The later prehistory of Southeast Asia and southern China: the impact of exchange, farming and metallurgy

Abstract

This paper integrates the later prehistory of mainland Southeast Asia with that of the extensive and varied lands north to the Yangtze River and beyond. Five millennia ago, rice cultivation had long been established in the Yangtze catchment, sustaining the early state centered at Liangzhu. This presents a sharp contrast to the complex hunter-gatherer communities then occupying favorable coastal and riverine habitats in Southeast Asia. Thereafter, numerous contacts are identifiable. These involved the movement south of rice and millet farmers, via the coast and strategic river courses that led to integration with long-established hunter-gatherers, as well as the introduction of a wide range of material skills. The exchange of desirable prestige items in jade and shell spanned considerable distances. The reach of the powerful early states of the Central Plains of the Yellow River and Sichuan involved prospecting for copper and tin ores, and progressive adoption of copper-base technologies into Southeast Asia. Having reviewed these broad patterns of interaction, I focus on describing and evaluating the fine details of the social changes that are illuminated by new Bayesian chronologies and extensive excavations in key sites.

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Acknowledgements

I wish to acknowledge my co-directors Amphan Kijngam and Rachanie Thosarat at Khok Phanom Di and Ban Non Wat. The fieldwork was funded by the Marsden Fund of New Zealand and Earthwatch and its Research Corps. Without the support of the Fine Arts Department of Thailand and the Thai National Research Council, this research would not have been possible.

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The Marsden Fund grant UOO 5467 and Earthwatch and its Research Corps (no grant number).

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Higham, C.F. The later prehistory of Southeast Asia and southern China: the impact of exchange, farming and metallurgy. asian archaeol (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41826-021-00040-y

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Keywords

  • Rice domestication
  • Prestige exchange
  • Jade
  • Shell ornaments
  • Bronze technology
  • Social change