SESSION 53

Pushing the Boundaries of Research on Suvarṇabhūmi: Reflecting on a Century of Debate and Looking Ahead

Chawalit Khaokhiew1, Boonrucksar Soonthornthum2

1Faculty of Archaeology, Silpakorn University

2National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand (NARIT)

The late phase of the 1st millennium BCE is often regarded as a turning point in the history of Southeast Asia which witnessed increasing exchange/trade activities with the Indian subcontinent. The contact stimulated the assimilation of subcontinental traditions into the Iron Age with sociocultural structures seen throughout this region, leading to the advent of early states in early 1st millennium CE. The early phase of this interregional contact corresponds to what is referred as Suvarṇabhūmi (SKT) or Suvaṇṇabhūmi (P) that may be rendered as “Land of Gold” or “Golden Land”. The Indian name has caught the attention of scholars and enthusiasts, as well as becoming an obsession for many local countries for a century.

The academic movement on this topic endeavours to address various issues. This include the validity of this Indian term, its actual locations, the impacts of the subcontinent traits on the sociocultural transformations of Southeast Asia after the contacts, its identities, human behaviours, material culture, and sociocultural, political, and economic patterns, and landscapes as well as the issues of “Indianisation”. However, the discourse on this topic has often revolved around the appropriation of the name Suvarṇabhūmi and the exoticization of this “Land of Gold” for political and nationalist purposes. This unfortunately diverts scholars and the public attention away from the academic causes and how the knowledge can serve wider communities.

Recent archaeological discoveries in various Southeast Asian countries and new approaches have provided fresh insights into this transition period and an opportunity to advance our understanding of Suvarṇabhūmi. This session aims to provide a venue for scholars to revisit the state of knowledge and discuss approaches of how to engage with this issue to envision possible futures for the field. One approach to be discussed concerns archaeoastronomy exploring how people during this period had understood, conceptualised, and used the phenomena in the sky and the role the sky had in their societies.