Friday Forum/Archaeology Brown Bag Series – Alice Yao

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206 Ingraham Hall
@ 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm

Beyond Heavy Metal: Revisiting the Prehistory of Caravan Routes in Zomia

Alice Yao
Associate Professor of Anthropology
University of Chicago

Sponsored by the Archaeology Brown Bag Series and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies

Control over copper and tin ores are often considered to be significant drivers of wealth production and political stratification in early states. This is perhaps nowhere better demonstrated than in the Southeast Asian tin and copper belt. An archaeological view from the northern extent of the belt in Yunnan, China finds that metal ores are but only one piece of the political economy puzzle. This talk examines the prospects of thinking about an archaeology of finance by thinking about other sources of value in a Bronze Age economics. Can we use finance, credit, and risk as generalizable categories in the absence of markets and money? Combining recent archaeological findings from chiefly centers in the Dian basin of Yunnan and a “return” to the foundational classics of political anthropology of highland Southeast Asia, I outline some of the empirical problems of this approach to value production.

Dr. Alice Yao is an anthropological archaeologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. She received her PhD in Anthropology and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. She studies frontier histories and ethic formations in southwest China at the intersection of archaeology, material culture, colonialism, and political economy, with a particular interest on the evolution of early trade networks spanning the highland-lowland massif in China, Burma, Laos and Vietnam. Her archaeological field projects in Yunnan, China have been supported by the National Science Foundation, ACLS Luce fellowship, and the Social Science Research Council in Canada. Her publications include The Ancient Highlands of Southwest China: An Archaeological History from the Bronze Age to the Han Empire (Oxford University Press 2016) and a new book, Archaeology of Han Empire, which will be published by Cambridge University Press in fall of 2024. This event is free and open to the public.

A recording will be available on the CSEAS YouTube channel following the event.