small group of elites and
progressive centralization of social, economic, and political life (Flannery 1972;
Friedman and Rowlands 1977; Service 1971). Over the years, scholars have
argued that many forms of power relations exist within and between groups and
therefore they cannot be reduced to a vertical hierarchical structure (Brumfiel
1995; Chapman 2003; Flanagan 1989; McGuire 1996; Possehl 1998; Stein 1998).
To complement hierarchy, the concept of heterarchy was developed to take into
account various contexts of social networks where power relations were negotiated and articulated (Crumley 1995; Ehrenreich et al. 1995; R. McIntosh 2005;
S. McIntosh 1999). Heterarchy is a state where social elements have the possibility to be ranked in various ways or to relate in equal positions of authoritative
power, and where power relationships between individuals and groups may
change depending on the social context.
My research proposed to test for the presence of hierarchical and heterarchical
sociopolitical frameworks for best fit with data recovered from the settlement pattern study I conducted in the Eastern Chao Phraya River Valley. The current debate regarding social complexity during Thailand’s Metal Age focuses primarily
on mortuary evidence. New lines of evidence are required to expand the debate
and, thus, there is a need for innovative research that critically assesses monolithic
models and implements broader regional research designs (Kealhofer and Grave
2008; Stark 2006). Settlement pattern studies allow archaeologists to articulate
dynamic relationships among sites at local and regional levels, which is often not
possible through excavations alone (e.g., Billman and Feinman 1999; Holdaway
and Fanning 2008; Marcus and Flannery 1996; Sinopoli 2006; Underhill et al.
Hierarchy and heterarchy are not mutually exclusive. A heterarchy may contain hierarchies, or some levels of hierarchy may include heterarchical groups
(Roosevelt 1999; Scarborough et al. 2003). The correlates of a heterarchy were
developed after White’s model (1995 : 104) characterized Thailand’s Metal Age
sociopolitical organization as having flexible hierarchy, lateral integration, and
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spring 2010
decentralized regional economic di¤erentiation. Political hierarchical systems
often manifest in pyramidal networks where power is concentrated and maintained at the highest levels of the structure. Evidence to support hierarchical
settlement models might find trends toward tiered site hierarchies, centralized organization, and evidence of some sites having strategic control over resources
(Peebles and Kus 1977). The larger settlements would serve as a central node for
collection and distribution of goods; sites of lower rank could be evenly spaced
around higher-ranking ones in nested hexagonal lattices (Earle 1987; Friedman
and Rowlands 1977; Wright 1986). As for this research, the absence or presence
of hierarchical settlement patterns is not su‰cient alone to evaluate social complexity. Our research goal is to characterize local economic interactions in light
of the uncovered settlement patterns.
In the context of central Thailand, two factors are proposed as key underlying
economic components of a heterarchical system. Evidence of long-term diversified settlement systems ranging from uplands to lowlands is indicative of ranges
of independent resources for Metal Age communities (Ho 1992; Mudar 1993;
Mudar and Pigott 2003). A diversified subsistence economy is argued to have
allowed prehistoric societies to take advantage of a broad range of environmental
zones, which enhanced political flexibility, stability, and longevity. In this type of
regional economy, it is proposed that sociopolitically independent groups could
connect freely to other groups without permission from a center. In general,
inequalities probably existed within and between groups based on unevenly distributed resources within the landscape, but evidence for relationships where one
group dominated another through military or economic means has only been
suggested at the iron age site of Noen U-Loke during the final mortuary phase
(c. a.d. 400) (Higham 2007 : 606; O’Reilly 2008 : 384). The absence of direct
control over important resources such as metal ores and relatively low bone trauma have been argued to show low levels of centralized control and violence during the Metal Age in Thailand (Bentley et al. 2009; White 1995; White and
Pigott 1996).
In addition, the analysis of Metal Age ceramic variability (Rice 1981), defined
in this research as ceramic subregion based on regional groups of stylistic similarities
(Ho 1992; Lertrit 2003b; Rispoli 1997; Welch and McNeill 1991), could serve
as a second indicator of sociopolitical organization. Local socioeconomic networks (e.g., producer-consumer, kinship, and alliance) might be equated with
these shared ceramic groupings (Dietler and Herbich 1998; Nelson and HabichtMauche 2006). The subregion could be characterized as a decentralized
community-based organization made up of multi-center economies in which
multiple production nodes occurred in settlements which engaged in production
and exchange to varying degrees (Stark and Heidke 1998). Flexibility of these
production and exchange networks, observed by changes over time, could indicate that power was negotiated and redistributed according to relationships
among communities. It is also possible that such decentralized community organizations could be components of a larger hierarchical system (Costin and Hagstrum
1995; Potter and King 1995).
In sum, five possible expectations would be consistent with a settlement system
that had strong heterarchical dynamics (Onsuwan 2003): (1) cultural pluralism
could be identified in the form of subregional ceramic variation, possibly suggest-
social variation and dynamics in metal age
ing di¤erentiation in local socioeconomic networks; (2) ceramic subregions
would not necessarily coincide with distinct environmental zones, indicating that
local communities may engage in multiple subsistence adaptations; (3) ceramic
subregions endured, perhaps shifting over time, suggesting that local organizations
remained flexible and adaptive in maintaining their location within proximity despite changes within the landscape; (4) di¤erentiation of site size would not be
limited to lands favorable to wet-rice cultivation, which would suggest that population aggregation was not necessarily tied to only the most highly productive
subsistence regime; and (5) evidence for economic specialization would occur at
various site sizes and types, suggesting that specialized communities may be dispersed throughout the settlement system and not controlled by centers.
kok samrong-takhli undulating terrain (kstut): intensive survey
KSTUT Environment
Central Thailand encompasses subequatorial and subtropical environments and is
known for its diverse regional variability in climate and vegetation (Kealhofer
1997, 2003; White et al. 2004). General regional environmental changes have
been derived from studies on the impact of sea level changes to ancient coastlines
(Horton at al. 2005; Sinsakul 2000; Tija 1996). The regional climate became
cooler and drier during the Last Glacial Maximum and additional changes
occurred during the Holocene when sea levels rose and fluctuated and reached a
maximum height of 4 m above mean sea level around 6000 years b.p. before settling at its present level c. 1500 years b.p.
