Accepted paper:

Stones of the Gods: material choice in peninsular Southeast Asia


Federico Caro
Janet Douglas (Smithsonian Institution)
Martin Polkinghorne

Paper short abstract:

This paper seeks to question the role of religion in the sourcing, trade and crafting of sandstone used for architecture and sculptural decoration, and for sculptures of deities, in peninsular Southeast Asia between the 6th and 14th centuries CE.

Paper long abstract:

Scientific analysis has identified two coexisting traditions of stone choice in peninsular Southeast Asia between the 6th and 14th centuries - one for architecture and sculptural decoration, another for sculptures of deities installed inside shrines. Jean Delvert's critical 1963 study of stone erosion on Angkorian monuments and sculpture outlined these two broad categories, but he did not consider material choices in terms of belief systems. Standard petrographic analysis was performed on thin sections of 260 objects from temple architectural and decorative elements, and Buddhist and Brahmanical sculptures in the round, from present-day Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand. Key petrographic parameters such grain composition and abundance, as well as grain size distribution and other textural characteristics were recorded. Within this broad framework, trends of stone preference are distinguished across time and in space. These choices appear to be the result of the combination of geographic, technical, and arguably religious practice. This paper seeks to understand the role of stone material choice in the creation of temples and sacred images through dialogue between scientists, archaeologists and historians.

panel P09
Archaeologies of religion: material approaches to the study of belief systems in Southeast Asia