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Not Just ‘Pots’: Understanding Social Complexity through Ceramics in Prehistoric Mainland Southeast Asia

Tse Liang Lim, « Not Just ‘Pots’: Understanding Social Complexity through Ceramics in Prehistoric Mainland Southeast Asia », NSC Highlights # 4 (Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre)

The number and quality of artefacts found in burial sites (mortuary goods) are good indicators of ancient social complexity. Social complexity was fairly low during the Neolithic age, suggesting a period of comparatively equal wealth distribution (Higham 2014:183-195; O’Reilly 2014b:478). Social complexity rose during the later Bronze Age in prehistoric Mainland Southeast Asia, intensified during the Iron Age, and culminated in the emergence of intricate prehistoric chiefdoms. This emergence coincided with the expansion of Chinese influence into north Vietnam, as well as the development of a maritime trading network between China and the Mediterranean world via Southeast Asia and India (Higham 2014:196-269; O’Reilly 2014a:485-490).

Understanding the evolution of social complexity is important for the region because the Iron Age’s social complexity paved the way for the rise of Funan, the earliest documented Southeast Asian polity (Higham 2014:278-286; Stark 2006a).

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