The survey region is located within the lower part of the Northern Basin, of
the Eastern Chao Phraya River Valley. The survey area called the Kok SamrongTakhli Undulating Terrain (KSTUT) was chosen because it encompasses a variety
of landscapes, and includes two excavated sites of Ban Mai Chaimongkol (BMC)
(Eyre 2006; Natapintu 1996, 2007), a Metal Age site; and Chansen (CH), a late
Metal Age and protohistoric site (Bronson 1976) (Figs. 2 and 3). KSTUT is a distinctive microregion that lies along northwest-southeast oriented undulating terrain within the two administrative districts of Kok Samrong, Lopburi province
and Takhli, Nakhon Sawan province (Natapintu 1997 : 49–50). To the north, it
was bounded by the flat terrain around the great swamp of Bung Boraped, to the
south by the alluvial plains along the upper tributaries of the Lopburi River, to
the west by the relatively flat alluvial plain extending from the left bank of the
Chao Phraya River, and to the east by small streams at the base of a chain of
KSTUT is characterized by undulating terrain ranging from 50 to 150 masl and
a series of floodplains, semi-recent terraces, marl terraces, small hills, and mountains (Thai Land Development Department 1987; Thiramongkol 1983). The survey region encompasses three major environmental zones: alluvial plain, middle
terrace, and uplands. The water systems consist mainly of springs, ponds, swamps,
and small streams, and the majority of the streams originate from natural springs
(Natapintu 1997 : 50). Takaya (1987 : 98–99) loosely defined the area as nonlateritic, with fairly fertile soil—the Lopburi Grumosol Area. Most of the Lopburi
Grumosol Area is not suitable for wet-rice agriculture for several reasons: high
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Fig. 3. Excavated prehistoric sites of inland central Thailand: Eastern Chao Phraya and Pasak River
slope, water deficiency, and the lack of clayey soil components (Mudar 1993 : 27;
Takaya 1987 : 11). Higher and lower elevations of Lopburi Grumosol soil are more
suitable for field crops, however, one can still practice wet-rice cultivation in the
The present KSTUT patterns of land use illustrate how geomorphology, topography, and soil types have played significant roles in determining types of cultivation in the region (Thai Land Development Department 1987). The KSTUT
growing season is dictated by the rainy season. Locals utilize a variety of cultivation practices; wet-rice agriculture is not the only or main type of cultivation.
The alluvial plain and middle terrace are characterized by three soil types: Lopburi
Low Phase and Ban Mi have good water retention and are suitable for wet-rice
cultivation; Lop Buri has medium porosity and is suitable for field crops. Mixed
cultivation of both wet-rice and garden crops is found on the alluvial plain where
there is relatively flat terrain and high water retention. The lower middle terrace
predominantly grows wet rice, but at the higher elevations these terraces do not
experience flooding and only field crops are grown. The uplands are dominated
by Takhli soil, originating from decomposition of marl, which is fertile but has
poor water retention. Upland villagers only cultivate field crops.
Regional Background
Within the KSTUT, large numbers of prehistoric sites have demonstrated its importance for understanding long term habitation of central Thailand. The KSTUT
social variation and dynamics in metal age
reconnaissance survey documented up to 32 sites (Onsuwan 2003); the Lopburi
Survey recovered 50 sites (Ho 1992); the Nakhon Sawan Survey recorded 55 sites
(Natapintu 1997); and, the Lam Maleng intensive survey located more than 100
sites (Mudar 1993) (Fig. 2). Shared ceramic styles and metal artifacts among many
KSTUT sites (Ho 1992; Mudar 1993; Natapintu 1997; Rispoli 1997) and its
neighbors including Tha Kae (a late Metal Age and protohistoric site in the Lopburi Plain; Ciarla 1992), and sites of the Khao Wong Phrachan Valley (KWPV)
(Pigott et al. 1997), strongly indicate prehistoric development of socioeconomic
subregional networks (Fig. 3). Excavations at KWPV documented economic differentiation on an industrial scale involving metal production that developed prior
to the appearance of states or any regional evidence of centralization (Natapintu
1997; Pigott and Ciarla 2007; Pigott et al. 1997). After three millennia of human
use, c. a.d. 500 the region saw the emergence of the Dvaravati civilization, as evidenced, for example, at the moated site of Chansen (Bronson 1976; Indrawooth
1999; Vallibhotama 1996). While relatively small compared to other moated
Dvaravati sites in central Thailand (e.g., U-Thong, Nakhon Pathom, and Ku
Bua), the importance of Chansen is its location among numerous documented
Metal Age sites as well as the fact that it has been systematically excavated.
The objective of the 2001–2002 KSTUT Survey reported here was to more
thoroughly examine the land use/settlement change over time in an area known
to be occupied throughout the Metal Age and protohistoric periods. Did the settlement system change in concert with metals-related technological change, as has
been posited by some (Higham 1996, 2002, 2004; O’Reilly 2007, 2008), and if
so, when and how did it change?
Survey Methodologies in Thailand
A review of nine surveys of prehistoric sites conducted in Thailand–including
three reconnaissance surveys (Ho 1992; Lertrit 2003a, b; Thai Fine Arts Department 1988), five systematic surveys (Higham et al. 1982; Kijngam et al. 1980;
Penny 1986; Shoocongdej 2003; Welch and McNeill 1991; Wilen 1987), and
one intensive survey (Mudar 1995)–provided the basis for the development of
KSTUT survey methodology and demonstrated some of the limitations involved
in previous settlement pattern studies in the region (Table 1 and Fig. 2). All of the
five Metal Age and protohistoric surveys in Thailand, including Sakon Nakhon
and Khorat Basin (Higham et al. 1982; Kijngam et al. 1980), Huay Sai Khao
Basin (Wilen 1987), Phimai (Welch 1985), and Lam Maleng (Mudar 1993) surveys employed a hierarchical framework. Focusing on alluvial plains, surveys in
Sakon Nakhon, Khorat, and Huay Sai Khao Basins had inbuilt biases. Approximately 80 small Metal Age settlements, ranging from 0.6 to 10 ha, lack clear evidence of site hierarchy. Large and moated sites in the Khorat Basin were argued
to develop after 400 b.c. (Higham et al. 1982 : 23; Kijngam et al. 1980 : 69–70).
Although the investigators emphasized finding lowland sites, there are some indications of settlements located in the middle and high terraces (Higham et al.
1982 : 5, 7; Wilen 1987 : 109–110).
