SOAS University of London

Centre of South East Asian Studies

River Road to Angkor: Human Ecodynamics of a Tropical River Basin

Veronica Walker Vadillo - Figure 1
Veronica Walker Vadillo (University of Helsinki)

Date: 9 December 2020Time: 11:00 AM

Finishes: 9 December 2020Time: 1:00 PM

Venue: Virtual Event

Type of Event: Webinar


From the very first academic studies of Angkor, researchers have assumed that rivers played an important role in the establishment of this polity. Despite this acknowledgement, most of the research conducted on Angkor has deployed a terrestrial approach to the study of this polity, focusing on agriculture and urbanism. This presentation will shift the focus to the region’s amphibious nature, and lay out the main characteristics of Angkor’s complex cultural responses to its watery environment. This is done by analyzing the extensive corpus of nautical iconography in the context of human-environment interactions. Khmer nautical iconography is unique inasmuch as it presents a wealth of information of activities that took place on board vessels, from pilgrimages, 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 of Thailand. In this talk I will discuss how Angkor’s fluvial culture points to political and cosmological responses to the amphibious 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.

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River Road to Angkor: Human Ecodynamics of a Tropical River Basin

Veronica Walker Vadillo

Speaker Biography

Veronica Walker Vadillo is a postdoctoral researcher at the Faculty of Arts (Archaeology), University of Helsinki, where she is the PI of the project “The Ports and Harbours of Southeast Asia: entanglements of the maritime silk road in the early modern period (late 14th to early 17th c.)” funded by the University of Helsinki. Prior to that, she was a Core Research Fellow at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies where she studied semi-nomadic fishing communities in the lower Mekong and their role in state development. She obtained a D.Phil. in Archaeology from the University of Oxford, where she specialised in Southeast Asian maritime archaeology. She is particularly interested in theory and methods that bring together archaeology, iconography, ecology, and ethnography for the study of past maritime societies. Her work on waterborne networks in Southeast Asia examines the entanglement between culture and environment, first by applying the maritime cultural landscape, and lately by using environmental approaches like historical ecology and human ecodynamics. She is the co-editor of Cultural Studies in Maritime and Underwater Archaeology published by British Archaeological Review (BAR), the co-ordinator of the webinar series “Down by the Water: Global Conversations in Maritime Archaeology”, and a free-lance writer for Historia National Geographic.


Registration for this event is not required. This event will be streamed publicly on the SOAS Southeast Asian Art Academic Programme Facebook page.

The event will be held at:
11am - London time
6pm - Phnom Penh time

Organiser: SOAS Centre of South East Asian Studies and SOAS Southeast Asian Art Academic Programme

Contact email: