The study focuses on the moated Iron Age sites of N.E. Thailand, first identified as significant prehistoric settlement sites in the 1940s from aerial photography. Two more recent photograph sets are used to map the surficial geology and prehistoric site distribution for a study area west of Phimai, N.E. Thailand, with a focus on site-landscape relationships and, in particular, relationships between site location and form and patterns of palaeodrainage. The derived record of the surficial geology reflects several phases of palaeodrainage, characterized by differing locations and types of former river channels. Of note is the differentiation between a recent period in which river channels, including those presently active, are single-string meandering channels, and an older period of broad belts of meandering multistring channels. The prehistoric site distribution correlates closely with the older drainage, and for many, the encircling channels (the moats) are closely associated with former river channels. These relationships provide a critical and novel model for site distribution; several implications arise, supported by emerging field evidence, and introducing issues for archaeological debate: (i) there is no need, as has been done in the past, to invoke prehistoric artificial forms of drainage associated with the sites; (ii) the definition of the encircling channels as moats is seriously called into question; and (iii) the inferred geomorphological evolution of the floodplain implies past changes in environmental parameters such as run-off, climate or biophysical environments. Since the sites are all located in or beside ancient meander belts, these parameters should now be introduced into archaeological discussions regarding the establishment, history, evolution, and abandonment of the Iron Age sites. Methodologically, this article illustrates the need to be aware of the complexity of aerial photograph interpretation in archaeological survey, showing that careful analysis of aerial photograph information may have a significant impact upon the modeling of prehistoric interpretations. Further stratigraphical studies will be reported subsequently, and will refine the models presented here.
The publisher's version of this article is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/(SICI)1520-6548(199910)14:7<675::AID-GEA4>3.0.CO;2-G