Systematic exploration of diverse landscapes is a breakthrough methodology in
Thailand settlement pattern studies. The Phimai Survey (Welch 1985; Welch and
McNeill 1991) employed rigorous methodology incorporating local interviews,
locate sites
Hierarchy &
Hierarchy &
locate sites
Pasak River
Sakon Nakhon
& Khorat
et al. 1982;
et al. 1980)
Huay Sai Khao
Basin (Wilen
locate sites
Lopburi (Ho
locate sites
Nakhon Sawan
(Thai Fine
Arts Department 1988)
survey project
sampling research
site location, no
site size
site location
& condition, no
not avail- site location,
sources, no
not avail- site locaable
tion, no
site location,
size, water
sources, no
not available
land use
only soil
for rice
not available
area (km2)
only soil
for rice
not available
Table 1. Comparison of Archaeological Site Survey Methodologies Conducted in Thailand
Heterarchy &
Lam Maleng
Hierarchy &
(Mudar 1993,
Phimai (Welch
(Penny 1984,
period sites
study social
Mae Hongson
study social
site location,
no systematic
minimal site location,
size, no
at &
site location,
& maps
site location,
& maps
site location,
& maps
not available diverse
25 þ7
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foot survey at and around sites, systematic artifact collection, measurement of sites
and the use of aerial photographs. Over 100 sites were recorded, the majority of
which began c. 1000–600 b.c. and were argued to have depended on wet-rice
agriculture. While intensive forms of agriculture developed and settlements
expanded into the terrace and upland zones at the beginning of the iron age
(c. 600 b.c.), two-level hierarchical settlement systems including many large and
moated settlements did not develop until c. 200 b.c.–a.d. 300. During the protohistoric period, most of these sites were abandoned and the new settlement system was comprised of a few large sites surrounded by smaller villages. In central
Thailand, Lam Maleng Survey, the first intensive survey conducted in mainland
Southeast Asia (Mudar 1993, 1995), established systematic transects to record and
to collect artifacts, and uncovered 105 sites across diverse terrain. Lam Maleng’s
Metal Age settlement patterns, in contrast to Phimai, exhibited extensive and
long-term use of the uplands where dryland farming was thought to have been
practiced. Changes in settlement locations to wet-rice-producing areas occurred
possibly after a.d. 500. While rank-size analysis showed no clear evidence of site
hierarchy, findings of growing regional integration over time is consistent with
The fact that none of the surveys found clear evidence that the development of
settlement hierarchy coincided with the early use of metals in Thailand highlights
the importance of implementing alternative frameworks incorporating heterarchy.
A number of e¤ective methodologies were incorporated in the KSTUT Survey:
establishing a survey region that encompasses a variety of landscapes; combining
extensive local interviews with systematic foot survey in all landscapes; striving
for comprehensive awareness of the characteristics of each environmental zone;
and employing systematic data collection in all areas (Mudar 1993; Welch 1985;
Welch and McNeill 1991).
KSTUT Intensive Survey
Intensive survey with full coverage pedestrian design was needed to address previous research biases and as a result the KSTUT Survey was designed and implemented in 2001–2002. Our team conducted an intensive survey covering an area
of 58 sq km, incorporating in its methodology many aspects of the Lam Maleng
Survey which was conducted about 30 km to the east (Mudar 1993). In particular, we utilized Mudar’s two-stage approach of a reconnaissance survey of a larger
study area followed by 100 percent survey of a selected sample area (Fig. 3). First,
a reconnaissance survey of an area of 1000 sq km was conducted to evaluate preliminary site distributions, aided by information from local interviews. This survey
region was chosen to encompass lowland, terrace, and upland zones and covered
two excavated sites of BMC and CH. Despite extensive literature on the problem
of relating surface size to site size, particularly in agricultural fields (e.g., Banning
2002), the large number of sites and the dense concentration of artifacts documented in the survey region suggest that deep plowing and flooding did not
compromise the integrity of sites in the area. Sites were defined, following
Mudar’s successful approach, based on artifact density or concentration rather
than on size of the area or the number of sherds (1993 : 85).
social variation and dynamics in metal age
This was followed by an intensive foot survey encompassing three environmental zones: 14 sq. km of alluvial plain, 20 sq. km of middle terrace, and 24 sq.
km of uplands. Several enhancements to the Lam Maleng Survey methodology
were utilized in terms of site recording and pottery sample collection procedures
resulting from heterarchical theoretical models. First, the KSTUT Survey boundary was not defined by major water sources as was the Lam Maleng Survey. Second, the acquisition of information regarding current land use and land use history through interviews with local villagers represented a key source of KSTUT
Survey data. Third, the surveyors collected evidence for settlement distribution as
well as evidence from each site including not only site size, but also surface features, surface artifacts, observable site formation processes, environmental variation and site function.
In order to locate sites, the KSTUT team walked across the landscape in transects with four or five members approximately 15–25 m apart. Once a site was
identified, it was assigned a site name, and a global positioning system allowed for
more e‰cient location on maps. A transect-and-collection-at-nodes method was
used to retrieve a systematic, not just representative, sample of artifacts across entire sites and to determine site size. Site boundaries were defined by the absence
of artifacts at more than five nodes, about 100–150 m. Rakes and hoes were used
to clear the ground of leaf detritus to ensure that no artifacts were missed at
nodes. Finally, a wide range of sample diagnostic and non-diagnostic sherds were
systematically collected at nodes and evidence of production activities and trade
were explicitly sought.
Careful planning was employed to take advantage of the intensive modern
day double cropping seasons that contributed to a high visibility survey area
(Mudar 1993 : 83–85). The earliest harvest season of the year begins around midDecember in the lowlands when rice, corn, and garden crops are harvested. The
window of opportunity for surveying lowland areas is brief as villagers start to
plant rice again by mid-March, at which time the entire cultivated area must be
flooded. In the uplands and middle terrace, the harvest season begins around the
end of February for corn, sugarcane, pumpkin, and millet. The intensive survey
began early in January in the lowlands and, by the time the lowland survey was
completed in mid-February, the upland and middle terrace fields had been
cleared. Although replanting of the middle terrace and uplands occurs at the beginning of the rainy season around April/May, it is possible to continue surveying
until the crops grow high enough to make the area impenetrable.
Integrated Chronology
Prior to the KSTUT Survey, the first integrated chronology of prehistoric inland
central Thailand was developed (Eyre 2006). The KSTUT chronology is based
primarily on stratigraphic analysis of ceramics from the two excavated sites with
overlapping chronologies of Ban Mai Chaimongkol (BMC) (Natapintu 1996;
Onsuwan 2000) and Chansen (CH) (Bronson 1976), both located within the survey boundary (Fig. 3). BMC chronology was constructed from over 80 whole
mortuary vessels based on relative sequences of intercutting of graves and habitation activities (Onsuwan 2000); it extends from the late third millennium b.c. to
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the Upper Iron Phase (ending c. 400 b.c.). Chansen chronology was constructed
based on the stratigraphic position of ceramic types and absolute dates; it starts in
the Lower Iron Phase (c. 600 b.c.) and lasts until the late protohistoric Dvaravati
period (c. a.d. 900). In addition, the reliability of the proposed chronology was
established through cross-dating with ten other nearby archaeological sites, e.g.,
Phu Noi (PN), those in the KWPV (e.g., sites of Non Pa Wai, Nil Kham Haeng,
and Huai Yai), Tha Kae (TK), Kok Charoen (KC), Sab Champa (SC), Chaibadan
(CBD), Ban Pong Manao (PMN), and Ban Kao (BK) (Ciarla 1992; Ho 1984;
Lertrit 2003a, b; Natapintu 1997, 2003; Pigott et al. 1997; Rispoli 1997; Sørenson
and Hatting 1967; Veraprasert 1982). Despite limited availability of absolute
dates, attempts were made to relate the relative integrated chronology to the
available absolute dates (Table 2). Future research will inevitably revise this working chronology.
