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Journal Articles Journal of Archaeological Science Year : 2014

More questions than answers: the Southeast Asian Lead Isotope Project 2009–2012

Thomas Oliver Pryce
Bérénice Bellina
Ernst Pernicka
  • Function : Author


As in most parts of the world, ancient Southeast Asian metal production and exchange has been accorded great importance as a cultural and technological development with far-reaching economic and political impacts. Here we present the results of the Southeast Asian Lead Isotope Project's 2009–2012 research campaign, a systematic effort to empirically reconstruct regional metal exchange networks and their attendant social interactions c. 1000 BC–c. 500 AD. The study's morpho-stylistic, technological, elemental and isotopic datasets cover early metal production (minerals and slag) and consumption (Cu, Cu–Sn, Cu–Pb, Cu–Sn–Pb alloys) assemblages from thirty sites in eight countries. These data have either identified or substantiated long-range maritime and terrestrial exchange networks connecting Han China and Mauryan India with most of continental Southeast Asia. The variety and intensity of the attested metal exchange behaviours hints at a dynamic and innovative 1st millennium BC regional economy and the vibrant exchange of cultural practices amongst populations separated by thousands of kilometres. Important too is the provision of indirect evidence for intra-regional economic integration between the Southeast Asia's metal-consuming lowland majorities and metal-producing upland minorities. Southeast Asia has a comparable surface area and present day population to Europe, and thus our efforts represent only the beginning for diachronic and multi-scalar metal exchange research. However, archaeometallurgical methodologies have the potential to greatly improve our understanding of Southeast Asia's vast cultural diversity and interconnectedness. With this paper we lay the framework for such an endeavour and, we hope, define the major questions for its next phase.
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hal-01529111 , version 1 (30-05-2017)



Thomas Oliver Pryce, Sandrine Baron, Bérénice Bellina, Peter S. Bellwood, Nigel Chang, et al.. More questions than answers: the Southeast Asian Lead Isotope Project 2009–2012. Journal of Archaeological Science, 2014, 42, pp.273-294. ⟨10.1016/j.jas.2013.08.024⟩. ⟨hal-01529111⟩
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