via Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 23 September 2021: A paper by Klassen et al. looking a urban development and food production at Angkor.
A dominant view in economic anthropology is that farmers must overcome decreasing marginal returns in the process of intensification. However, it is difficult to reconcile this view with the emergence of urban systems, which require substantial increases in labor productivity to support a growing non-farming population. This quandary is starkly posed by the rise of Angkor (Cambodia, 9th–fourteenth centuries CE), one of the most extensive preindustrial cities yet documented through archaeology. Here, we leverage extensive documentation of the Greater Angkor Region to illustrate how the social and spatial organization of agricultural production contributed to its food system. First, we find evidence for supra-household-level organization that generated increasing returns to farming labor. Second, we find spatial patterns which indicate that land-use choices took transportation costs to the urban core into account. These patterns suggest agricultural production at Angkor was organized in ways that are more similar to other forms of urban production than to a smallholder system.