Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of the Civilization of Angkor


Charles Highham 查尔斯·海厄姆
University of Otago 新西兰奥塔哥大学人类学与考古学系


A reduction in the strength of the monsoon during the late Iron Age in Mainland Southeast Asia brought increased aridity. This coincided with growing evidence for an agricultural revolution that involved the construction of reservoirs, irrigation, ploughing and the development of wet rice cultivation in fixed fields. The social correlates to this rapid change in subsistence saw the rise of elites and increased competition and conflict. These crucial changes were magnified and documented through the surviving inscriptions from the rising small states of the Chenla Period, particularly manifested at the centre of Isanapura in Cambodia during the 7th century AD. With the establishment of the Kingdom of Angkor in about AD 800, the vital importance of water control and irrigation assumes a key variable in the survival of the state. The deified rulers were consistently linked with the construction of reservoirs, the diversion of rivers, and the reticulation of water through canals into the rice fields. This was an increasingly complex water control system that became the backbone of the state’s wellbeing. With the 15th century, however, a further climatic change brought about unpredictable fluctuations that involved periods of aridity and others of greatly increased precipitation that led to sedimentation and the destruction of the water control infrastructure. It was not long after that Angkor ceased to be the a political centre.


Biographical Sketch

Charles Higham is a Research Professor in the University of Otago, and Honorary Fellow of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge. HIs archaeological fieldwork in Southeast Asia since 1969 has involved a series of excavation programmes relating to the late Hunter Gatherers, the first farmers, the origins of the Bronze Age and the Iron Age social changes that stimulated the rise of early states. His work has been recognized by Fellowships of the British Academy, the Royal Society of New Zealand and the Society of Antiquaries of London. The British Academy has awarded him the Grahame Clark Medal for distinguished archaeological fieldwork, and he has received the Mason Durie Medal from the Royal Society of New Zealand. With his colleague Dr Rachanie Thosarat, his research was honoured at the first Shanghai Archaeological Forum.