The adequately refined KSTUT ceramic sequence provides a structure for documenting long-term uses of the area and the potential means for identifying
ceramic subregions. The survey chronology spans five Metal Age Phases; sixteen
vessel forms and key-time specific diagnostic attributes of rim forms and surface
decorations have been defined as a comprehensive ceramic chronological index.
Key diagnostic decorations include: thick red burnished slip, red painted ware,
and incised lines filled with impressed or incised motifs and reserved decorations
(i&i) for Lower Bronze Phase; incised executed geometric design with pricked
design and i&i for Middle Bronze Phase; incised hanging and standing triangles,
and complex diagonal incised lines on pedestal for Upper Bronze Phase; red paint
inside channel, applied or incised fillet on neck for Lower Iron Phase; flange, and
band of wavy incised design for Upper Iron Phase.
kstut survey findings
KSTUT data collection was designed specifically to take into account multifaceted information. Broad ranges of data consisting of settlement pattern and
land use, evidence of ceramic subregion, and other kinds of craft specialization
are explored below. It became obvious, during the course of the analysis, that
each type of data is not without limitation and therefore has to be interpreted in
the contexts of one another.
Settlement Pattern and Land Use
KSTUT Survey uncovered 25 open-air sites in all three landscape zones—alluvial
plain, middle terrace, and uplands, with additional 7 cave sites located on a hill
adjacent to the uplands. The total area of occupation for all time periods excluding the cave sites is approximately 255 ha. Twenty-three open-air and two cave
sites are multi-component. While such long continuous use of most KSTUT Survey sites is significant for understanding prehistoric settlement systems, it hinders
the KSTUT Survey methodology in determining how site size changed through
time. Each site’s maximum size was estimated based on the total dimensions of
pre- and protohistoric cultural remains recorded at the time of survey. Nevertheless, four characteristics of the KSTUT settlement pattern can be drawn to facili-
Table 2. Integrated Regional Chronology of Inland Central Thailand
eastern chao phraya river valley
kok samrong-takli
undulating terrain
khao wong
prachan valley
pasak river valley
Phase V
Layer 2a
Late Iron
Phase II
Possible Occupation2
Layer 3
Layer 4
& Initial
Phase I
Phase Ib
Upper &
Iron Age
Layer 2c
Layer 5
Neolithic Late
Upper, Middle &
Lower Levels5
100 BC
Neolithic Early
AD 100
Mortuary Phases 2 & 3
Layer 2b
Mortuary Phase 1
these estimated dates are based on the absolute datings
Rispoli (1997) and Surapol (1997) based on the presence of surface finds of SPID, TRBS, and incised zig-zag decorations
see discussion of this hypothetical phase in Eyre 2006
Onsuwan (2000); 5 data is based on excavation in 1984 (Natapintu 1997)
Bronson (1976); 7 chronology is based on Ciarla (1992), although some information came from FAD excavations
The first SC excavation has 3 locales; SC II is the only one used in this analysis (Ho 1984)
bold ¼ estimated dates from absolute datings (Bronson 1976; Ho 1984; Sørenson and Hatting 1967; Bronson and White 1992)
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spring 2010
tate temporal and spatial discussions: long duration, diversification, and variability
in function and size.
Long Duration and Diversification
The KSTUT settlements, throughout the Metal Age until the Late Iron Phase,
continually exploited diverse landscapes. Bronze Age settlements occupying the
upland and middle terrace areas are more numerous than those found on the alluvial plain (Fig. 4). Fourteen upland and middle terrace sites and two alluvial plain
sites contain initial/Lower Bronze Phase evidence (c. 2000–1700 b.c.) and most
of these occupations continued into the Middle (c. 1700–1000 b.c.) and Upper
(c. 1000–600 b.c.) Bronze Phases. There are no marked changes in the settlement
patterns from the Bronze period to the early Iron Phases (c. 600 b.c.–a.d. 100).
The evidence indicates a long-term diversified subsistence system with a slightly
increased interest in middle terrace and alluvial plain occupation and no new settlement in the uplands. The process of depopulation of the uplands appears to
have begun during the Late Iron Phase (c. a.d. 1–400), as the number of upland
sites decreased at the same time that the number of lowland sites increased. Major
changes in land use took place during the protohistoric period, c. a.d. 400, when
settlements became restricted to lowland areas. No protohistoric upland sites were
identified and the total number of occupations in the surveyed area declined from
22 in the iron age to 8 sites during the protohistoric period (Fig. 5). These 8 protohistoric sites represented continuations of Metal Age communities but were
located within the alluvial plain and only one portion of the middle terrace zone.
Analysis of the KSTUT four major soil types in correlation with site size di¤erentiation illustrates complexity in the KSTUT subsistence systems that put low
emphasis on wet-rice-producing soil (Fig. 6). A larger and higher number of sites
occupied areas where lands are unfavorable to wet rice cultivation. Only half of
the alluvial plain sites (BMC, DM, NKA) are located on Lop Buri low phase soil
and five out of twelve middle terrace sites are located in Ban Mi soil. Both soil
types are suitable for wet-rice agriculture and the majority of these sites were
occupied into the protohistoric period. The rest of the alluvial plain sites (BMA,
BKL, and the largest site of Chansen) and seven middle terrace sites occupied Lop
Buri soil, which is very fertile but not suitable for wet-rice agriculture because it is
on higher ground. All seven upland sites are located on high marl Takhli soil, very
fertile and suitable for field crops.
Further assessment of environment and surrounding landscape features including the Holocene palaeoenvironmental contexts, landforms, slopes, and water
resources in light of these diversified patterns indicates that the KSTUT settlements had access to particularly fertile soil and abundant resources of complex
mixed deciduous forest (Kealhofer 1997) that would have encouraged long-term
settlement and independent socioeconomic systems. Although the sea level of
the historic Bay of Bangkok never extended as far inland as the KSTUT area, its
fluctuations during the Holocene might have had an impact on these prehistoric
settlement patterns and economic systems, especially regarding the availability of
marine resources. Chansen is currently about 200 km from the Bay of Bangkok.
At its maximum level, the sea may have come as close as approximately 50–100
km from the alluvial sites in the KSTUT Survey area (Cremaschi et al. 1992;
Fig. 4. KSTUT site distributions during the Upper Bronze phase.
Fig. 5. KSTUT Protohistoric site sizes and distributions.
social variation and dynamics in metal age
Fig. 6. Chart of site size stratified by soil type indicating that KSTUT site di¤erentiation was not
limited to lands favorable to wet-rice cultivation.
