Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences

, Volume 11, Issue 12, pp 6473–6484 | Cite as

The wet and the dry, the wild and the cultivated: subsistence and risk management in ancient Central Thailand

  • Jade d’Alpoim GuedesEmail author
  • Sydney Hanson
  • Charles Higham
  • Tom Higham
  • Thanik Lertcharnrit
Original Paper
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Archaeobotanical Progress in South and South East Asia


Increasing the productivity and yield of rice in Central Thailand has been a key focus of international and local government policy. Efforts have centered around producing a second winter season of irrigated rice. However, a series of droughts in the region have led to widespread crop failure. We carry out a re-evaluation of weather station and environmental data and combine this with new information from a key archeological site in Central Thailand, Phromthin Tai, whose occupation covers a long and critical period of Thai prehistory. Based on these data, we argue that farmers in the area employed an adaptive and resilient agricultural and wild-plant-food-based subsistence system that was adapted to the region’s high variability in rainfall. This subsistence system bridged the divide between the wild and cultivated and between wet and dry farming. The temporal and spatial diversity inherent in this system makes it vulnerable to destruction by agricultural policies that focus singly on improving yields.


Rain-fed farming Thailand Yield gaps Wild plant foods Weeds 



Thanik Lertcharnrit is grateful to the support from the Thailand-United States Educational Foundation and the Fulbright foundation which supported a research visit to Washington State University. We thank the staff of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit at the University of Oxford for their careful laboratory work. We are grateful to the comments from two anonymous reviewers whose detailed comments helped improve this manuscript.

Supplementary material

12520_2019_794_MOESM1_ESM.docx (482 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 482 kb)
12520_2019_794_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (133.3 mb)
ESM 2 (PDF 136475 kb)
12520_2019_794_MOESM3_ESM.docx (85 kb)
Table S1 Uncalibrated Radiocarbon Dates of charred Oryza sp. seeds and analytical data. PCode describes the chemical pretreatment applied to prepare the samples for AMS dating; ZR denotes the use of acid-base-acid preparation, whilst RR refers to a modified version without the base and including ultrasonication in UP water. Yields refer to the amount of insoluble residue following chemistry. %C is the amount of carbon remaining after combustion on the elemental analyser before graphitisation. Radiocarbon dates are calculated after Stuiver and Polach (1977). (DOCX 85 kb)
12520_2019_794_MOESM4_ESM.xlsx (21 kb)
Table S2 Total counts and finds of archaeobotanical material derived from the site. (XLSX 21 kb)


  1. Bambaradeniya C, Amerasinghe F (2003) Biodiversity associated with the rice field agro-ecosystem in Asian countries: a brief review. Working Paper 63 in International Water Management Institute (IWMI)Google Scholar
  2. Biswas A, Bari MA, Roy M, Bhadra SK (2010) Inherited folk pharmaceutical knowledge of tribal people in the Chittagong hill tracts, Bangladesh. Indian J Tradit Knowl 9:77–89Google Scholar
  3. Bouchaud C, Tengberg MP, Dal Pra P (2011) Cotton cultivation and textile production in the Arabian peninsula during antiquity; the evidence from Mada in Salih (Saudi Arabia) and Qal’at al-Bahrain (Bahrain). Veg Hist Archaeobotany 20:405–417Google Scholar
  4. Boyd WE, Chang N (2010) Integrating social and environmental change in prehistory: a discussion of the role of landscape as a heuristic in defining prehistoric possibilities in NE Thailand, in S Haberle, J Stevenson & M Prebble (eds), Terra Australis: 21: Altered ecologies - fire, climate and human influence on terrestrial landscapes, ANU E Press, Canberra, ACT, pp 273-297Google Scholar
  5. Brink M (2006) Setaria italica (L.) P. Beauv. PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), WageningenGoogle Scholar
  6. Carter A (2013) Trade, exchange, and socio-political development in Iron Age (500 BC-AD 500) mainland Southeast Asia: an examination of stone and glass beads from Cambodia and Thailand. PhD Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, WI. Available from
  7. Castillo CC (2011) Rice in Thailand: the archaeobotanical contribution. Rice 4:114–120Google Scholar
  8. Castillo CC (2017) Development of cereal agriculture in prehistoric mainland Southeast Asia. Man India 97:335–352Google Scholar
  9. Castillo CC (2018a) The archaeobotany of Khao Sek. Archaeol Res Asia 13:74–77Google Scholar
  10. Castillo CC (2018b) Preservation bias: is rice overrepresented in the archaeological record? Archaeol Anthropol Sci 1–21.
