Resilience and vulnerability of societies to climate variability: Subsistence strategies and human carrying capacity in the Khmer Empire (AD 802-1431)
The Khmer Empire was one of the largest preindustrial civilizations, supporting over one million citizens through organized agriculture in a productive region of the world. In this project we are studying different subsistence strategies of people within the empire and evaluating their impact on the environment. Subsistence strategies varied widely with environmental conditions. In the mountains, people grew upland rice using swidden (slash-and-burn) agricultural techniques, while in the lowlands intensive rice cultivation took place in flooded paddy. Citizens of the Khmer Empire also kept livestock and grew a variety of other crops beyond rice. In this project we are developing a model to simulate different human diets and subsistence strategies, and therefore human carrying capacity in a geographic context using gridded soil, climate and crop productivity data. The goal of the research is to understand how the citizens of the Khmer Empire might have been either vulnerable or resilient to climate variability, in particular in the face of the large-scale monsoon failure and drought that periodically occur over the region. With this information we may shed new light on the reasons for the abandonment of Angkor and the other major cities of the empire.