Cambodia's Early History

The earliest prehistoric site excavated in Cambodia is the cave of Laang Spean in the northwest. Archaeologists estimate that hunters and gatherers lived in the cave 7,000 years ago. Some 4,000 years ago this prehistoric people began to settle in permanent villages. The Bronze Age settlement of Samrong Sen, near Kampong Chhnang, indicates that 3,000 years ago people knew how to cast bronze axes, drums, and gongs for use in religious ceremonies; at the same time, they domesticated cattle, pigs, and water buffaloes. Rice and fish were then, as now, the staple diet. By 500 BC ironworking had become widespread, rice production increased, and moats and embankments were being built to enclose their circular village settlements. It was at this stage that Indian traders and missionaries arrived—in a land then called Suvarnabhumi, or Golden Land.

Legend has it that in the 1st century AD the Indian Brahman Kaundinya arrived by ship in the Mekong Delta, where he met and married a local princess named Soma. The marriage led to the founding of the first kingdom on Cambodian soil. Archaeologists believe that the kingdom's capital was at Angkor Borei in Takeo Province.

In the 6th century the inland kingdom of Zhen La emerged. It comprised several small city-states in the Mekong River basin. A period of centralization followed, during which temples were built, cities enlarged, and land irrigated. Power later shifted to Siem Reap Province, where the history of the Khmer Empire started when a king of uncertain descent established the Devaraja line by becoming a "god-king." This royal line continues today.

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