Reflected in the soil: site formation processes as an index of social and environmental change at the site of Ban Non Wat, NE Thailand

Duke, Belinda Joy (2015) Reflected in the soil: site formation processes as an index of social and environmental change at the site of Ban Non Wat, NE Thailand. Masters (Research) thesis, James Cook University.

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This thesis examines how social and environmental change is recorded in the stratigraphic profile and reflected in the site formation processes of mounded sites. Previous geoarchaeological studies have focused on sedimentological and radiometric data to examine Iron Age sites on the Mun River Floodplain, looking for correlation between site formation events and social and environmental change through an environmental determinist approach. This thesis moves away from that approach and examines the relationship between site formation processes and social and environmental pressures from the viewpoint that social memory is transmitted through the site's stratigraphy. The focus is Ban Non Wat (BNW), a prehistoric occupation mound that is still occupied today, resulting in a 4000 year archive of social and environmental change. This thesis argues that social and environmental change directly impacts site formation processes and suggests that sediment is not just a static vessel for cultural artefacts, but also a conduit for the transmission of social memory. This thesis will address the research question: Does the close examination of Ban Non Wat's site stratigraphy and depositional environment provide insight into changing social and political dynamics from the period of colonisation to early proto-Historic era? To fully address this question, the following subquestions will be explored:

• What was the nature of the pre-colonisation period identified by Boyd and Chang (2010)? What impact did the colonising community have on the landscape?

• Higham and Higham (2009) identified a period (Bronze Age 2 ~1000–900 BC) of extremely rich burials and marked social differences. What (if any) impact did this period have on the physical site formation processes?

• It has been argued by Higham (2014a), McGrath and Boyd (2001) and O'Reilly (2014) that the introduction of the moats at BNW (~200 BC) suggests a change in social and political dynamics. Is this change reflected elsewhere?

• Is the transmission of “social memory” identifiable in the stratigraphic record? How does applying this theoretical framework assist in understanding the interrelationships between site formation processes and change in social dynamics at BNW?

A multi-proxy approach is combined with social memory theory to develop a holistic representation of the social and physical site formation processes. This approach layers analytical and theoretical methods to build a profile of data on the site's formation processes. The methods used include stratigraphic, geochemical and radiometric analysis. According to the theoretical approach taken here, each sediment deposition event represents a social memory of the community that lived at BNW. This approach has been taken to challenge environmentally determinist approaches and expand on the previous work which narrowly focuses on social change through close examination of mortuary remains.

From the application of this approach, this thesis has identified four modes of sediment deposition. Deposition Mode (DM) 1 (before 1200 BC) is related to the initial settlement of the mound as a seasonal or satellite site for hunter-gatherer communities who became more sedentary over time. DM2 (1200 BC–700 BC) sees the central area of the mound maintained, through slow and methodical deposition. This central area becomes socially, politically and ritually important during the Neolithic and referred to here as the sala. During the Bronze Age, areas around the sala undergo rapid vertical growth through intense and continual occupation. The period identified as Bronze Age 2 by Higham and Higham (2009) has no significant effect on the fabric of the mound. DM3 (700 BC–AD 500) sees a change to the rapid horizontal expansion of the site. Similar to previous DMs, the rapid accumulation is the result of continual occupation on the margins of the mound, away from the sala. The construction of the moats (200 BC) alters the DM by constraining the community's ability to expand horizontally. DM4 (AD 500–modern) sees the site formation slow to a crawl, with sediment becoming homogeneous with the natural floodplain alluvium. The site does not appear to have been abandoned; rather, the mound gains monument status, with domestic activity moving off the site.

It is evident that site formation processes operate independently to the social and environmental changes. The close examination of the site stratigraphy and depositional environment has provided new avenues for investigating changes in social complexity. By taking these thesis outcomes and combining them with more traditional methods of investigation, a more holistic understanding of prehistory has been achieved.

Item ID: 49875
Item Type: Thesis (Masters (Research))
Keywords: Ban Non Wat, environmental archaeology, geochemical analysis, geological site formations, radiometric analysis, social archaeology, social memory, social stratigraphy, stratigraphic analysis, Thailand, Upper Mun River Valley
Date Deposited: 15 Aug 2017 22:54
FoR Codes: 21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2101 Archaeology > 210103 Archaeology of Asia, Africa and the Americas @ 100%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9505 Understanding Past Societies > 950502 Understanding Asias Past @ 50%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970121 Expanding Knowledge in History and Archaeology @ 50%
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