By Navaratna RajaramGift from Southeast Asia
Seven hundred years ago, Zhou Daguan, the envoy of the Chinese Emperor Khubilai Khan stationed at the court of Indravarman III (1295 - 1307) at Angkor, noted an unusual natural phenomenon. During the months from July to November, when the Mekong is in full spate, the Tonle Sap, its major tributary in Cambodia, reverses direction and flows back into a natural reservoir also called Tonle Sap ('Great Lake').
The reason for this is the impact of the mighty Mekong. The floodwater flow resulting from the combination of the summer monsoon and melting glaciers is so great that the Mekong overflows into the Tonle Sap channel, pushing it backwards into the lake. The lake more than doubles in size, making Tonle Sap the largest freshwater lake in Asia. When the hot season ends, the river reverses direction again and resumes its normal southward flow. The lake level also falls.
This forces us to revise the long held view that the agricultural revolution began in the so-called 'Fertile Crescent' in West Asia some 8000 years ago. R.E and E.H Huke of the International Rice Research Institute observe that recent archaeological evidence in North Thailand "when viewed in conjunction with plant remains from 10,000 B.C. discovered in Spirit Cave on the Thailand-Myanmar border, suggests that agriculture itself may be older than was previously thought."(AND HISTORIAN IN PAST THOUGHT WORLD STARTED 5000 YEARS AGO AND BIBILICAN STORY TELLS ADAM AND EVE-LAUGHABLE)
The Mekong - Tonle Sap system where agriculture may have been born.
Climatic conditions at northern latitudes were unsuitable for agriculture: they were cold and arid and could not support large populations. This rules out the Fertile Crescent as the birthplace of agriculture. Natural history and archaeology both indicate that the agricultural revolution began 12,000 years ago in tropical Asia. The Tonle Sap region in Cambodia is the likeliest location.
Out of the Ice Age
Agricultural revolution was what made civilization possible. To arrive at a reasonable date for the rise of civilization, we need to know when climatic conditions turned favorable for the growth and harvesting of wild species, especially rice- the first crop to be cultivated. This happened when humans learnt to simulate under artificial conditions, as near lakes and river deltas, the natural phenomenon occurring at Tonle Sap. Post Ice Age natural history helps shed light on it.
Great Lake (Tonle Sap) from the hilltop Shiva Temple at Angkor built by Yashovarman I (889 - 910) (Photo: N.S. Rajaram)
The Ice Age ended nearly 15,000 years ago, not in one fell swoop but in fits and starts with at least two mini ice ages known as the Older Dryas and the Younger Dryas. Present conditions were reached about 10,000 years ago. Since then, the world climate has been stable. There have been fluctuations of course, but nothing like the changes that engulfed the world from 18,000 to 11,000 years ago. During the Ice Age, most of the freshwater was locked in the Himalayan glaciers. This had to end before nature could create condition so that species like the Tonle Sap 'floating rice' could blossom forth.
During the Ice Age, the great Himalayan rivers from the Indus to the Mekong either did not exist or were minor seasonal flows that could at best support small populations that subsisted by hunting, fishing and food gathering. The monsoon was also weak because low temperatures meant less evaporation. Population centers were mainly in the tropics, in tropical Asia and Africa. These were concentrated in the Savannahs in Africa and by lakes and coastal regions in India and Southeast Asia.
Communication between India and Southeast Asia was mainly by sea. Maritime activity was facilitated by the fact that during the Ice Age sea levels were nearly 400 feet lower than they are today. South Indian and Southeast Asian land mass was greater in extent and easier to navigate. A vast subcontinent, known as Sunda Land, larger than India, was submerged when sea levels rose as the Ice Age ended. These tropical lands, and not the temperate regions at higher latitudes like the Fertile Crescent were where agriculture began. This is a scientific fact.
The fabled towers of Angkor Wat, the world's largest Vishnu Temple near the Great Lake, built by King Suryavarman II (1113 - 50). Angkor Wat is derived from the Sanskrit Nagaravati. Angkor Thom is Nagara-dhaama. (Photo: N.S. Rajaram)
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