Saturday, January 07, 2006

Bob Hudson's Slightly Whimsical South East Asian Archaeology Home Page

Dr. Bob Hudson's 2004 PhD dissertation on the archaeology of Burma up to the Pagan era (The Origins of Bagan: The archaeological landscape of Upper Burma to AD 1300) is a long and good read. Many sections are relevant to early modern history.

Dr. Hudson devotes a lot of space to historical geography and place names. He describes the GIS he built for Pagan using the Mapinfo GIS package (p. 267). Several useful GIS tidbits are scattered throughout the dissertation, like the following observations on village names:

"A potentially useful piece of linguistic evidence cropped up during database compilation. Myanmar has a body of common village names that appear regularly across the country. Many of these are descriptive of some local features...Taungba, for example, means “near a hill”, Taungtha means 'pleasant hill', and Nyaungbintha means 'pleasant banyan tree' ...there are at least 68 villages, streams or hills in Myanmar named Thanbo, or a variant of this, which means an 'iron camp', or place where iron is worked.” (p. 271)

Interesting new historical geographical tools are revealed:

"A key data source for Myanmar became available with the publication, in Burmese, of Ancient Myanmar Cities in Aerial Photos (Aung Myint 1999, Ancient Myanmar Cities in Aerial Photos (in Burmese) Ministry of Culture, Yangon). Aung Myint has published around 30 sites, all with some kind of enclosure, and says he has a second volume in waiting. Many of these sites have not been formally dated, and some have not even been surveyed at ground level. U Aung Myint’s pet term for them, which is both poetic and academically cautious, is “archaeological scars”. There are certainly more walled or enclosed settlements still to be located and characterised. There are passing references to walled sites and fortresses in Shan State that can be “counted almost by the score” (Scott 1921: 333-334), such as a 0.6 hectare circular site near Laikha which had acquired a legendary history of being involved in conflicts among the Shan (Slater 1941: 112)"

Hudson's proposed "Late Prehistoric Homeland" (map, p. 117) is south of Kyaukse and corresponds closely to Min-gyi-nyo's (king of Toungoo, c. 1486-1531) sphere of influence in the late Ava period (see my paper).

This was the first I had heard of "Fletcher’s general model of settlement growth" which addresses: "the development of settlements in terms of the interaction and communication stresses of communal life, and how these stresses and their amelioration relate to the size to which settlements grow" (Fletcher 2004).

"According to this model, a site area of 100 hectares is considered to be the transitional limit at which a settlement should be exhibiting characteristics that include the management of space and population with durable structures such as walls or internal barriers that remove domestic activity from public view and thus reduce social stress, and systems of stored data including numeracy, calendars and other aids to memory and communication (Fletcher 1995: 58-69,Fletcher, Roland 1995 'The Limits of Settlement Growth'" Cambridge University Press)

When Hudson writes about "durable structures such as walls or internal barriers that remove domestic activity from public view and thus reduce social stress" it sounds like it's taken right out of the story of the first Buddhist king, the Mahathammada story, found in Dammathat's and the Burmese chronicle. I wonder what the genealogy of Fletcher's theory is, what theorists he drew from and the cross-cultural evidence that supports it. Hope his works are available in Thailand.

Hansen’s "city-state model" implies that Pyu cities were independent and is another theory that might have application to early modern history. A city-state is defined as “a highly institutionalised and highly centralised micro-state consisting of one town (often walled) … settled with a stratified population (which is) ethnically affiliated with the population of neighbouring city-states … political identity focused on the city-state itself … large fraction of the population is settled in the town, the others are settled in the hinterland, either dispersed in farmsteads or nucleated in villages, or both” (Hansen, 2000)It seems like common kinship would also be a factor here, sometimes blurring the lines between different states (or proto-states).

Here's a quick overview of the rest of the dissertation. (I'll look at in greater detail later.) Chapter one, on history and historiography, describes the corpus of Burmese chronicles. There is also a discussion of Aung-thwin's notion of the "Mon paradigm" in Burmese historiography.

Chapter four on wealth, status, and trade might have applications to the early modern period. Chapter five, also has applications, discussing settlements, urbanism, and stage of social development also addressing state expansion and collapse.

In the "Ethnicity and Migration" section I love this general rule that Hudson proposes: "the creation of a historical narrative around a hypothesised flow of ethnic groups and languages in antiquity, based on later ethnographic evidence, is highly problematic" (p. 39).

The translation of Za-bu-kon-cha [Net of the Southern Islands] an unpublished manuscript attributed to the Ava minister Wun Zin Min Yaza is interesting reading (pp. 284-292). It seems to be a collection of largely unrelated documents a lot like Zampudipa Ok Hsok Kyan.

It differs significantly from the standard Burmese chronicle narrative (U Kala, Hmannan) according "considerable importance to Halin and Maingmaw, sites which are linked archaelogically to the pre-Burman era." It also deals with "legendary Buddhist history, the histories of specific pagodas and small towns, taxation matters, and the later histories of Sagaing and Ava (Inwa)." The legendary names of cities included in the work could be useful for building a historical GIS for early modern Burma.

Two Burmese scholars collaborated on the translation. The translation is very literal and follows the original Burmese closely. This is the way I like to translate, making the translation more notes for reading the original Burmese than an interesting read for those unfamiliar with Burmese history.

The website of the Archaeological Computing Laboratory at the University of Sydney looks like it has a lot of resources worth exploring. Whoof! There's a lot of material in this dissertation! But it's great to see stuff like this online so it can be easily used.