Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences

, Volume 11, Issue 9, pp 5023–5036 | Cite as

The Southeast Asian water frontier: coastal trade and mid-fifteenth c. CE “hill tribe” burials, southeastern Cambodia

  • Peter GraveEmail author
  • Lisa Kealhofer
  • Nancy Beavan
  • Sokha Tep
  • Miriam T. Stark
  • Darith Ea
Original Paper


In mainland Southeast Asia, the so-called water frontier unified an otherwise geographically broad and culturally disparate economic network of long-, medium-, and short-distance trade of the 14th–17th century CE “Age of Commerce.” Focus on the rise of the larger port towns supporting this burgeoning maritime trade (e.g., Ayutthaya, Melaka, Hoi An) has overshadowed smaller maritime operations that must have serviced less regulated coastlines. In this paper, we evaluate the evidence of likely supply lines for relatively remote sites in the Southern Cardamom Ranges of southwestern Cambodia. We present the results of a geochemical analysis of ceramics from two contemporary and short-lived assemblages: comprehensively dated mid-15th c. to mid-17th c. CE burial complexes in the Cardamom Mountains, and a dated shipwreck (KohS’dech) recovered from waters off the adjacent coastline. We compare the shipwreck assemblage with other wreck assemblages to contextualize it within larger maritime exchange patterns. The KohS’dech wreck assemblage appears typical of a Southeast Asian short-haul coastal trader of this period, with a cargo consisting of a range of utilitarian household ceramics: large, medium, and small glazed stoneware storage jars, earthenware cooking pots, stoves and mortars, and “tableware” bowls. Comparison of burial, shipwreck, and reference ceramic compositional data confirms the jars and fine wares predominantly came from multiple production centers in Central and Northern Thailand. The few Angkorian jars identified in the burials were evidently heirlooms from what was, by the mid-15th c. CE, a likely defunct Khmer production complex east of Angkor. The results of this provenience analysis highlight (a) the Cardamom burials as an example of previously undocumented unregulated coastal interaction and (b) the relatively sophisticated and coordinated market-oriented strategies of inland ceramic producers at this time. For mainland Southeast Asia, the water frontier integrated not only ethnically diverse maritime port communities, but also those in more remote inland regions.


Age of Commerce Neutron activation analysis Shipwreck 



We thank Dr. Blythe McCarthy; Andrew W. Mellon, Senior Scientist; Freer Gallery of Art; and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, for the component analysis of the Koh Sdech resin. Radiocarbon analysis and resin component analysis were funded by the Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fund (Beavan NR, Contract no. UOO-1211) in the course of the “Living in the Shadow of Angkor” Project. We thank Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts for permission to undertake field investigations that collected data used in this project. Analytical research for this project was supported by the Australian Research Council (DP140103194). Our Khmer Production and Exchange Project ( is a collaboration between APSARA Authority, University of New England, Santa Clara University, and the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. We thank Don and Toni Hein for Thai reference material used in this study.


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Copyright information

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

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Archaeology & PalaeoanthropologyUniversity of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia
  2. 2.Anthropology/Environmental Studies and SciencesSanta Clara UniversitySanta ClaraUS
  3. 3.Institute of Environmental Science and ResearchKenepuru Science Centre, KenepuruPoriruaNew Zealand
  4. 4.Royal University of Fine ArtsPhnom PenhCambodia
  5. 5.AnthropologyUniversity of Hawai’i, ManoaHonololuluUS
  6. 6.APSARA AuthoritySiem ReapCambodia

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