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Multidisciplinary Research and International Training in Southeast Asian Archaeology

Miriam Stark


Cambodia is a country rich in cultural heritage, and the famous complex of temples known as Angkor Wat represents only one part of a deep and varied archaeological record. The French began archaeological research in the area in the 19th century with work in the Mekong and Angkor Wat regions. The exploration of prehistoric and historic period sites in Cambodia by Cambodian and French archaeologists continued until the late 1960s.

Cambodia has witnessed widespread desecration of its archaeological resources, especially during the last 25 years. Political upheavals between 1971 and 1989 precluded archaeological research and decimated the Cambodian intellectual community. In the relative calm since then, restoration and conservation of the Angkorian monuments of the Siem Riep province have been sponsored by UNESCO, Ecole Francais d'Extreme Orient (Paris), the Japanese government, the World Monuments Fund, the government of Indonesia, and the Angkor Foundation. The University of Hawai'i Cambodia Project is a new multidisciplinary, international research project in southern Cambodia, representing a collaboration among researchers at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, the East-West Center (Honolulu), and the Royal University of Fine Arts (a division of the Ministry of Culture and the Fine Arts) in Phnom Penh. Project directors include: Chuch Phoeurn (Royal University of Fine Arts, Phnom Penh), P. Bion Griffin (University of Hawai'i-Manoa), Miriam Stark (University of Hawai'i-Manoa), and Judy Ledgerwood (East-West Center).

Work through the University of Hawai'i (UH) Cambodia Project concentrates on both international training and multidisciplinary research in Hawai'i and Cambodia. Current research by the UH Cambodia Project focuses on pre-Angkorean land use and state formation along the Lower Mekong region of southern Cambodia. Research planned for the next five years also entails the study of Neolithic and Bronze Age-period sites in areas of central Cambodia.


Training Opportunities
for Students and Professionals

The UH Cambodia Project was initiated in 1993 with grants from the East-West Center's Indochina Initiative, the UH/East-West Center Collaborative Research Program, and the Henry Luce Foundation. The primary goal of the UH Cambodia Project's training component is to help rebuild the archaeology program by providing academic and technical training to Cambodian students. Training is conducted in the United States at the University of Hawai'i, as well as in Cambodia. Outstanding students from the Royal Fine Arts University Faculty of Archaeology (Phnom Penh) receive training at the University of Hawai'i. Ten Cambodian students participated in the 1995 UH Cambodia Project's summer field school in Cambodia, and as many as five students will join the field project for the 1996 field season. Plans are also underway to seek funding for a semester-abroad teacher exchange program to bring American project members of the UH Cambodia Project to the Royal University of Fine Arts (Phnom Penh) and Cambodian professors to the University of Hawai'i for teaching and research over the next three to five years.

The UH Cambodia Project invests much of its energies in training a new generation of archaeologists. While a primary goal of the project is to prepare Cambodian students to undertake graduate training in archaeology in the United States, another important objective is to facilitate training and thesis research for American (and other non-Cambodian) archaeology students. These students will receive graduate training at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa in archaeology, anthropology, and language (Khmer). Special training in analytical techniques (including compositional analysis and GIS [Geographic Information Systems] analysis) is also available. Graduate students will participate in the Cambodian field project as instructors and researchers. The training component of the UH Cambodia Project thus provides academic and field training to Cambodian students and American archaeology graduate students.


Building a Multidisciplinary Research Program

International multidisciplinary research is the other major component of the UH Cambodia Project. The project brings together American and Cambodian scholars with disciplinary interests in archaeology, cultural anthropology, geography, art history, historic preservation, Khmer linguistics, and environmental studies. University of Hawai'i Cambodia Project also welcomes international collaboration in allied fields, such as geology, paleoethnobotany, archaeological and architectural conservation, and zooarchaeology. Research through the 1995 summer field season obtained preliminary data necessary for developing a long-term research program. The 1995-1996 segment of the project uses this information to focus on changes in long-term land-use practices in the Angkor Borei region (Takeo province) of southern Cambodia.


Project Activities to Date

Five Cambodian students with degrees from the Royal University of Fine Arts (Phnom Penh) have just arrived in Honolulu for the 1995-1996 academic year, two of which are alumni from the 1994-1995 academic training program. They will receive training in English, anthropology, and archaeology from archaeologists in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Hawai'i. Together with UH project members, they will return to Cambodia for a summer 1996 field season.

A collaborative team of researchers from the University of Hawai'i, the East-West Center, and the Royal University of Fine Arts conducted preliminary research in the Angkor Borei region of Takeo Province (Figure 1) during the summer of 1995. This region is famous as the hearth of one of the earliest civilizations in mainland Southeast Asia. Called "Funan" by visiting Chinese dignitaries, it reputedly contained multiple urban centers between the 1st and 6th centuries A.D. Among these are Oc Eo (in modern Vietnam) and Angkor Borei (in modern Cambodia). Brief excavations at Oc Eo in the 1950s by Louis Malleret revealed a complex system of water control and rich material culture, but the site has been largely destroyed through vandalism since that time. Angkor Borei faces the same threat of rampant vandalism witnessed at other sites; however, our 1995 fieldwork confirmed that its archaeological deposits are sufficiently intact to merit long-term research.

This long-term research program uses two strategies to develop a comprehensive view of past and present land-use patterns in the Angkor Borei region. The first involves documentation of human impact on the past and present landscapes of Takeo Province through archaeological, geographic, and ethnographic techniques and the use of archival materials. The second explores the political and economic organization of Angkor Borei through use of archaeological survey, excavation, low-altitude remote- sensing, and the examination of archaeological collections.


Contributions of the UH Cambodia Project

By increasing the visibility of Angkor Borei through this project, we hope to heighten public commitment to preserving the Cambodian archaeological heritage. The UH Cambodia Project researchers work actively with staff and students from both the National Museum of the Kingdom of Cambodia and the Royal University of Fine Arts. Our hope is that the UH Cambodia Project might also help to stem rampant vandalism at the region's largest and most important archaeological sites. Long-term plans include a commitment to work with the university and the national museum in Phnom Penh on developing a collections repository, together with a local museum that showcases the region's ancient history in the modern town of Angkor Borei.

Multidisciplinary research on the Lower Mekong region will clearly contribute to our knowledge of a geographic area that interests a variety of scholars. But an equally important contribution of the UH Cambodia Project lies in its emphasis on training the next generation of Southeast Asian archaeologists. Khmer students who are participating in the project are the future researchers and administrators of Cambodia's archaeology faculty as well as the Angkor Conservancy. The UH Cambodia Project provides one model for collaborative research and international training in Southeast Asian archaeology. Our hope is that future programs will benefit from, and improve upon, lessons learned from this program.

We encourage inquiries regarding the UH Cambodia Project and are willing to consider other collaborators for its research and training programs. Please contact either of the following project codirectors: Miriam Stark, Department of Anthropology, University of Hawai'i, 2424 Maile Way, Porteus 346, Honolulu 96822, email miriams@hawaii.edu, or P. Bion Griffin, Department of Anthropology, University of Hawai'i, 2424 Maile Way, Porteus 346, Honolulu 96822, griffin@hawaii.edu.

Miriam Stark is at the Deparment of Anthropology, University of Hawai'i-Manoa

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