  11. Castillo CC, Fuller DQ (2010) Still too fragmentary and dependent upon chance? Advances in the study of early southeast Asian archaeobotany. In: Bellina B, Bacus EA, Pryce TO, Christie JW (eds) Fifty years of archaeology in Southeast Asia: essays in honour of Ian Glover. River Books, London, pp 93–111Google Scholar
  12. Castillo CC, Bellina B, Fuller DQ (2016a) Rice, beans and trade crops on the early maritime silk route in Southeast Asia. Antiqu 90:1255–1269Google Scholar
  13. Castillo CC, Tanaka K, Sato Y, Ishikawa R, Bellina B, Higham C, Chang N, Mohanty R, Kajale M, Fuller DQ (2016b) Archaeogenetic study of prehistoric rice remains from Thailand and India: evidence of early japonica in south and Southeast Asia. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 8:523–543Google Scholar
  14. Castillo CC, Higham CFW, Miller K, Chang N, Douka K, Higham TFG, Fuller DQ (2018) The wet rice revolution in Southeast Asia: archaeobotanical evidence for a shift to irrigated rice in the Iron Age Mun River Valley, Northeast Thailand. Antiqu in pressGoogle Scholar
  15. Caton BP, Mortimer M, Hill JE (2004) A practical guide to the weeds of rice in Asia. IRRI, Los BanosGoogle Scholar
  16. Chawchai S, Chabangborn A, Kylander M, Löwemark L, Mörth C-M, Blaauw MW, Klubseang WPJ, Reimer PJ, Fritz SC, Wohlfarth B (2013) Lake Kumphawapi — an archive of Holocene paleoenvironmental and paleoclimatic changes in northeast Thailand. Quat Sci Rev 68:59–75Google Scholar
  17. Chawchai S, Yamoah KA, Smittenberg RH, Kurkela J, Väliranta M, Chabangborn A, Blaauw M, Fritz SC, Reimer PJ, Wohlfarth B (2015) Lake Kumphawapi revisited – the complex climatic and environmental record of a tropical wetland in NE Thailand. Holocene 26:614–626Google Scholar
  18. Cheng R, Dong Z (2010) Breeding and production of foxtail millet in China. In: He Z, Bonjean APA (eds) Cereals in China. International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, Texcoco, pp 87–97Google Scholar
  19. Chung KF, Kono Y, Wang C, Peng C (2008) Notes on Acmella (Asteraceae): Helianthaceae in Taiwan. Bot Stud 49:73–82Google Scholar
  20. Coomklang A, Sakulcoo S, Prakanong R (2000) Food dishes in Northeast Thailand. R.T.U. Institute for Agricultural Training, Ministry of Education, BangkokGoogle Scholar
  21. Crowther A, Horton M, Kotarba-Morley A, Prendergast M, Quintana Morales E, Wood M, Shipton C, Fuller DQ, Tibesasa R, Mills W, Boivin N (2014) Iron Age agriculture, fishing and trade in the Mafia Archipelago, Tanzania: new evidence from Ukunju Cave. Azania: Archaeol Res Afr 49:21–44Google Scholar
  22. Crowther A, Lucas L, Helm R, Horton M, Shipton C, Wright HT, Walshaw S, Pawlowicz M, Radimilahy C, Douka K, Picornell-Gelabert L, Fuller DQ, Boivin NL (2016) Ancient crops provide first archaeological signature of the westward Austronesian expansion. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 113:6635–6640Google Scholar
  23. Cruz-Garcia G, Price LL (2011) Ethnobotanical investigation of ‘wild’ food plants used by rice farmers in Kalasin, Northeast Thailand. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed 7:33Google Scholar
