Trauma and conflict in prehistoric Southeast Asia: a life of war or peace

Pedersen, Lucille T. (2017) Trauma and conflict in prehistoric Southeast Asia: a life of war or peace. Masters (Research) thesis, James Cook University.

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This study is the first comprehensive analysis of trauma prevalence representing a range of temporal and geographic contexts from eighteen sites across Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam and includes new skeletal analysis data from Iron Age Non Ban Jak in northeast Thailand. The aim of this thesis is to use evidence of skeletal trauma combined with material evidence of defensive architecture, weapons and military paraphernalia to test if there was increase in trauma prevalence, especially resulting from interpersonal violence, from the Neolithic to the Iron Age.

A statistically significant increase in trauma prevalence was observed between the Neolithic and the Iron Age. The patterning of injuries and the similar prevalence of trauma in both sexes in the Neolithic is indicative of accidental mechanisms, with the exception of two cases of cranial trauma suggesting that interpersonal violence may have been experienced by at least some individuals. Trauma prevalence increased in the Bronze Age with males experiencing almost twice as many injuries as females. The presence of craniofacial injuries and defensive parry fractures to the distal ulna at some sites are indications of interpersonal violence but there is no evidence for large-scale warfare such as the mass production of weapons, fortification, and military paraphernalia that is present in the Iron Age. There is three times more craniofacial trauma in the Iron Age than the Bronze Age and eight times more than is present in the Neolithic. Several cases of violent trauma are present at the Iron Age site of Noen ULoke in northeast Thailand and the majority of cranial injuries are observed at Phum Snay in northwest Cambodia, along with evidence of weapons in the burials of individuals identified as warriors.

A combination of sociocultural and environmental circumstances are considered to have stimulated the increasing prevalence of trauma and the development of several 'hot spots' of intense conflict in the Iron Age. These include the expansion of the Han Dynasty from China into northern Vietnam that coincided with the construction of military fortifications and mass production of weapons at the late Iron Age site of Co Loa. Historical records indicate military activity in the Greater Angkor region, northeast Thailand and northern Vietnam. During the same period, sociopolitical change was influenced by exposure to new ideologies, religion and technology during contact with well-established state societies such as India and China through a maritime exchange network. Also, early complex polities were forming as part of the manufacturing and trading centres in northern Vietnam and the Mekong delta region. These factors, in conjunction with significant environmental changes, partly driven by human adaptations, increasing population density and climate change, likely led to competition over resources and territory that instigated cycles of peace and increasingly violent conflict in Southeast Asia. Future excavations that focus on areas around these 'hotspots' of conflict may assist in further determining the conditions for the development of violent conflict and/or warfare.

Item ID: 51481
Item Type: Thesis (Masters (Research))
Keywords: biological anthropology, burials, Cambodia, craniofacial trauma, Iron Age, military fortifications, Myanmar, Neolithic, Non Ban Jak, skeletal analysis, skeletal trauma, Thailand, trauma prevalence, Vietnam, war, weapons
Date Deposited: 08 Nov 2017 00:11
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1601 Anthropology > 160102 Biological (Physical) Anthropology @ 70%
21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2101 Archaeology > 210103 Archaeology of Asia, Africa and the Americas @ 30%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9505 Understanding Past Societies > 950502 Understanding Asias Past @ 70%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society @ 15%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970121 Expanding Knowledge in History and Archaeology @ 15%
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