Asian Perspectives, vol. 46, no. 1 (2007)

Editors’ Corner, 1


Toward a Political Ecology in Early South India: Preliminary Considerations of the Sociopolitics of Land and Animal Use in the Southern Deccan, Neolithic through Early Historic Periods
Andrew M. Bauer, Peter G. Johansen, and Radhika L. Bauer, 3

The archaeology of southern India has long been dominated by cultural-historical paradigms, which have more recently become reliant on environmental stimuli to explain “culture change.” This interpretive framework has created a relatively fixed set of relationships between the environment and past human societies that oversimplifies issues of agency and causation in largely deterministic terms. At issue here is a lack of adequate treatment for the sociopolitical complexity of human-environment relationships. In this essay we examine the relationships between emerging social differences and both stable and dynamic aspects of land use throughout the South Indian Neolithic (3000–1200 B.C.), Iron Age (1200–500 B.C.), and Early Historic (500 B.C.–A.D. 500) periods in the southern Deccan region of South India. In an effort to contextualize land use in wider sociopolitical realms, we focus on the empirical components of three aspects of the archaeological record—animal use, agricultural regimes, and monument production and maintenance—through a lens of political ecology. Accepting that land use is socially and culturally mediated, we suggest how sociopolitical distinctions emergent during these periods could be viewed in relation to the production of a landscape that differentially included wild and domesticated animals, cultivars, water reservoirs, irrigation agriculture, and monumental architecture. In this sense, we argue that the landscape itself could be seen as a social product through which sociopolitical differences were experienced and perceived, and that the historical development of the landscape is both the artifact and medium of sociopolitics in early South India. As such, the determinants of social history remain in social and cultural fields of action, though not removed from the ecological-material world of which people are a part.
Keywords: agriculture, landscapes, monumentality, political ecology, zooarchaeology.

Hinterlands, Urban Centers, and Mobile Settings: The “New” Old World Archaeology from the Eurasian Steppe
William Honeychurch and Chunag Amartuvshin, 36

Archaeological studies of pastoral nomadic societies have been invigorated by recent collaborative research projects across the Eurasian steppe zone. This research contributes an important comparative perspective on processes of complex sociopolitical organization practiced among mobile groups. This essay employs a novel approach to understanding the organizational techniques and methods of finance that supported large-scale imperial polities of eastern Eurasia, specifically those centered on the Mongolian steppe. Using full-coverage survey data from the northern Mongolian valley of Egiin Gol, we present the results of diachronic spatial and environmental analyses in order to evaluate current models for nomadic political economy. We argue that eastern Eurasian subsistence economics are best understood not as a single “type” of production but as a productive process based on multiresource capacities (agro-pastoral, hunting, gathering, fishing) and the flexibility to readily adjust resource emphasis, degree of mobility, and specialization relative to a changeable environment. We offer a revised model for eastern steppe political integration emphasizing the spatial management of political relationships within a mobile setting. Our essay concludes with a brief overview of the potential for Eurasian steppe archaeology to contribute novel comparative insights for anthropologists studying the diversities and commonalities of complex social organization.
Keywords: pastoralism, nomadism, Mongolia, Eurasia, political economy, social complexity, urbanism.

Stone Axe Technology in Neolithic South India: New Evidence from the Sanganakallu-Kupgal Region, Mideastern Karnataka
Adam Brumm, Nicole Boivin, Ravi Korisettar, Jinu Koshy, and Paula Whittaker, 65

This essay discusses the preliminary results of recent archaeological investigations into stone axe production and exchange processes at a Neolithic hilltop settlement in South India. The site in question comprises a stone-lined circular structure situated on a plateau area on the side of a topographically complex hill, known locally as Hiregudda. Across the plateau, extensive surface scatters of flaked dolerite material indicate a heavy focus on edge-ground bifacial axe manufacture at the site. Excavation of the structure and its immediate surrounds has revealed stratified deposits of dolerite axes, axe blanks and debitage, as well as a large lithic dumping area adjacent to the structure. Several clusters of axe-grinding grooves are documented on granite boulders and bedrock exposures both in and around the structure, and at least two intensively quarried outcrops of dolerite have been recorded within close vicinity of the plateau. Following a detailed examination of the axe manufacturing technology employed by knappers in the “workshop” structure, we suggest that the evidence for large-scale quarrying and industrial activity at Hiregudda points to the importance of this hilltop settlement in the axe production and exchange network of Neolithic South India. We present radiocarbon dating evidence from our investigations that implies the most intensive phase of axe manufacture and possibly distribution at Hiregudda took place during the Late Neolithic–Megalithic transition around the thirteenth or fourteenth millennia B.C.
Keywords: Southern Neolithic, India, stone axes, technology, production, exchange, Neolithic-Megalithic transition.

