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Archaeometallurgy Conference Manufacture, origin and dating of iron from the Phimai and Phnom Rung temples : A proposition to document the production and the consumption of iron in Northeast Thailand

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One of the key characteristic of the Khmer empire is the structuration of a bureaucratic system and distribution of regional administrative centers spread across its territories. The centers connected to Angkor via a formalized road system may have modified the iron trade and economy preexisting for centuries in the Isan plateau. It may also have facilitated access to specific critical resources and industrial products for the capital. Iron is known as being one of the most dynamic materials for facilitating social transformation. Reconstructing how iron was managed in the Khmer Empire is therefore a critical perspective for understanding the socio-economic processes that enabled the rise of this influential state.
Most likely from the reign of Suryavarman I (AD 1002-1050), lower Northeast Thailand became an integral part of the Khmer empire that could have also benefitted the industries of iron and the connecting routes to Central Thailand and western coastal regions. Numerous iron smelting sites from that period were discovered in various areas across lower Northeast Thailand, and the most notably locale is in the Ban Kruat district, Buriram Province which is situated on the route connecting Angkor to the important regional centre of Phimai and other well-known centres : Phnom Rung/Muang Tam, and Phnom Wan. Phimai is likely to have been to act as an administrative and redistributing center within the Angkorian network and as such, helped to maintain a connection with the capital. Nonetheless, this speculation or model has little been revealed by the traditional research of inscriptions.
The international IRANGKOR project was established to investigate the diachronic organization of iron consumption and distribution practices within the Khmer empire. Investigating these activities over this western territory would help to identify the relationship between Phimai and Phnom Rung, the Angkorian iron production areas and the connection to the capital. To reach this objective, a solution is to combine technological, chronological and sourcing analyses of iron crampons found within the structure of the temples. The proposition of this innovative program in the region of Phimai would help to understand the role of these temples in expanding the territories, administering activities, storing and redistributing iron products for the socio-political integration into the Khmer authority. During this conference, we will expose the state of the art and the methodology we are proposing to provide new insights concerning the production and the circulation of iron over this western territory. Some results obtained in other areas of the Khmer state will also be discussed and the study prospects also envisaged in the southern region of Laos will be presented.

- Dr. Stéphanie Leroy
Permanent CNRS researcher, Archaeomaterials and Alteration Prevision Laboratory, IRAMAT, NIMBE, CEA, CNRS, Paris-Saclay University, CEA Saclay, France
Dr. Leroy is a specialist in technology, provenance and radiocarbon dating of ancient iron in order to shed new light on production networks, exchanges and the use of metal in ancient societies. She develops the methodologies to clarify the social exchanges and the impact of iron-making activities. One of her particular interest is in understanding the iron economy within the Khmer Empire (9th-15th centuries) in Southeast Asia.

- Dr. Pira Venunan
Lecturer, Department of Archaeology, Faculty of Archaeology, Silpakorn University, Thailand
Dr. Venunan is a lecturer in archaeology, and is interested in the topics of archaeometallurgy in mainland Southeast Asia. His work currently focuses mainly on the landscape of Iron Age iron production in lower Northeast Thailand, its extractive technology, and the relationship between metal production and societies.

Archaeometallurgy Conference
Organized by the École française d’Extrême-Oriente, Bangkok centre
Tuesday, July 17th, 2018 ; 10:30-12:00 ; Room 402, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre 20, Borommarachachonnani Road, Taling Chan, 10170 Bangkok, Thailand