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Dr. Miriam Stark to Give Series of Talks in February

Dr. Miriam Stark, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, will give a series of talks at Duke, USC, and UCLA in the month of February. Her research broadly examines examines political and economic transformations in Southeast Asia, with foci on settlement structure and economy

Duke University

Dr. Stark will present as part of a workshop entitled “Six Rivers in Historical Time: Nature-human Interactions on Himalayan Rivers.

Talk Title: “Premodern Khmers and their Mekong: Ecology and Agency in Archaeological Perspective”

Date: February 16, 2018

Time: 10a – 5p EST

Location: John Hope Franklin Center, Room 240 (Ahmadieh Family Conference Hall)

Talk Abstract:

The Mekong River is Southeast Asia’s longest drainage system, originating in China’s Qinghai Province near the Tibetan border and wending its way southward through Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia and Vietnam to empty its nine ‘mouths’ into the South China Sea.  More than 60 million people today rely on the Mekong River to support farming, fishing, and other livelihoods. The Mekong is the region’s ricebowl and a biodiversity hotspot; it is also a contested space whose existence is now threatened by both human and natural forces. A complex web of international agreements and a fully-functioning multi-country Mekong River Commission have not prevented the construction of six hydroelectric dams in China, with more than ten major dams in the planning stage for Laos and Cambodia, and dozens more on its tributaries. These dams, and increasingly unpredictable rainfall, have already impacted Mekong River communities downstream, and the future promises to be even more bleak. What was life like before the dams? How did the Mekong River ecology shape the everyday life of its communities in the premodern world? What were some unexpected consequences of these practices, and how did communities and the state manage these problems? Archaeological research in Cambodia offers insights on major turning points in how Khmers managed the art of living with their Mekong River: the Pre-Angkorian and Angkorian worlds.

My Pre-Angkorian case study examines 6th – 8th century CE livelihood and transportation along the Mekong River and in the Mekong Delta. My Angkorian case study explores efforts by 9th – 15th century Khmers to manage their Tonle Sap basin through six centuries of increasing climatic unpredictability. I argue that Mekong river ecology shaped the everyday life of Pre-Angkorian riverine communities, who adapted their farming strategies to the annual flood cycle and crafted transportation communication systems that relied on the Mekong River and its tributaries. Archaeological patterning suggests a bottom-up system of riverine management, in which local communities provided the political capital with goods in exchange for some regional autonomy. Economic production remained largely localized after the 9th century foundation of the Angkorian state, which never controlled areas more than 25 km beyond its urban epicenter. A growing body of archaeological research suggests that top-down efforts to manage local rivers had unanticipated consequences, that ultimately contributed to the collapse of Angkor as a political capital and the departure of Angkor’s elite to the south. While archaeological research offers limited evidence for local community management of the river and Tonle Sap lake, we are documenting a kind of residential continuity through time that suggests local resilience and long-term ecological sustainability.

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University of Southern California

Talk Title: “The Rise of the Khmer Empire: From Angkor Borei to Angkor Wat”

Date: February 22, 2018

Time: 5p PST

Location: Grace Ford Salvatori Hall Room 207 (GFS 207), USC University Park Campus

Talk Abstract:

Monks in front of Angkor WatTwo of ancient Southeast Asia’s earliest and largest states arose in what is now Cambodia; each centered on a capital called nôkôr or Angkor (from the Sanskrit nágara), or city. Research in the Mekong Delta of southern Cambodia sheds light on the first millennium CE capital of Angkor Borei, whose populations engaged with international maritime trade networks linking China and Southeast Asia with India and Rome. The Chinese called this polity Funan. Several centuries later, the area we call Greater Angkor rose to prominence more than 200 km northwest of the delta, on t

he banks of the Tonle Sap Lake. Angkor Wat is the region’s best-known temple, but archaeologists have recorded more than 1,400 temples and shrines in the 1000 km2 area that was the Khmer empire’s urban epicenter. Each of these great ritual-ceremonial cities anchored its polity to the local landscape, and archaeological research since 1995 has deepened our understanding of the regional context and configurations that urbanism assumed in each setting. This lecture reviews recent archaeological evidence for the rise of the Khmer empire, beginning with an archaeological exploration of the origins of Cambodia’s earliest civilization.

University of California – Los Angeles

Talk Title: “Khok Thlok, Cosmology, and Angkor as a Hydraulic City”

Date: February 23, 2018

Time: 3p – 5p PST

Location: Fowler A222, UCLA campus

Talk Abstract:

The Mekong Basin that Angkorian Khmers inhabited was a watery world. Annual monsoon rains dictated their farming and shaped their mobility, and short-term droughts that followed each year’s rainy season drove Khmers to dig household ponds and temple reservoirs. Chinese, Khmer and Cham histories include a Khmer origin story in which a foreign ruler conquers and marries a local serpent princess, and the bride’s father drains the local waters to create farmland for his daughter’s new dynasty. Environmental studies suggest that increasingly severe floods challenged Angkor’s urban engineers, and the decades-long droughts that followed pushed farmers on the Angkor Plain to their limits. Angkorian life revolved around water, and so did the life of its capital, but not simply in response to climate. Water has been intrinsic to Angkorian cosmology since the beginning of Khmer recorded history: simultaneously salubrious, secular and sacred. Water frames my presentation on Angkorian archaeology, which begins with the Khok Thlok origin story, examines the cosmology of water in Angkorian Cambodia, and problematizes Angkor, which BP Groslier described as his “hydraulic city”: from the household level to the urban scale. Archaeological and environmental research offer rich, and occasionally, competing perspectives on how water shaped 9th-15th century Khmers.

crew in archaeological dig pit archaeology scene surveying outside of a hut researchers in countryside

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About Dr. Miriam Stark

miriam starkProfessor Miriam Stark teaches at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. She earned her B.A. in Anthropology and English from the University of Michigan (1984), and her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Anthropology from the University of Arizona (1987, 1993). She was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Conservation Analytical Laboratory from 1994-1995, and joined the Department of Anthropology at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa in August 1995. She has participated in archaeological field research in Israel, Turkey, Thailand, Cambodia, and the United States (Michigan, Ohio, Arizona, New Mexico, and Alaska). Professor Stark’s research broadly examines political and economic transformations in Southeast Asia, with foci on settlement structure and economy. She conducted long-term research in the Mekong Delta in collaboration with Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts (the Lower Mekong Archaeology Project: 1996-2009), and in the Angkor area in collaboration with APSARA National Authority through the field-based Greater Angkor Project (with the University of Sydney: 2010-present) and through the collections-based Khmer Production and Exchange Project (with University of New England and Santa Clara University). Her Greater Angkor Project team examines urban residential patterning and economy, while Khmer Production and Exchange Project collaborators explore technological, economic, and political dimensions of Khmer stoneware ceramic production.