The Impact of Climate on Southeast Asia, circa 950–1820: New Findings

Lieberman, Victor; Buckley, Brendan M.

The recent discovery of continuous tree-ring series starting as early as 1030 CE has for the first time made possible the reconstruction of historical climates for much of mainland Southeast Asia. Perhaps the most dramatic finding is that wide cyclic fluctuations in the reach and volume of monsoon rains contributed substantially to both the genesis and the collapse of the charter civilizations of Angkor, Pagan, and Dai Viet. From circa 1450–1820 climate continued to influence political and economic development, but its impact appears to have diminished both because the amplitude of hydrological fluctuations decreased markedly, and because new sources of power rendered early modern Southeast Asian states more resilient. A pioneering collaborative effort by a historian and a paleoclimatologist, this paper promises three benefits: It can help to solve a variety of local historiographic puzzles, it can facilitate construction of a synchronized historical narrative for mainland Southeast Asia as a whole, and it can aid comparisons between mainland Southeast Asia and other sectors of Eurasia.

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Modern Asian Studies

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