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Pre-Angkor Era

Dated back to 5000 B.C. during neolithic age, there were large settlement of inhabitants, whose origins were unknown, already living in the region.  We have scarce knowledge about them but know of their existence from finding of ceramics and stone tools.  During those early days, different tribes or races gradually grew into different small kingdoms.

Not until the first century, a civilization seem to emerge as a forerunner of the Angkor. The actual name of this nation is not known, but in the Chinese Chronicles of 2nd century A.D, it was called as Funan.  In fact, the word “Funan” is the Chinese pronunciation by toponym for the word “bnam” (or phnom in modern Khmer) which means “mountain”. Its location is thought to be centered around the Mekong Delta, and the southern coast of modern Cambodia and Vietnam.

There are evidences that Funan had once been a strong maritime state, actively involving in sea trades. Following the excavation at Oc Eo, believed to be the kingdom’s major port located in the modern Vietnamese province of Long Xuyen, the archaeologists found many artifacts which were trade goods and products from India, China, and even as far as those from the Roman Empire to the West.

Being an extensive trader,  Funan should have been more or less a powerful naval state with people of learned mind. It was found that Funan had adopted many cultural aspects from India whose civilization had been highly developed several hundreds of years earlier.  This was the result of their close contacts with the Indian traders who were also seafaring at that time.  The Indian traders brought with them  knowledge and thoughts as well as philosophy and religious beliefs which significantly aided the development of this native kingdom.

The importance of Indian civilization over this territory could not be overlooked. Even a myth of Funan itself suggested that the world was created by a “Naga” King, a Hindu water deity, who drank up the flooding waters, and the origin of Funan started from the marriage of an Indian Brahmin Kaundinya to an indigenous “naga” princess named Soma.  According to the Chinese Chronicle, the Funan rulers brought in many Indians of Brahmin caste to their courts to help in their administration. It was a known fact that in ancient time the Indian Brahmins is India’s highest caste who held all the knowledge responsible for the achievement of Indian civilization.

Apart from cultural elements and religious beliefs of Hinduism and Buddhism from India, the Funanese natives seem to learn the engineering skill as well. Evidences of aerial photographs taken in 1930 show that there were extensive irrigation system in various Funanese settlements,   Their ability to turn swamps of Mekong River basin into productive agricultural ground implied that they had good knowledge in agriculture in addition to sea trades.

The process of what the Indian culture had influenced over any other nation was termed by historians as “Indianization”.  Although the Indian influence affected many aspects of Funanese political and religious structures, surprisingly it did not infiltrate deeply into the life of this native people of Funan. In short, we may call this as “partial Indianization”, which was obviously inherited to its successor the Angkor Empire (or Khmer Civilization).

The weakening of the Funan Empire was unclear, and it was overthrown by one of its vassal state of Chenla in early 7th century.  The Funanese people were completely absorbed by Chenla as time passed by.

Funan thus had laid a basic foundation for the evolution of Angkor Civilization in later centuries.

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