Asian Perspectives, vol. 48, no. 2 (2009)


Environment, Ecology, and Interaction in Japan, Korea, and the Russian Far East: the Millennial History of a Japan Sea Oikumene
C. Melvin Aikens, Irina S. Zhushchikhovskaya, and Song Nai Rhee, 207

Encircling the Sea of Japan, or East Sea in Korean terms, is a north-temperate landscape that includes thousands of miles of deeply indented seacoast, mountains, and plains, all covered by variously mixed woodlands. The Japanese archipelago comprises its eastern edge, fronting the Pacific Ocean, while the great Amur-Ussuri-Sungari riverine plain forms its far west. We perceive the region comprised by modern Korea, Japan, and the Russian Far East as a “Japan Sea Oikumene,” and review culture-historical and environmental evidence to show that—contrary to earlier historical and archaeological impressions—the region has a long-lived ecological and technological unity as a distinctive “cultural world” that can be traced continuously from late Pleistocene into recent times.

To contextualize this “world” in comparative terms, we note that it is analogous in prominent ways to the Atlantic sides of both Europe and North America, feeling the cold of northern winters but also warmed by the currents of a southern ocean and having both coastal and deeply continental terrains. Like them also, it is a region of great biotic diversity and productivity where the species of northern and southern ranges overlap and hunting-fishing-gathering peoples developed prosperous, stable, and long-lived cultural traditions. All three of these north-temperate “cultural worlds” also saw their peoples relate increasingly over time to precocious southern lands “beyond,” where husbandry, human numbers, and socioeconomic complexity grew on a steeper trajectory than they did farther north.
Keywords: biotic diversity, stability, pithouses, pottery, interaction, trade.

Smelting Iron from Laterite: Technical Possibility or Ethnographic Aberration?
T. O. Pryce and S. Natapintu, 249

The existing Southeast Asian archaeological literature commonly presupposes that the region’s extensive laterite deposits are rich in iron and have been used as ore sources for the smelting of iron. We summarize what is known about laterite in light of the universal physico-chemical requirements for the bloomery smelting of iron, and suggest that in each instance the interpretation of laterite as an iron ore should be proven and not assumed. We present a case study from the fourteenth- to fifteenth-century A.D. site of Ban Kao Din Tai, recently excavated by Thai and Cambodian archaeologists in Buriram Province in northeast Thailand. The proximity of this site to known laterite deposits, along with the recovery of laterite fragments near what are thought to be smelting furnaces, could imply that past metalworkers were exploiting a local source of iron oxides for metal production. Here we discuss the likelihood of this association. If laterite is not a ubiquitous iron source for Southeast Asian iron production, then there is strong research potential to examine iron’s possible role in regional exchange networks. Iron production and consumption evidence may provide an exciting new angle for investigating Southeast Asian social interactions, and we outline some of the analytical techniques that could elucidate them.
Keywords: archaeometallurgy, exchange networks, iron, laterite, smelting, smithing, Thailand.

Intensive Dryland Agriculture in Kaupō, Maui, Hawaiian Islands
Patrick V. Kirch, John Holson, and Alexander Baer, 265

The late precontact political economies of Hawai‘i and Maui Islands were supported in large part by intensified dryland field systems, focused on the cultivation of sweet potatoes. Three such systems have been well documented for Hawai‘i Island, and one for Moloka‘i Island, but none previously for Maui. We report here the results of remote sensing and GIS analysis, combined with ground survey, of such an intensive field system in Kaupō District, Maui. The field system is archaeologically manifested by a closely spaced grid of east-west trending embankments, delineating small field plots, bisected at right angles by longer north-south trending walls, which primarily appear to be territorial divisions. A range of smaller features such as enclosures, shelters, and platforms are found within the field system area indicating the presence of a complex social community integrated within the system. In aggregate the field system covered between 12.5 and 15 km², and could readily have supported a population of 8000–10,000 persons. Hawaiian oral traditions indicate that Maui king Kekaulike made Kaupō his seat in the early eighteenth century. Two large temples, Lo‘alo‘a and Kou, are situated at the east and west extremes of the field system, and further indicate the significance of this highly productive landscape.
Keywords: Polynesia, Hawai‘i, agriculture, landscapes, population, environment, temples.

