Monday, August 9, 2010

Paleoenvironmental Studies through LOMAP: 1999-present

Dr. Paul Bishop ((University of Glasgow) instigated the paleoenvironmental program in 1999, and focuses on both identifying and testing potential ancient canal segments and on reconstructing changing vegetational regimes in the region during the period of Angkor Borei’s political prominence. This work has now involved both paleoethnobotanical research by Dr. Dan Penny (University of Sydney) and luminescence work by Dr. David Sanderson (Scottish Universities Research and Reactor Centre, East Kilbride).

A critical element of the environmental research concerns identifying and dating canals that may have linked Angkor Borei (in the northern Mekong delta) and Oc Eo (in the southern Mekong delta)(Article 1, Article 2). Pierre Paris, a French geographer and colonial civil servant in Indochina, first observed these possibly ancient canals using aerial photographs in the 1920s and 1930s; however, he did not have the resources to ground-truth his claims. Geoarchaeological investigations, with Dr. Paul Bishop (University of Glasgow) in 1999. His analysis of aerial photographs identified a series of canals that radiate out from Angkor Borei to surrounding settlements, and some of these may correspond to the canals that Pierre Paris originally identified.

Results of this research have begun to suggest, among other things, the construction of a canal radiating southward from Angkor Borei during its period of peak occupation in the early centuries A.D. Our work has also identified changing vegetational patterns in the 5th century AD that may be related to changing settlement demographics at Angkor Borei (Article). We continue to explore both these topics in our current LOMAP field investigations.

Work also continues on the large encircling earthen/brick wall around the site of Angkor Borei. Once thought to date to the site’s earliest occupation, we are now exploring its timing in the site’s occupational history. Obtaining dates for the brick wall construction may shed light on the introduction of brick architecture into the Mekong delta. Recent Vietnamese research on brick architecture at "Oc Eo culture" sites dated construction fill associated with the structures to date them. Direct dating of brick should provide more accurate ages for the buildings. We also cleared back a previous wall cut to study the wall's construction sequence, and excavated a 1 m x 2 m unit beneath the exposed surface to study the construction sequence of the wall itself. Preliminary analysis of the wall stratigraphy suggests (but does not prove) that the brick wall that so prominently surrounds Angkor Borei today may have been built atop an earlier earthen embankment.

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