  24. Cruz-Garcia G, Struik PC (2015) Spatial and seasonal diversity of wild food plants in home gardens of Northeast Thailand. Econ Bot 69:99–113Google Scholar
  25. Cruz-Garcia G, Struik PC, Johnson DE (2016) Wild harvest: distribution and diversity of wild food plants in rice ecosystems of Northeast Thailand. NJAS – Wagen J SC Life SC 78:1–11Google Scholar
  26. d’Alpoim Guedes JA (2011) Millets, rice, social complexity, and the spread of agriculture to the Chengdu Plain and Southwest China. Rice 4:104–113Google Scholar
  27. d’Alpoim Guedes JA, Butler E (2014) Modeling constraints on the spread of agriculture to Southwest China with thermal niche models. Quat Int 349:29–41Google Scholar
  28. d’Alpoim Guedes JA, Spengler R (2014) Sampling strategies in paleoethnobotany. In: Marston JM, d’Alpoim Guedes JA, Warinner C (eds) Method and theory in paleoethnobotany. University of Colorado Press, Boulder, pp 77–94Google Scholar
  29. Ehrlich P (1968) The population bomb: population control or race to oblivion? Ballantine Books, New York CityGoogle Scholar
  30. Fick SE, Hijmans RJ (2017) Worldclim 2: new 1-km spatial resolution climate surfaces for global land areas. Int J Climatol 37(12):4302–4315Google Scholar
  31. Fuller DQ (2008) The spread of textile production and textile crops in India beyond the Harappan zone: an aspect of the emergence of craft specialization and systematic trade. In: Osada T, Uesugi A (eds) Linguistics, archaeology and the human past. Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Kyoto, pp 1–26Google Scholar
  32. Fuller DQ, Harvey E (2006) The archaeobotany of Indian pulses: identification, processing and evidence for cultivation. Environ Archaeol 11:219–246Google Scholar
  33. Fuller DQ, Qin L (2009) Water management and labor in the origins and dispersal of Asian Rice. World Archaeol 41:88–111Google Scholar
  34. Fuller DQ, Qin L, Zheng Y, Zhao Z, Chen X, Hosoya L, Sun G (2009) The domestication process and domestication rate in rice: spikelet bases from the lower Yangtze. Science 323:1607–1610Google Scholar
  35. Fuller DQ, Sato Y, Castillo C, Qin L, Weisskopf A, Kingwell-Banham E, Song J, Ahn S, van Etten J (2010) Consilience of genetics and archaeobotany in the entangled history of rice. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 2:115–131Google Scholar
  36. Fuller DQ, van Etten J, Manning K, Castillo C, Kingwell-Banham E, Weisskopf A, Qin L, Sato Y, Hijmans R (2011) The contribution of rice agriculture and livestock pastoralism to prehistoric methane levels: an archaeological assessment. Holocene 21:743–759Google Scholar
  37. Gajaseni J, Gajaseni N (1999) Ecological rationalities of the traditional homegarden system in the Chao Phraya Basin, Thailand. Agrofor Syst 46:3–23Google Scholar
  38. Gistda - Geo Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (Thailand) (2017) Thailand Annual Flood Extents [web page]. URL: Accessed 2 Jan 2018
  39. Hanson SA (2017) Early agricultural strategies at four prehistoric central Thai sites: an archaeobotanical analysis. Master’s Thesis, Department of Anthropology, Washington State University, Pullman, WA. Available from Washington State University Thesis (Open Access)Google Scholar