Tam Hang Rockshelter: Preliminary Study of a Prehistoric Site in Northern Laos
Fabrice Demeter, Thongsa Sayavongkhamdy, Elise Patole-Edoumba, Anne-Sophie Coupey, Anne-Marie Bacon, John de Vos, Christelle Tougard, Bounheuang Bouasisengpaseuth, Phonephanh Sichanthongtip, and Philippe Duringer, 291

In February 1934, Jacques Fromaget, from the Geological Service of Indochina, discovered the Tam Hang site in northern Laos. The site is a rockshelter, located on the southeastern slope of the Annamitic Chain on the edge of the P’a Hang cliff. The geologist’s excavation revealed considerable faunal remains from the middle Pleistocene as well as human biological and cultural remains from the pre-Holocene period. One of the human skeletons discovered by Fromaget buried beneath the shelter has recently been radiocarbon-dated to 15,740 ± 80 B.P. After being re-located by Thongsa Sayavongkhamdy, an international team carried out new excavations in April 2003. Undisturbed cultural layers from the late Pleistocene and the early Holocene have been identified. The presence of pottery and a lithic industry suggests the use of the site from at least the late Pleistocene into the Holocene. This particularity confers on the site a character rarely found in mainland Southeast Asia. This preliminary study describes the 2003 excavation, the cultural elements found, and presents the historical and archaeological significance of the site in the international context of the quest for human origins that prevailed in the 1930s.
Keywords: Laos, Tam Hang, rockshelter, Pleistocene, early Holocene, lithic industry, pottery.

A.D. 1680 and Rapa Nui Prehistory
Carl P. Lipo and Terry L. Hunt, 309

A.D. 1680 remains a central date in the prehistory of Rapa Nui (Easter Island). The date was first proposed as the year of an epic battle calculated from the number of generations recounted in the oral traditions. Later this estimate was linked to a radiocarbon date from the Poike Ditch. While the emphasis of the date has shifted in the literature from being the timing of a war between prehistoric groups, it is now taken to represent a prehistoric turning point of environmental collapse and social upheaval. Here, we examine the origins of the A.D. 1680 date and evaluate the reasoning behind its initial determination as well as its empirical basis. We conclude that a date of A.D. 1680 cannot be considered a reliable date or event of transformative cultural change. Additional chronological investigations are necessary to distinguish changes in the archaeological record as either prehistoric or occurring in the aftermath and as a consequence of European contact.
Keywords: Rapa Nui, Easter Island, chronology, radiocarbon, collapse, European Contact.

Changing Marine Exploitation During Late Pleistocene in Northern Wallacea: Shell Remains from Leang Sarru Rockshelter in Talaud Islands
Rintaro Ono, Santoso Soegondho, and Minoru Yoneda, 318

The previous excavation by Tanudirjo and our recent excavation at Leang Sarru in the Talaud Islands, located between northern Sulawesi and southern Mindanao, reveal intermittent human colonization and marine exploitation in these remote islands as early as 35,000 to 32,000 B.P. The evidence indicates that humans migrated and colonized the northern part of Wallacea by ocean crossings of over 100 km, equivalent to the human migrations from southern Wallacea to Sahul, and Sahul to the Bismarck Archipelago during the late Pleistocene. The 14C dates obtained from the marine shell samples collected during our excavation and the earlier excavation by Tanudirjo, along with other archaeological evidence enable us to conclude that the site was occupied during at least four main periods: (1) the earliest phase during 35,000 to 30,000 B.P.; (2) the intensive occupation phase during 21,000 to 17,000 B.P., partly corresponding with Last Glacial Maximum (LGM); (3) the early Holocene during 10,000 to 8000 B.P.; and (4) during the “Metal Age” with some ceramic evidence not identified by 14C dates. Such intermittent use of the site tentatively shows that humans in Wallacea might not have had the strategies and skills to sustain continuous colonization or habitation of remote islands like Talaud, having limited terrestrial resources during the late Pleistocene and even in the Holocene before the maturity of an agricultural system and knowledge as part of their subsistence strategies. We also discuss the past maritime exploitation and adaptation from the late Pleistocene to the early Holocene in the Talaud Islands.
Keywords: marine exploitation, shell, colonization, Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), Leang Sarru, Talaud.

Morphological Variability and Temporal Patterning in Marquesan Domestic Architecture: Anaho Valley in Regional Context
Melinda S. Allen, 342

Marquesan domestic architecture, including stone pavements, platforms, and terraces, potentially provides a useful case study into how varied social and natural processes might influence structure morphology. However, despite the prominent role that domestic architecture has played in the archipelago’s traditional cultural historical sequence, only a few isolated examples have been directly dated. This analysis provides the first absolute chronology of Marquesan house foundations, along with an alternative classification scheme of formal morphology, and a protocol for dating these relatively simple architectural features. A suite of 33 radiometric and AMS determinations from Anaho Valley, Nuku Hiva Island, place the appearance of raised house foundations in the post-1640 A.D. period, considerably later than expected on conventional archaeological wisdom. The newly established absolute chronology allows linkages with other social and natural processes to be explored. The appearance of raised domestic foundations correlates with regional evidence for the onset of wetter conditions, while further elaboration (e.g., increases in size, height, façade stones, and use of exotic materials) of a smaller subset of structures is suggested to be a secondary development related to changing sociopolitical conditions. Western contact may have had further influences, with introduced diseases limiting manpower for megalithic constructions, and other processes affecting elite residences.
Keywords: domestic architecture, sociopolitical process, climate variability, Little Ice Age, radiocarbon chronology, megalithic architecture, post-Contact depopulation, Marquesas Islands, East Polynesia.