Sinsakul 2000 : 416, 421). Localized impact of such environmental changes to
ancient societies merits further investigation.
Various Functions and Sizes
Evidence of KSTUT settlement types and cluster of site distribution patterns
augment examination of the complexity of the settlement systems. Two main
functions—primarily habitation and mixed mortuary and habitation—are documented across the landscape where both site types are evenly dispersed. Of the
23 multi-component open-air sites, 12 have evidence for mortuary use and have
long sequences. Two types of site sizes are associated with these mortuary uses:
medium (five sites) and large or very large (seven sites). Interestingly, these large
sites often have access to perennial water sources. Eleven of mortuary/occupation
sites have earliest evidence since the Lower Bronze Phase; only one site (CH) has
evidence of mortuary/occupation since the Middle Bronze Phase (it is possible
that CH Lower Bronze deposit has been deeply buried by subsequent occupation). Two mortuary/occupation sites remained until the Upper Iron Phase;
seven lasted until the Late Iron Phase, and three continued until the protohistoric
The KSTUT site size range is from 0.04 to 91.5 ha and sites can be grouped
into small, medium, large, and very large (Fig. 7). The smallest site is located in
the middle terrace and the largest site (Chansen) is situated in the alluvial plain.
Fig. 7. KSTUT site size and distributions: 25 open-air sites and 7 cave sites were uncovered in the
alluvial plain, middle terrace, and uplands. All open-air sites had evidence of both bronze and iron
age occupation (except BKL and PKNN sites).
social variation and dynamics in metal age
The Metal Age settlement patterns are comprised of small, medium, and large
sites dispersed across all environmental zones. Large sites seem to characterize the
uplands with four out of seven open-air sites ranging between 14 and 24 ha; the
remaining three are medium-sized. Given the uniformity of the survey methodology, it is indisputable that the uplands had enduring Metal Age occupations (Eyre
2006 : 237–250, 278–287). Small and medium sites characterize the middle terrace; five out of twelve sites range between 1 and 5 ha, and six out of twelve sites
are less than 1 ha. Only one middle terrace site (BBK) is considered large. Two
large and three medium sites are situated in the alluvial plain.
Rank-size analysis was conducted on the KSTUT Survey data in order to help
assess population distribution across the settlement system and to determine how
it may have changed through time (Drennan and Peterson 2004; Johnson 1980).
The rank-size rule provides a standard measure for assessing the degree of regional
integration in a settlement system based on site size relationships. The rank-size
rule predicts that in an integrated hierarchical settlement, the size of a given site
will be equal to the size of the largest site divided by the rank of the site (all sites
being ranked according to site size). Plotting this expected rank-size relationship
in log-log scale results in a straight line with slope of –1 (the so-called ‘‘lognormal’’ line). One can plot the actual rank-size data for a given settlement system
in log-log scale and make inferences about the degree of integration of sites in
that system based on the extent to which the plotted data deviates from the lognormal line. A convex distribution plots above the log-normal line (where either
the primary site is smaller than predicted or non-primary sites are larger than
predicted by the rank-size rule) and suggests low regional integration and greater
site independence. A concave (or ‘‘primate’’) distribution plots below log-normal
and is suggestive of early state formation where a dominant primary center has
emerged that economically minimizes surrounding settlements.
Due to the multi-component nature of KSTUT sites, rank-size analysis of
Metal Age sites was restricted to those sites that do not have a protohistoric component (total of 17 sites). Protohistoric sites were plotted separately. The ranksize plot of sites with bronze and/or iron components produced a clearly convex
pattern, which suggests that KSTUT Metal Age sites were relatively autonomous
and less dependent politically and economically on each other (Fig. 8a). This
interpretation is supported by a weak hierarchical expression in KSTUT spatial
relationships and heterogeneous site clustering patterns. For example, the middle
terrace sites are closely spaced and relatively small compared to upland sites,
which tend to be larger and more widely spaced (with emphasis on association
with slopes and streams). Of course, a convex distribution might be misleading if
a major Metal Age primary center existed outside the KSTUT Survey area, but
there is no evidence to support this possibility at present.
In sharp contrast to the Metal Age rank-size distribution, the plot for the eight
sites with protohistoric components is markedly concave and strongly suggests a
hierarchical settlement pattern in which Chansen had become the dominant center (Fig. 8b). The dramatic increase in ceramics at Chansen (covering 92 ha)
around a.d. 400 mirrors a pattern across Thailand during the first millennium
a.d. That saw the emergence of moated sites and agricultural intensification in
lowland areas where wet-rice agriculture is possible (Indrawooth 1999; Kanjanajuntorn 2005; Mudar 1999; Vallibhotama 1996). Chansen has seven smaller sites
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spring 2010
Fig. 8. Rank-size distribution of KSTUT sites: (a) Metal Age, (b) Protohistoric period.
nearby including two medium alluvial plain sites and one small and four medium
middle terrace sites. The size and spatial relationships of these seven sites are
suggestive of interdependency to a very large Chansen settlement, which can be
interpreted as a two-level hierarchy.
social variation and dynamics in metal age
Assessment of rank-size distribution, though seldom applied to heterarchyoriented research elsewhere, has proven to be useful in allowing us to compare
general trends among the KSTUT Metal Age and protohistoric site sizes. However, the application raises a couple of issues. First, the multi-component nature
of prehistoric sites in central Thailand coupled with limited chronological control
hinders fine-grained analysis of distributional changes from phase to phase. It is
likely that the area of any sociopolitical group would change over time. Therefore, a refined chronology and much more extensive excavation in the future
will no doubt elucidate changes in habitation areas through time. Secondly, the
relatively small research area of KSTUT can only provide a window into a bigger
issue that has not been adequately addressed in Thailand prehistoric studies—site
size variability. With a refined chronology, future analysis of intra-site occupation
intensity is clearly needed through expansion of the systematic survey area and
test excavations to measure site size and change over time.
Although more research is required, it is possible that some of the di¤erent site
sizes are the result of seasonal occupation. A settlement system that had seasonal
agglomerations of population in large upland sites, with dispersal to small and medium sites in other seasons could account for the non-hierarchical nature of the
settlement distribution. Finally, KSTUT data o¤ers some clues regarding di¤erent
site use patterns across the landscape with strong indications that these were longterm habitats occupied simultaneously, probably by communities of various sizes
(Eyre 2006). This evidence could suggest di¤erent subsistence practices involving
both extensive and intensive agriculture. Future integrated studies of occupation
intensity changes at intra- and inter-site levels across diverse landscapes, in combination with palaeoenvironmental and ethnographic data would help to provide a
more conclusive picture of KSTUT subsistence patterns and craft production,
which in turn will deepen our understanding of central Thailand’s prehistoric
social complexity.
