River Road to Angkor: human ecodynamics of a tropical river basin

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


From the very first academic studies of Angkor, researchers have assumed that rivers played an important role in the establishment of this polity. Despite this acknowledgement, most of the research conducted on Angkor has deployed a terrestrial approach to the study of this polity, focusing on agriculture and urbanism. This presentation will shift the focus to the region’s amphibious nature, and lay out the main characteristics of Angkor’s complex cultural responses to its watery environment. This is done by analyzing the extensive corpus of nautical iconography in the context of human-environment interactions. Khmer nautical iconography is unique inasmuch as it presents a wealth of information of activities that took place on board vessels, from pilgrimages, to warfare, festivals, and elaborated rituals performed on water (both in man-made and natural spaces). Additionally, they show that the people of Angkor tapped into Indian iconography to modify their vessels, creating an eclectic tradition that survives, albeit modified, in the royal barges of Thailand. In this talk I will discuss how Angkor’s fluvial culture points to political and cosmological responses to the amphibious landscape they inhabited, and provided the kings of Angkor with a religious framework with which they exerted control over the river network and the people living in and around it. The study applies the interdisciplinary theoretical framework known as the Maritime Cultural Landscape, incorporating data from environmental sciences, archaeology, nautical technology, ethnography, and history.
Period9 Dec 2020
Event titleSoutheast Asian Art Academic Programme/Centre for Southeast Asian Studies seminar series
Event typeSeminar
LocationSOAS, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational