Settlement Archaeology and the Preindustrial States of South and Southeast Asia: Theories, Methods, Applications, and Outcomes

Department of Anthropology, Trent University

Settlement archaeology is a multifaceted framework through which the complexities of pre-industrial states can be both revealed and interpreted. Broadly construed, the study of settlement patterns encompasses not only the physical and conceptual characteristics of landscapes and ecosystems, but also a range of anthropogenic and cultural features, including field systems, irrigation networks, water tanks and reservoirs, moats, embankments, walls, road networks, quarries, workshops, palaces, temples, and monasteries, to name a few. Without downplaying the significance of the aforementioned components of settlement systems, one should not forget that, at its very core, settlement archaeology is about the archaeology of occupation sites. For this reason, all “so-called” settlement archaeology programs should, at least in part, attempt to locate, excavate, and analyse habitation loci. In the pre-industrial states of South and Southeast Asia, such sites range from basic houses and house lots (household archaeology) to rural villages and the neighbourhoods of peri-urban and fully urban communities (the archaeology of community). Unfortunately, it is precisely these sites that continue to receive limited archaeological attention, given the long-standing emphasis on elite-focused art, architecture, and epigraphy. This means that we continue to have a limited understanding of the lived experiences of the hoi polloi whose hard work ultimately supported the early states that developed in the region. This session aims to examine the theories, methods, applications, and outcomes of a series of settlement archaeology projects from across South and Southeast Asia. The goals are to build on our collective understanding of the vernacular architecture, quotidian activities, and dynamic lifeways of the common citizens of the region’s archaic state formations, and to help stimulate new projects that focus on this crucial segment of society.