The Lapita Occupation at Naitabale, Moturiki Island, Central Fiji
Patrick D. Nunn, Tomo Ishimura, William R. Dickinson, Kazumichi Katayama, Frank Thomas, Roselyn Kumar, Sepeti Matararaba, Janet Davidson, and Trevor Worthy, 96

In 2003 the authors discovered and excavated a Lapita site at Naitabale close to the southern end of Moturiki Island (central Fiji). Today the site is 350 m inland from the coast, but in Lapita times it was located behind the active beach ridge. A large collection of potsherds (including 92 dentate-stamped or incised Lapita sherds), shell, and animal bones was recovered, together with a human burial. Sherd decorations show affinities with the Western Lapita Province rather than the Eastern Lapita Province (which includes Fiji). Temper analyses of 45 Lapita sherds do not show any unmistakably exotic (to Fiji) pottery, but 29 percent are nonlocal to Moturiki and nearby islands. Fish bones are mostly from inshore species (dominated by Scaridae), while nonfish vertebrates are dominated by turtle and include dog and chicken. Shellfish remains are dominated by gastropods, mostly Strombus spp. (43 percent of gastropod MNI). The surf clam (Atactodea striata) accounts for 38 percent of bivalve MNI, with Anadara antiquata and Gafrarium pectinatum each representing 14 percent of the bivalve MNI. The skeleton is that of a woman (Mana) 161–164 cm tall who died at 40–60 years of age. Six radiocarbon dates from bones overlap 2740–2739 cal. years B.P. (790–789 B.C.). The mandible lacks antegonial notches but is not a proper rocker jaw. The cranium was better preserved than any Lapita-associated skeleton hitherto described, which allowed the head to be reconstructed. Stable-isotope analyses show that her diet contained significant amounts of reef foods but was probably dominated by terrestrial plants. The Lapita occupation of Naitabale is likely to have begun by 2850 cal. years B.P. (900 B.C.). Radiocarbon dates and pottery decorative styles both suggest Naitabale was first occupied within the early part of the Lapita history of Fiji.
Keywords: Fiji, Lapita, pottery, pottery temper, fish, turtle, shellfish, human, dating.

Sedentism, Territorial Circumscription, and the Increased Use of Plant Domesticates Across Neolithic–Bronze Age Korea
Christopher J. Norton, 133

As evidenced from the Korean archaeological record, there is an increased use of plant domesticates and a decrease in other food sources during the Holocene. These changes in overall human diet breadth culminate with the Late Neolithic–Bronze Age (c. 3500 B.P.) transition where dependence on hunted and gathered food packages decreases during the former period and full-scale agriculture becomes the norm during the latter cultural stage. This dietary shift appears to coincide with Holocene shoreline stabilization and overall large-scale population increase and movement through time. It is proposed here that two primary reasons exist for the change in overall diet breadth: (1) increasing shoreline stabilization during the Holocene and (2) an increase in hunter-gatherer population pressure due to a sedentary lifestyle. Both of these factors would have led to some degree of territorial circumscription, resulting in a progressive decline in overall hunter-gatherer foraging efficiency. In turn, this would have prompted the Holocene Korean Peninsular peoples to find other ways to offset their lowered overall foraging efficiency that had originally focused primarily on higher-ranked food resources (e.g., deer, wild boar). In this case, Korean peoples expanded their overall diet breadth to include a lower-ranked set of food packages (e.g., fish, shellfish) that by the advent of the Bronze Age eventually included plant domesticates regularly.
Keywords: East Asia, Korea, spread of agriculture, diet breadth contingency model, zooarchaeology.