Metal Age Ceramic Subregions
Ceramic variation analyses of forms and decorations (visible macroscopically)
were conducted from the known ceramic sequences of 12 Metal Age sites within
the Eastern Chao Phraya River Valley of central Thailand (Table 2) (Eyre
2006 : 260–276). The absence and presence of defined characteristics among these
Metal Age assemblages were geographically delineated and later extrapolated for
the existence of at least seven distinctive ceramic subregions: BMC (including
CH), PN, KWPV, TK, Khao Heng Talat, Khao Samphot, and PMN (Ho 1992;
Lertrit 2003a, b; Natapintu 2003) (Fig. 9). Limited published ceramic chronology
hampers in-depth understanding of these ceramic subregions; however, the preliminary analysis o¤ers possible glimpses of their developments. Elephant-hide
pottery and forms N1 and B3 are characteristic of Lower Bronze Phase KWPV
and SC in the Pasak River Valley (Pigott et al. 1997; Rispoli 1997). Only the
odd sherd of elephant-hide pottery has been recorded at BMC and other subregions associated with Lower Bronze Phase occupation. At TK, Lower Bronze
ceramics are characterized by red painted ware, which has not been recovered in
the BMC and KWPV subregions. Although it appears that at least three ceramic
subregions existed in central Thailand east of the Chao Phraya River during the
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spring 2010
Fig. 9. Proposed ceramic subregions in central Thailand, within Eastern Chao Phraya and Pasak
River Valleys.
Lower Bronze Phase, it is unlikely, based on current data, that the three Lower
Bronze subregions expanded to the PN or Pasak River Valley region in later
phases. New ceramic subregions appear from the Middle to Upper Bronze Phases,
the pot form D (or Hole-Mouthed Jar) is distributed widely, but not in the Pasak
River Valley (Ho 1992; Rispoli 1997). Yet PN, in the uplands, emerged with its
own distinctive ceramic variations of forms K, L, and M dating from the Upper
Bronze to the Upper Iron Phases (Natapintu 1997), which thus far appear to be
uncommon at BMC, in the KWPV, and at TK. Forms A1, A8, and A9 characteristic of BMC Iron period were not uncovered at PN or KWPV.
BMC Subregion in a Diverse Landscape
Within the KSTUT Survey region, further analysis of stylistic patterning was
conducted by determining relationships of shared ceramic attributes using the
known sites of BMC and CH to the non-BMC sites (other subregions). A large
portion of KSTUT Survey sherds share strong similarities with BMC and CH
attributes, including co-occurrences of rim/base types, surface treatments, and
surface decorations. These similarities have made it possible to date the KSTUT
Survey site occupations and assess the degree of variability in the region and even
within sites with confidence. This preliminary study suggests that the survey fell
within a single ceramic subregion (hereafter BMC). Interestingly, other proposed
subregions within the Eastern Chao Phraya River Valley had parallel diversifica-
social variation and dynamics in metal age
tion of land uses. The KWPV subregion incorporates the middle and high terraces
of the Lam Maleng and KWPV Valleys (Mudar 1993, 1995). In fact, the KWPV
maintained its ceramic a‰liation with Lam Maleng communities even as it
focused on metal production. The Lopburi Survey revealed ceramic similarities
across various environments in Khao Heng Talat and Khao Samphot subregions
(Ho 1992 : 40–41).
In addition, notable intra-subregional ceramic variations, within KSTUT diagnostic and non-diagnostic sherds, were documented and defined as disjunct correlations. Variant decorations appear to be randomly associated or ‘‘mixed and
matched’’ with various types of surface treatment, location of decoration, rim
type, or other decoration types (Fig. 10). The variation occurred at di¤erent
scales: as variation within individual KSTUT sites and as variation between sites.
These highly non-standardized ceramic traditions were also observed among
KWPV and Lam Maleng assemblages (Mudar 1993 : 109; Rispoli 1997 : 61). It is
clear that there were no strict rules in the KSTUT ceramic typology for associating particular rim types with specific designs. Rather, there appears to have been a
repertoire of designs and decorations that the KSTUT potters shared and from
which they were free to pick and choose. The disjunct correlation pattern
observed could be suggestive of pottery production at multiple locations. Highly
individualized expressions within forms within villages might also suggest that
pottery production was undertaken by many potters per village. Over time, disjunct correlations decreased during the Lower Iron and Late Iron Phases where
ceramics show strongest uniformity to BMC and CH.
Shifts in the BMC Ceramic Subregion Over Time
The analysis of the BMC subregion through time reveals a fairly sustained continuation of shared ceramic variability within the subregion from the Bronze
through the Iron Phases. Geographic shifts in ceramic subregion are relatively
minor and gradual (Fig. 11a). Settlements of all three zones show BMC a‰nities
throughout but a strong shift in BMC subregion occurred around the Late Iron
Phase at which time there was greater aggregation of Chansen Phase II ceramics
in the lowland areas. This integration likely occurred before evidence of centralization during the protohistoric period. Abundant evidence of Chansen Phase II
ceramics both at Lam Maleng, KSTUT, as well as TK, suggest that during this
time the two or more subregions merged into a single larger subregion (Rispoli
1992 : 134–136). Interestingly, the Chansen Phase II ceramics that characterized
the Eastern Chao Phraya River Valley region are di¤erent from the Pasak River
Valley ceramics (e.g., Burnished Black Wares) and the Classic Phimai Phase in
northeast Thailand (Lertrit 2002 : 124–125; Welch and McNeill 1991 : 217).
Therefore even if some subregions merged late in the Iron period or had
increased interaction, distinct subregions can still be identified.
Although the BMC subregional ceramic domain appears to have been maintained, there were indications of interaction shifts with neighboring subregions
over time (Fig. 11b). Evidence of these interactions is based primarily on diagnostic forms and decorations pertinent to each phase (Eyre 2006 : 501–506). Otherwise, the sample sizes are too small to be conclusive. This could merely be a
product of sample bias resulting from incomplete ceramic sequences from PN
Fig. 10. Variations within style of Hanging and Standing Triangles from upland and alluvial plain
social variation and dynamics in metal age
Fig. 11. Chart displays number of survey sherds recovered in each phase and environmental zones:
(a) diagnostic ceramics of BMC and Chansen. This analysis is based on a working chronology with
loosely defined time periods: LB-MB assignment is based on Incised Lines Filled with Impressed or
Incised Motifs and Reserved Decoration. These decorations are commonly found in the BMC subregion, and other central and northeast Thailand sites; roughly 55 percent of MB-UI sherds are
assigned based on stylistic similarities, which are shared between BMC and PN; (b) ceramics that are
characteristic of other central Thailand sites, e.g., KWPV, PN, SC, and KC.
and the KWPV. During the Lower and Middle Bronze Phases, elephant-hide,
TRBS (Thick Red Burnished Slip), and incised lines filled with impressed or
incised motifs and reserve decorations—attributes of KWPV subregional ceramics
(Rispoli 1997, 2007)—are spottily distributed in the middle terrace and the
asian perspectives
spring 2010
uplands. However, links between KSTUT alluvial plain sites and the KWPV region as indicated by the presence of the N1/B3 (restricted vessel with carination
at shoulder) and elephant-hide sherds at BMC and DM suggest stronger interactions of that lowland portion of the BMC subregion with KWPV at that time.