  40. Higham CFW (2014) From the Iron Age to Angkor: new light on the origins of a state. Antiqu 88:822–835Google Scholar
  41. Hossan MS, Hanif A, Agarwala B (2010) Traditional use of medicinal plants in Bangladesh to treat urinary tract infections and sexually transmitted diseases. Ethnobot Res Appl 8:61–74Google Scholar
  42. Jacquat C (1990) Plants from the markets of Thailand: descriptions and uses of 241 wild and cultivated plants with color photographs. Editions Duang Kamol, BangkokGoogle Scholar
  43. Jacquot M, Courtois B (1987) Upland rice. CTA, ParisGoogle Scholar
  44. King CL, Bentley RA, Higham C, Tayles N, Viðarsdottir U, Layton R, Macpherson C, Nowell G (2014) Economic change after the agricultural revolution in Southeast Asia? Antiqu 88:112–125Google Scholar
  45. Kittipong P (1983) Weed control in farmer’s fields in Thailand. In: Weed control in rice. International Rice Research Institute, Los Banos, pp 193Google Scholar
  46. Kupkanchanakul T (2000) Bridging the rice yield gap in Thailand. In: Papademetriou MK, Dent FJ, Harath EM (eds) Bridging the rice yield gap in the FAO: regional office for Asia and the Pacific. FAO Corporate Document Repository, Rome, pp 146–156Google Scholar
  47. Lennstrom HA, Hastorf CA (1995) Interpretation of context: sampling and analysis in paleoethnobotany. Am Antiq 60:701–721Google Scholar
  48. Lertcharnrit T (2006) The moated site of Phromthin Tai and the transition from late prehistory to early history in Central Thailand. In: Bacus EA, Glover IC, Pigott VC (eds) Uncovering Southeast Asia’s past. NUS Press, Singapore, pp 258–265Google Scholar
  49. Lertcharnrit T (2014) Phromthin Tai: an archaeological perspective on its societal transition. In: Revire N, Murphy SA (eds) Before Siam: essays in art and archaeology. River Books, Bangkok, pp 118–131Google Scholar
  50. Lertcharnrit T, Carter AK (2010) Recent research on Iron Age glass and Stone beads from Promtin Tai, Central Thailand. Muang Boran J 36(4):53–68 (In Thai)Google Scholar
  51. Licker R, Johnston M, Foley J, Barford C, Kucharik C, Monfreda C, Ramankutty N (2010) Mind the gap: how do climate and agricultural management explain the ‘yield gap’ of croplands around the world? Glob Ecol Biogeogr 19(6):769–782Google Scholar
  52. Liu CH (2018) Human foodways, metallurgy, and landscape modification of Iron Age Central Thailand. Asian Perspect 57(1):TBDGoogle Scholar
  53. Logan AL (2016) “Why Can’t people feed themselves?”: archaeology as alternative archive of food security in Banda, Ghana. Am Anthropol 118(3):508–524Google Scholar
  54. Malthus T (1798) An essay on the principle of population. Electronic Scholarly Publishing Project, LondonGoogle Scholar
  55. McMaster GS, Edmunds D, Wilhelm W, Neilsen D, Prasad P, Ascough J II (2011) Phenology MMS: a program to simulate crop phenological responses to water stress. Comput Electron Agric 77:118–125Google Scholar
  56. Menne MJ, Durre I, Korzeniewski B, McNeal S, Thomas K, Yin X, Anthony S, Ray R, Vose RS, Gleason BE, Houston TG (2012) Global historical climatology network–daily, version 3 (1961–1990). National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Climatic Data Center.
