Can Charcoal Records Preserved in Sediments Provide Clues to Past Civilizations in Northern Thailand?

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Student Presentation

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Jennifer Pierce and Spencer Wood


Records of human civilizations in Northern Thailand extend back ~4000 years; however, no archaeological evidence has been found to verify historical accounts. Human occupation may be indirectly inferred by measuring changes in charcoal concentrations in the areas where these cultures are thought to have lived. Fire was an important tool used by ancient civilizations to clear large swaths of land to make way for agricultural crops. This style of landscape alteration is accompanied by an increase in sediment delivered to local depositional centers such as lakes and swamps. In this situation, charcoal is a reliable proxy for human occupation because in can be dated radiometrically. Sediment cores were collected from a swamp in northern Thailand in the Golden Triangle region south of the Mekong River, and brought to Boise State for processing. Charcoal fragments were extracted and processed following the methods of Whitlock and Larson (2001) in preparation for radiocarbon dating. Once dating is complete, age-depth curves can be constructed where peaks in charcoal fragments may indicate increased fire activity and the presence of human occupation.

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