During the Upper Bronze Phase, pot form J (unrestricted vessel and rectangular
flat base with basket impressions), which is regionally found at PN, is distributed
at five out of seven upland sites. This might indicate an initial change in subregion
to subregion interactions in which the upland KSTUT sites interacted more with
PN. Continued interactions between BMC upland settlements and the PN subregion are evidenced by many upland sherds of hanging and standing triangle
decorations commonly found in the PN Iron period.
Other Evidence of Specialization
Analysis of KSTUT small finds and their associated site types and sizes, despite
limited data and temporal control, can enhance our understanding of production,
exchange, and economic integration over time. Most of the alluvial plain Metal
period artifacts indicate a regional exchange network extending beyond the survey area: stone bracelets possibly came from the KWPV sites (Ciarla 1992; Pigott
pers. comm.); the presence of an iron axe and a glass bead were most likely
acquired through subregional or regional trade since there is no clear evidence of
local production of either object. These exchange items were associated with the
large mixed mortuary and habitation site of BMC and the medium habitation site
of BMA (Table 3). No ceramic pestle was documented at alluvial plain sites;
however, domestic stove fragments were recovered that could have been made
locally (Natapintu pers. comm.). The recovery of spindle whorls and stone pestles, commonly found at Dvaravati sites throughout Thailand, indicate local craft
production during the protohistoric period (Indrawooth 1999).
Middle terrace artifacts belonging to the Metal periods (e.g., spindle whorls,
ceramic pestles, and a ceramic mold for making bronze tools) indicate some level
of textile, pottery, and metal production (Table 3). Two ceramic pestles were
recovered at medium-sized mixed mortuary and habitation settlements. Like
those found in the alluvial plain, marble and shell bracelets and iron tools may
have been acquired through subregional or regional networks; these artifacts are
associated with both medium and large mixed mortuary and habitation sites. The
RK ceramic stove fragments are similar to those found in the lowlands. In the
uplands, at least six di¤erent kinds of local productions occurred during the Metal
Age based on the recovery of fragments of an unfinished stone bracelet, a modified shell, an unretouched flake, as well as polished stone axes, spindle whorls,
ceramic pestles, and fragments of tuyères (associated with iron production) (Fig. 12).
The majority of polished stone adzes/axes found during the survey were recovered at upland sites. In contrast to the lowlands, all stone bracelets recovered in
the uplands were non-marble and spindle whorls are larger in size than those
found at lowland sites. The majority of pestles and tuyères come from two large
mixed mortuary and habitation sites in the uplands. Exchange items including
stone bracelets, a bronze tool, and iron tools are associated with medium and
large habitation and mixed mortuary/habitation sites (Table 3). A complete cordi-
middle terrace
middle terrace
middle terrace
middle terrace
1: bangle
1: sculpture
1: worked
1: seal
1: socketed
Table 3. Types and Numbers of Production or Consumption Artifacts at Small and Medium KSTUT Sites
1: axe
asian perspectives
spring 2010
Fig. 12. KSTUT small finds uncovered in the uplands.
form socketed bronze axe, similar to unalloyed cordiform copper-base adze/axes
found at KWPV (Pigott et al. 1997 : 130–131), was recovered at a medium-sized
habitation settlement (Fig. 12). Although its function remains unknown, this type
of artifact is known to have been produced primarily at the site of Nil Kham
At this research stage, the fact that evidence for production activities was
recovered at eight di¤erent middle terrace and upland sites (varying in size and
function) could suggest the existence of local production. It is notable that during the Metal Age, the upland settlements appear to have been more active in a
variety of productive activities. In terms of exotic artifact distribution, various
settlement types and sizes across the landscape evidently participated individually
in regional networks beyond the BMC subregion. During the iron age, the
alluvial and upland communities were likely integrated in much broader regional networks based on the presence of glass beads and iron tools (Bellina and
Glover 2004; Glover 1990; Higham and Thosarat 1998; Pigott et al. 1997 : 139,
Fig. 17).
social variation and dynamics in metal age
The complexity of KSTUT Survey data highlights a need to embrace a broad
range of information in determining sociopolitical organization in the Eastern
Upper Chao Phraya River Valley. Although hierarchical organizations have been
documented during the iron age in parts of northeast Thailand (Higham et al.
1982; Kijngam et al. 1980; Welch and McNeill 1991), the KSTUT and Lam Maleng Survey data suggest an absence of centralized political organization until c.
a.d. 400 (Mudar 1993) in this part of Thailand. Two counterpoised mechanisms
of power can be inferred from the KSTUT settlement patterns and evidence of
economic specialization. While an internally loose and decentralized sociopolitical system incorporating multicenter production endured, the existence of a
ceramic subregion indicates a strong socioeconomic connection persisted in
binding these settlements together. This distinctive scenario suggests that KSTUT
political, social, and economic aspects might not always overlap. Counterbalanced
political and economic power is a hallmark of a heterarchical system (Crumley
1995, 2003).
While it is unlikely that the KSTUT Survey boundary captures the entire
social system of local Metal Age communities in central Thailand, the KSTUT
political economy can be characterized as having heterogeneous and diversified
organization based on the evidence of varying site types, sizes, and land uses. These
decentralized formations may have supported independent economic networks
and fostered political fluidity, stability, and longevity. Heterogeneous and diversified settlement systems have been intensively studied in a protohistoric tradebased state at Kedah, Malaysia (c. a.d. 700–1500) (Allen 1988, 1999). In fact,
many forms of sociopolitical organizations existed within Kedah’s entity. An upland heterarchy system developed alongside a hierarchical structure formed within
the riverine redistributive networks and Kedah’s coastal entrepôts. These upland
sites maintained a heterarchical formation even as they were key producers and
suppliers of agricultural necessities such as dryland rice, millet, and other forest
products to hierarchical communities farther downstream for consumption and
export. These complex kinds of relationships raise the possibility that hierarchical
organization during the protohistoric period in mainland Southeast Asia developed from economic-based interaction rather than sociopolitical exertion (Allen
1999 : 140).
