Using isotopic evidence to assess the impact of migration and the two-layer hypothesis in prehistoric Northeast Thailand

Charlotte L. King*, Nancy Tayles, Charles Higham, Una Strand-Vid Strok Signarsdõttir, R. Alexander Bentley, Colin G. Macpherson, Geoff Nowell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives The nature of the agricultural transition in Southeast Asia has been a topic of some debate for archaeologists over the past decades. A prominent model, known as the two-layer hypothesis, states that indigenous hunter-gatherers were subsumed by the expansion of exotic Neolithic farmers into the area around 2000 BC. These farmers had ultimate origins in East Asia and brought rice and millet agriculture. Ban Non Wat is one of the few archaeological sites in Southeast Asia where this model can potentially be tested. The site is located in the Mun River valley of Northeast Thailand, and divided into 12 phases that span over 2,000 years, from about 1750 BC to the end of the Iron Age (ca. 500 AD). These phases exhibit successive cultural changes, and current interpretation of the site is of an early hunter-gatherer population, with agriculturalists immigrating into the later phases. Methods We analyzed strontium, oxygen, and carbon isotopes in tooth enamel from over 150 individuals, dating from the Neolithic to Iron Age, to assess extrinsic origins and differences in diet between early and later phases. Results We find evidence of dietary and cultural differences between groups at Ban Non Wat during its early occupation, but little evidence for immigration from distinct environments beyond the Khorat Plateau of Northeast Thailand. Conclusions The lack of consistent isotopic differences between early and later Neolithic occupants at Ban Non Wat means that the site does not conclusively support the two-layer hypothesis. Am J Phys Anthropol 158:141-150, 2015.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-150
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2015


  • agriculture
  • Ban Non Wat
  • carbon
  • Mun river valley
  • strontium


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