Does the presence of water channels really push back date of Khmer civilisation?

You gotta hand it to the Japanese – after they found the so-called ‘warrior women’ burials last year, they seem to have made another spectacular discovery: man-made water channels dating to the first century, reminiscent of the sophisticated water management system used in Angkor 600 years later.

Archaeological find dates back Khmer civilization by six to eight centuries [Link no longer active]
ANI by way of The Japan News Net, 22 January 2008


You’ll probably have to sift through some hype here – it may be a bit of a stretch to say that the Khmer civilization, and by inference Angkor, was 800 years older than originally expected. For one, we can’t say if the ritual water channel found in this discovery was used the same way as the water channels in Angkor – in fact, we can’t say for sure if the builders of the 1st century mounds were the same ‘civilisation’ as Angkor.

My guess is we’re seeing a proto-Khmer civilisation developing, a pre-Angkoran stage where these ritual use of sacred mounds and water channels will eventually syncretise with Hinduism and Buddhism in later centuries. Studies into pre-classical period Cambodia is not new, and the more prominent Origins of Angkor project comes to mind when thinking about studies in the period before Angkor. I think the discovery of the new water channel mound surely adds a new dimension to how Angkor came to develop and how foreign cultural influences blended with local beliefs and practices.

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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