It might be possible that the central Thailand ceramic subregions represent
economic spheres of production and distribution. The BMC, KWPV, and
Lopburi ceramic subregions were expansive and fluid multicentric networks possibly incorporating community-based specialization. The site-to-site variation
documented within the BMC subregion supports the notion that more than one
village made pots and that the subregion was not the result of a trading range of
one or two specialized potting communities. That the coherent range of forms
and styles encompasses a variety of environmental zones appears to support the
likelihood that more than one subsistence strategy was undertaken within these
exchange spheres. Economic interaction spheres often are larger than most other
types of interaction spheres (e.g., prestige goods and political exchange networks)
with the exception of information flow (e.g., Chase-Dunn and Hall 1997; Mann
asian perspectives
spring 2010
1986). Further investigation of the relations within this bounded economic network with an emphasis on the nature of ceramic variability is a necessary step towards understanding power dimensions among these Metal Age communities. It
is possible that local communities in central Thailand participated to di¤erent
degrees in exchange networks and that could be suggestive of independent and
decentralized socioeconomic networks. Despite some stability within BMC subregion during the bronze and iron ages, the number of subregions in Thailand
overall appears to have increased over time since the beginning of the Middle
Bronze Phase and there is abundant evidence of interaction among many of those
subregions. In the BMC subregion, upland sites seem to have been engaged in
more kinds of production than in the lowlands. Upland economic networks grew
tighter during the Upper Bronze Phase and became even more intensified during
the Iron periods before declining around the Late Iron Phase.
Ceramic subregion is a working concept that must be further tested and refined
through time. Future research is needed to clarify the nature, extent, and prevalence of subregional interaction. It is possible that the KSTUT ceramic assemblage may not be the most adequate proxy for Metal Age social complexity in
central Thailand. Further technical studies such as xeroradiography and compositional analysis should further elucidate the central Thailand ceramic subregions.
For example, the elephant-hide pottery has unusual formation processes whereby
the clay is pressed into a coarse basket mold rendering wide and deep basket
impressions (Rispoli 1997 : 65). Based on current data, the technique is rare
outside of the KWPV. In northeast Thailand, White also noted that technical
choices varied from subregion to subregion (1995 : 105). It is the realm of different technical choices among neighboring communities that helps to reveal
cultural patterning in these pre-state societies (e.g., Pfa¤enberger 1992; Stark
Application of heterarchy in explanatory frameworks to account for the presence of fairly sophisticated bronze and iron production and trade in societies that
do not appear to be particularly complex socially, politically, or economically has
proven to be a meaningful endeavor. While the limited number of metal artifacts
recovered provide but a glimpse into production and trade activities in the surveyed area, nevertheless, several observations can be made. The mold from a
middle terrace site of BBK and the tuyères from the upland site of NPI indicate
local production of copper-base and iron objects. The cordiform socketed adze/
axe from medium upland site of SKB suggests a trade network with the KWPV
during the iron age. This evidence of dispersed metal production and nonmonopolized trade are consistent with common observations of Metal Age communities in Thailand as being engaged in community-based specialization (Costin
1991; White and Pigott 1996). Recent research has demonstrated that metalworking technology did not originate but rather was introduced into mainland Southeast Asia (e.g., Higham and Higham 2008; Pigott and Ciarla 2007;
White and Hamilton 2009). This seems a plausible explanation as to why early
prehistoric societies in Thailand do not conform to expectations for hierarchical social dynamics developed from research in parts of the world which saw
the evolution of bronze and ironworking. Currently, the link between in situ development of metal production and hierarchy is not apparent. While, the exis-
social variation and dynamics in metal age
tence and flourishing of metalworking in prehistoric Thailand indicates significant
economic and environmental factors to promote the adoption of metalworking
technology, the very nature of locally decentralized and fluid socioeconomic
organizations might prevent usurpation and establishment of a strong hierarchical
The KSTUT research demonstrates that paradox in Southeast Asian archaeology
is a real phenomenon, therefore great e¤orts must be made toward developing
alternative hypotheses and minimally biased methodologies to produce new data
to further test and refine these alternatives. The KSTUT research contributes to
the development of a heterarchy-based interpretive methodology and framework
to understand Thailand’s Metal Age complexity that stresses lateral decentralized
integration. KSTUT methodologies emphasized collection of a broad range of
data, combined intensive survey and systematically defined ceramic subregions,
and sought to minimize biases based on prior expectations in order to produce
data that can be used to test a variety of hypotheses. The heterarchy framework
enriches our understanding of long-term sociopolitical changes by providing a
means to evaluate variations in the recovered data.
KSTUT Survey reveals two key unanticipated characteristics of Metal Age
communities in Thailand which consisted of heterogeneous and diversified settlement systems that coincided with strong economic networks. Not until the protohistoric period did an extensive reorganization of the population and hierarchical settlement system occur in the Eastern Upper Chao Phraya River Valley of
central Thailand, namely large central sites with associated small sites oriented toward wet-rice lands. Large Metal Age sites existed in non-rice growing areas, and
showed no clear spatial or artifactual evidence for political or economic centralization; they may have attained their sizes, in part, due to multiple and long-term
functions such as habitation and mortuary practices (White and Eyre in press).
Ceramic subregions provide crucial dimensions for elucidating social complexity
of prehistoric Thailand. Within the KSTUT, ceramic subregions possibly represent regional economic systems of broad, decentralized and fluid exchange networks that transcended site sizes, types, and locations of settlements and subsistence patterns.
The KSTUT evidence of settlement and economic systems illustrates highly
varied and dynamic Metal Age societies. The current data indicate that metal
technology may have played a less significant role in the development of social
complexity in terms of political or economic centralization than previously
assumed. An alternative framework, incorporating heterarchy, brought out these
two characteristics that can be further tested to see if they contributed to the distinctive regionality of sociopolitical development in prehistoric Thailand. More
research is needed to study transitions from pre–Metal Age to Metal Age societies
and to further clarify the relations between diversified subsistence economy, exchange networks, and development of power relations among groups (Burke
2006; Stahl et al. 2008).
asian perspectives
spring 2010
A version of this paper was presented in the general session ‘‘Settlement Patterns in
Archaeology’’ at the 2007 Society for American Archaeology meeting, Austin,
Texas. The Wenner-Gren Foundation (Gr. 6846) provided funding for this research.
Many thanks to Dr. Joyce White, Assoc. Prof. Surapol Natapintu, Dr. Miriam Stark,
Dr. Vincent Pigott, and Dr. Gregory Possehl who provided helpful advice and tremendous support. Helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript were
provided by Dr. Ian Glover, Dr. Charles Higham, and Dr. Dougald O’Reilly. My
deep gratitude goes to villagers of Ban Mai Chaimongkol and nearby areas, the
Thai Fine Arts Department, and the KSTUT crews. Stimulating ideas and refinements stemmed from comments from three anonymous reviewers and Dr. Jane
Allen, all of whom deserve great credit. Special thanks for editorial comments and
graphics to Peter Eyre and Dr. Christine Sherman.
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