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(P12) Long-term histories of forager-traders in Southeast Asia: resilience and innovation

Convenor: Laura Lee Junker, University of Illinois at Chicago

Abstract: Archaeological studies of foragers in Southeast Asia have overwhelmingly focused on Paleolithic technologies and economies. This session shifts the focus to agency and resilience of foragers as part of complex social and economic landscapes in the Neolithic Period and during the coalescence of historic maritime trading polities.

Keywords: tropical, specialisation, trade, Southeast Asia

Format: standard panel

Precirculated materials: none required


Archaeological studies of foragers in Southeast Asia have overwhelmingly focused on technologies and economies in the pre-Neolithic social landscapes of “pure” foragers. However, there is a growing interest in integrating foragers into archaeological research on the complex social and economic mosaics of early agricultural societies, raising significant issues about “forager”/”farmer” dichotomies and the nature of traditional models of “Austronesian” expansion. With the advantage of historical and ethnographic sources, archaeological studies have also begun to focus on specialised forager forest collectors integrated into the political economies of early historic maritime trading polities like Srivijaya, Kedah, Khmer, the Cham states, and Philippine chiefdoms that were dependent on these groups for export products in early South China Sea-Indian Ocean trade networks. One issue that has hampered archaeological work on relatively recent Southeast Asian foragers involves debates about the reality of identifying groups as “foragers” when they have eclectic subsistence practices that include mixed farming and foraging economies, resulting in being labeled as “spurious” foragers or "devolved" farmers with little historical depth. Although recent attempts to insert foragers into these inter-cultural social networks as active “actors” rather than “reactors” have been important in reorienting archaeological work, there is still limited recognition that foragers can have any real social, political or economic leverage over the groups with which they interact or that they can be significant agents for change in the larger social and economic networks of which they are a part. This session is designed to bring together archaeologists, historians, and anthropologists carrying out contemporary ethnographic work on foragers, to examine the strategies post-Paleolithic tropical foragers may have developed to navigate social and economic interactions with adjacent large-scale sedentary groups who shared their local landscape. Presentations include varying time frameworks, emphasising both short-term flexibility and long-term trajectories of resilience and strategic transformation.   




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