Ancient Irrigation and Buddhist History in Central India: Optically Stimulated Luminescence Dates and Pollen Sequences from the Sanchi Dams
Julia Shaw, John Sutcliffe, Lindsay Lloyd-Smith, Jean-Luc Schwenninger, and M. S. Chauhan, 166

This paper presents the results of a recent pilot project aimed at obtaining optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dates from a group of ancient irrigation dams in central India. The dams are all situated within an area of 750 km² around the well-known Buddhist site of Sanchi, the latter established in c. third century B.C. and having a continuous constructional sequence up to the twelfth century A.D. They were documented during earlier seasons of the Sanchi Survey, initiated in 1998 in order to relate the site to its wider archaeological landscape. The pilot project builds upon earlier hypotheses regarding the chronology and function of the Sanchi dams and their relationship to religious and political history in Central India. The principal suggestion is that the earliest phase of dam construction coincided with the rise of urbanization and the establishment of Buddhism in central India between c. third and second centuries B.C.; and that they were connected with wet-rice cultivation as opposed to wheat, the main agricultural staple today. Similarities with intersite patterns in Sri Lanka, where monastic landlordism is attested from c. second century B.C. onward, have also led to the working hypothesis that the Sanchi dams were central to the development of exchange systems between Buddhist monks and local agricultural communities. The pilot project focused on two out of a total of 16 dam sites in the Sanchi area and involved scraping back dam sections created by modern road cuttings. This cast new light on aspects of dam construction and allowed for the collection of sediments and ceramics for OSL dating. The results confirmed the suitability of local sediments to OSL dating methods, as well as affirming our working hypothesis that the dams were constructed—along with the earliest Buddhist monuments in Central India—in the late centuries B.C. Sediment samples were also collected from cores hand drilled in the dried-up reservoir beds, for supplementary OSL dating and pollen analysis, which shed useful insights into land use.
Keywords: irrigation, dams, rice agriculture, OSL dating, pollen analysis, ancient India, spread of Buddhism, religious change, theories of state.

The Gold Coast: Suvannabhumi? Lower Myanmar Walled Sites of the First Millennium A.D.
Elizabeth Moore and San Win, 202

The high rainfall of the Lower Myanmar coast is balanced by the aridity of the country’s inland plains. The article profiles three sites in a laterite-rich area located in the northern part of the Lower Myanmar peninsula. The walls and moats of these sites underline their role in water management, one where control of water was the decisive catalyst. The sites of Kyaikkatha, Kelasa, and Winka illustrate how slight changes in topography signal critical junctures, the points where walls and moats were constructed. As a result, up to seven walls flank the higher edges of these sites; these protected the interior by diverting excess water to lower areas. Using large finger-marked bricks and terra-cotta artifacts such as votive tablets, plaques, and architectural elements, a broad chronology of c. the sixth to ninth centuries A.D. is proposed, although a majority of the pieces dated to the seventh century A.D. Attention is also drawn to evidence of Lower Myanmar prehistoric habitation in lowland areas close to the coast, where natural and man-made changes continue to alter the ecology and affect archaeological interpretation. The survey is used to encourage comparative studies, drawing in environmentally diverse but culturally related areas of South and Southeast Asia.
Keywords: Myanmar (Burma), ecology, laterite, water control, hydrology, Iron Age, Buddhism.


The Archaeology of Pouerua by Douglas Sutton, Louise Furey, and Yvonne Marshall
Reviewed by Ian Barber, 233

Archaeology and Culture in Southeast Asia: Unraveling the Nusantao by Wilhelm G. Solheim II, with contributions from David Bulbeck and Ambika Flavel
Reviewed by John A. Peterson, 235

Gender and Chinese Archaeology edited by Katheryn M. Linduff and Yan Sun
Reviewed by Elizabeth Brumfiel, 237

Earthenware in Southeast Asia: Proceedings of the Singapore Symposium on Pre-Modern Southeast Asian Earthenwares edited by John Miksic
Reviewed by Laura Lee Junker, 242


Comments are closed.