- May 15, 2020
And your opinions on a roman lamp found in a vicinity of Kanchanaburi Province?
I think it's really cool! And again shows the mobility of objects - they move in and out of contexts and meanings. The lamp was early Byzantine, if I remember right, and found in a temple. So basically here is something unusual put on display, whether or not people thought it had some sort of sacred quality, or was seen as a kind of curiosity (like a museum), or just admired as odd or beautiful I don't think we quite know. But it tells us that the goods had moved out of their original context into a new kind of context. The trade network is a web, and links Dvaravati (a Mon-speaking kingdom in what is now Thailand) and Rome (via India, of course), and things can travel all the way across that web in really cool ways. For example, I have a jar of coins in my car where I empty my pockets. Sometimes I'll use these if I have to pay something or one of the window washer kids comes over. I try to only give US coins, but I know there are Hong Kong, Singapore, Danish, Euro and Thai coins in there. Say I give it to a kid thinking it's a handful of quarters, who, after he's angry with me, gives it to his friend, who takes it with him when he moves across the country. Etc. That randomness is what's cool here. With regards to the votive figures in Vietnam and the lamp in Thailand, I wonder what people made of them; what gods they ascribed to them. I published an article once on the sale of Thai magical objects in Singapore, and how the meaning changes when they move out of their original contexts.
Finally, it's also important to separate goods and people. So the Roman lamp doesn't mean Romans were physically there. It's not time yet to imagine a trireme sailing up the Chao Phraya.
But that's also a good point to remember that, from the vantage point of archaeology, most of the time goods are how people are identified. Especially in Southeast Asia before colonialism, lifestyle, not blood, can determine how someone identifies - one lives in the mountains, is animist, and grows root crops one year, and then when things are prosperous one can move down, become Buddhist, and grow rice. In the first year, one is Kachin, in the second, one is Shan. And one can go back, if things turn sour in the lowlands. Archaeologists usually only see objects, and so when we identify "a culture" based on objects we're really talking about those objects, their production and distribution and maybe their use. To put it very simply, if I show you a new way of making pottery, we become indistinguishable in the archaeological record even if we consider ourselves different (unless we get complicated records, cities, writing, burials, you get it).
So... that's what I think. The Roman lamp there shows the scope and scale of trade, and the importance of India as a trade corridor, and how little things can trickle through the system.