  57. Moody K (1989) Weeds reported in rice in south and Southeast Asia. International Rice Research Institute, Los BanosGoogle Scholar
  58. Morell-Hart S (2012) Foodways and resilience under apocalyptic conditions. Cult Agric Food Environ 34:161–171Google Scholar
  59. Morrison KD (1994) The intensification of production: archaeological approaches. J Archaeol Meth Theory 1:111–159Google Scholar
  60. Morrison KD (1996) Typological schemes and agricultural change: beyond Boserup in South India. Curr Anthropol 37:583–608Google Scholar
  61. Mudar KM (1993) Prehistoric and early historic settlements on the central plain: analysis of archaeological survey in Lopburi, Thailand. Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, Ann ArborGoogle Scholar
  62. Mudar KM (1995) Evidence for prehistoric dryland farming in mainland Southeast Asia: results of regional survey in Lopburi Province, Thailand. Asian Perspect 34:157–191Google Scholar
  63. Mueller ND et al (2012) Closing yield gaps through nutrient and water management. Nature 490:254–257Google Scholar
  64. Pigott VC, Mudar K, Anagnostis A, Kealhofer L, Weber S, Voelker J (2006) A program of analysis of organic remains from prehistoric copper producing settlements in the Khao Wong Prachan Valley, Central Thailand: a progress report. In: Bacus EA, Glover IC, Pigott VC (eds) Uncovering Southeast Asia’s past: selected papers from the 10th International Conference for the European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeologists 2006. NUS Press, Singapore, pp 154–167Google Scholar
  65. Price L (2000) The fields are full of gold: women’s marketing of wild foods from rice fields in Southeast Asia and the impacts of pesticides and integrated pest management. In: Spring A (ed) In Women farmers and commercial ventures: increasing food security in developing countries. Lynne Rienner Publishers, ColoradoGoogle Scholar
  66. Reimer PJ, Bard E, Bayliss A, Beck JW, Blackwell PG, Bronk Ramsey C, Grootes PM, Guilderson TP, Haflidason H, Hajdas I, Hatté C, Heaton TJ, Hoffmann DL, Hogg AG, Hughen KA, Kaiser KF, Kromer B, Manning SW, Niu M, Reimer RW, Richards DA, Scott EM, Southon JR, Staff RA, Turney CSM, van der Plicht J (2013) IntCal13 and Marine13 radiocarbon age calibration curves 0–50,000 years cal BP. Radiocarbon 55(4):1869–1887Google Scholar
  67. Reuters (2015) Thai crops to suffer worst drought in 15 years [web page]. URL: Accessed 7 Jan 2018
  68. Rigg J (1993) Forests and farmers, land and livelihoods, changing resource realities in Thailand. Glob Ecol Biogeogr Lett 3:277–289Google Scholar
  69. Saseendran SA, Nielsen D, Lyon D, Ma L, Felter D, Baltensperger D, Hoogenboom G, Ahuja L (2009) Modeling responses of dryland spring triticale, proso millet and foxtail millet to initial soil water in the High Plains. Field Crops Res 113:48–63Google Scholar
  70. Scott JC (1998) Seeing like a state: how certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed. Yale University Press, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  71. Seghatoleslami MJ, Kafi M, Majidi E (2008) Effect of deficit irrigation on yield, Wue and some morphological and phenological traits of three millet species. Pak J Bot 40:1555–1560Google Scholar
  72. Sethaputra S, Thanopanuwat S, Kumpa L, Pattanee S (2001) Thailand’s water vision: a case study. In: Le HT, Facon T (eds) FAO-ESCAP pilot project on national water visions. From vision to action. Food and Agriculture Organization, RomeGoogle Scholar
  73. Sharma UK, Pegu S (2011) Ethnobotany of religious and supernatural beliefs of the Missing tribes of Assam with special reference to the 'Dobur Uie'. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed 7:1–13Google Scholar
  74. Shean M (2015) THAILAND: 2014/15 dry season rice area and production forecast to decline. In: USDA Commodity Intelligence Report. F.A.S. United States Department of AgricultureGoogle Scholar
