Global threats such as climate change affect not only species, landscapes and seascapes around the world, but also pose a serious risk to our cultural heritage. Our research focuses on biocultural diversity - the combined genetic, ecological, cultural, and linguistic variation found in native biological and cultural systems – and how communities manage their environments. Learning from societies’ past and current traditional practices will help inform local and national strategies and contribute to safeguarding tangible cultural heritage (e.g. archaeological sites, monuments and historic artefacts). Our Cultural Heritage research includes:
The Origins of Angkor
Lead PI: Dr. Nigel Chang
The rise of the Angkorian civilization in southeast Asia, culminating in the culture's classic period - roughly between A.D. 800 and 1300 - has traditionally been ascribed to Indian influence through trade, language, religion and architecture. Also known as the Khmer Empire, it was centered in what is now Cambodia, although its influence spread across parts of modern day Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. The rural village of Ban Non Wat in Northeast Thailand is one of the most important sites for understanding indigenous societies ancestral to the Empire of Angkor.
This Earthwatch project aims to examine the complex relationships between this community and their environment - in particular, the causes and results of past environmental change. Covering over 1,100m², Ban Non Wat is one of the largest, longest-running, single archaeological projects in southeast Asia.
Through unearthing middens (a heap of shells or bones) containing animal bones, fish and shellfish, as well as the associated graves, excavations have uncovered evidence of the first Neolithic farmers to settle in the region from approximately 4,000 years ago. The finding of a concentration of animal bone and shellfish has been dated as far back as 15,000 years. While it is difficult to date directly, the Earthwatch scientist Professor Charles Higham has recently argued that findings of “flexed” burials - where individuals are positioned on their sides with the legs bent - may represent even earlier hunter-gatherer occupants of Ban Non Wat.
In higher stratigraphic layers, graves containing copper-based jewelry and tools date the first use of metals in the region at between 3,000 and 3,500 years ago. There are three significant findings for this period. Firstly, early metals are appearing in later layers than previously expected. Secondly, preliminary analyses of the earliest metal tools suggest that a significant Copper Age preceded the Bronze Age. Thirdly, the early Metal Age (whether Copper or Bronze) includes very large graves with many pots and other grave goods suggesting this period was more socially complex than previously thought.
A notable individual find during the 2009/10 field season has been the discovery of an approximately 2,000 year-old dog burial. This is the second well-preserved dog burial from the site and from similar Iron Age levels. A third small puppy skeleton was discovered in 2009. It seems that this tradition of dog burials may have continued throughout the prehistoric occupation of Ban Non Wat, indicating that these dogs were important and familiar animals in the community.