Dear Colleagues and Friends,
we kindly invite you to the next Helsinki University Environmental Humanities Forum
on February 19 (Tuesday) at 14.15-15.45
when Veronica Walker Vadillo, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, University of Helsinki will present
“The birth of riverine cultural traditions in the Mekong River during the Angkor era ”
at Metsätalo, sali A113 (Unioninkatu 40)
Please kindly see Abstract and short Bio of Speaker below.
Looking forward to meeting/seeing you soon!
With kind wishes, Viktor Pál and Mikko Saikku
Since the discovery of the Angkor civilization on the shorelines of the Tonle Sap Lake, it has been assumed that rivers played an important role in the establishment of this polity. Despite this acknowledgement, most of the research conducted in Angkor so far has focused on the perception that Angkor was an agrarian state, a position that has obscured the Angkor’s complex cultural responses to its watery environment. In this presentation I seek to tease out the main characteristics of said responses by analyzing the extensive corpus of nautical iconography in the context of human-environment interactions in aquatic spaces. These representations are unique in archaeology inasmuch as they present a wealth of information of activities that took place on board vessels, from pilgrimages to sacred places, to warfare, festivals, and elaborated rituals performed on water (both in man-made and natural spaces). Additionally, they show that the people of Angkor tapped into Indian iconography to modify their vessels, creating an eclectic tradition that survives, albeit modified, in the royal barges parades of Thailand. I hope to demonstrate that the represented nautical scenes point to political and cosmological responses to the cyclical amphibian landscape they inhabited, and provided the kings of Angkor with a religious framework with which they exerted control over the river network and the people living in and around it. The study applies the interdisciplinary theoretical framework known as the Maritime Cultural Landscape, incorporating data from environmental sciences, archaeology, nautical technology, ethnography, and history.
Veronica Walker Vadillo is a maritime archaeologist specialized in Southeast Asia working as a postdoc at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced studies. She recently obtained her doctorate from the University of Oxford, for which she focused on Angkor’s riverine cultural landscape. The thesis analyzed the different ways in which the people of Angkor adapted to their environment in terms of practical usage (i.e., landscapes of communication and transport) and in terms of mind-set (i.e., cosmology and ritual behavior). For her current position she is analyzing data she obtained during her doctoral studies to determine the role of nomadic fishing communities –present in the Mekong River until the early 20th century– in state development during the Angkor era. Her main interests are maritime ecosystems and trade pulses, that is, the rhythm at which maritime trade happens, in the Southeast Asian branch of the Maritime Silk Road. She actively participates in academic forums like the Asia-Pacific Regional Conference on Underwater Cultural Heritage (APConf) and the International Congress on Underwater Archaeology (IKUWA), and was invited as an expert to the first UNESCO meeting to nominate the Maritime Silk Road as World Heritage.