  75. Soerjani M, Kostermans AJ, Tjitrosoepomo G (eds) (1987) Weeds of rice in Indonesia. Balai Pustaka, JakartaGoogle Scholar
  76. Somnasang P, Moreno-Black G (2000) Knowing, gathering and eating: knowledge and attitudes about wild food in an Isan village in Northeastern Thailand. J Ethnobiol 20:198–215Google Scholar
  77. Somnasang P, Moreno-Black G, Chusil K (1998) Indigenous knowledge of wild food hunting and gathering in North-east Thailand. Food Nutr Bull 19:359–365Google Scholar
  78. Stone GD (2015) A science of the gray: Malthus, Marx, and the ethics of studying crop biotechnology. In: Meskell L, Pels P (eds) Embedding ethics: shifting boundaries of the anthropological profession. Berg, New York City, pp 197–218Google Scholar
  79. Stuiver M, Polach HA (1977) Discussion: reporting of 14C data. Radiocarbon 19:355–363Google Scholar
  80. Tomita S, Miyagawa S, Kono Y, Noichana C, Inamura T, Nagata Y, Sributta A, Nawata E (2003) Rice yield losses by competition with weeds in rain-fed paddy fields in north-east Thailand. Weed Biol Manag 3:162–171. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Wanasin P, Suphachanya T (1981) Ancient cities on the former coastline in the central plain of Thailand: the study of sites and geographical correlation. Chulalongkorn University Press, BangkokGoogle Scholar
  82. Weber SA, Fuller DQ (2008) Millets and their role in early agriculture. Pradghara 18:69–90Google Scholar
  83. Weber SA, Lehman H, Barela T, Hawks S, Harriman D (2010a) Rice or millets: early farming strategies in prehistoric Central Thailand. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 2:79–88Google Scholar
  84. Weber SA, Lehman H, Barela T (2010b) Ecological continuity: an explanation for agricultural diversity in the Indus civilization and beyond. Man and Environment XXXV:62–75Google Scholar
  85. Welch JR, Vincent J, Auffhammer M, Moya P, Dobermann A, Dawe D (2010) Rice yields in tropical/subtropical Asia exhibit large but opposing sensitivities to minimum and maximum temperatures. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 107:14562–14567Google Scholar
  86. Wittfogel KA (1957) Oriental despotism: a complete study of total power. Yale University Press, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  87. Wohlfarth B, Higham CFW, Yamoah KA, Chabangborn A, Chawchai S, Smittenberg RH (2016) Human adaptation to mid- to late-Holocene climate change in Northeast Thailand. Holocene 26(4):614–626Google Scholar
  88. Yang X, Liu C (2009) Han Yangling Waizengkeng Nongzuowu Yicun Fenxi Ji Xihan Zaoqi Nongye (Early agriculture in the Western Han: analysis of the agricultural products of from the Han Yanling tomb). Kexue Tongbao 2009:1917–1921Google Scholar
  89. Yoshida YS (1981) Fundamentals of rice crop science. IRRI, Los BanosGoogle Scholar
  90. Yoshito Y, Ogawa S, Tatsuki U (2004) Enhancing the multifunctionality of floating-rice farming in the Chao Phraya delta of Thailand. In: Toriyama K, Heong KL, Hardy B (eds) Rice is life: scientific perspectives for the 21st century. IRRI, Los Banos, pp 340–342Google Scholar
  91. Zhao Z, Chen J (2011) Sichuan Maoxian Yingpanshan Yizhi Fuxuan Jieguo ji Fenxi (Results of the flotation carried out at the site of Yingpanshan in Maoxian County, Sichuan). Nanfang Wenwu 2011:60–67Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of California, San Diego, Scripps Institution of OceanographySan DiegoUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyWashington State UniversityPullmanUSA
  3. 3.Department of Anthropology and ArchaeologyUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand
  4. 4.Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, RLAHAUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  5. 5.Department of ArchaeologySilpakorn UniversityBangkokThailand

Personalised recommendations