Prehistory and Pre-Angkorian.

While much of the prehistory age of Cambodia is debated or unknown, archaeological discoveries have found signs of human habitation dating to the year 7000 BC. Further discoveries dating to 1000 BC seem to indicate these early inhabitants originated from southeast China and had a developed neolithic culture. Legends of the region’s founding include the tale of a marriage between an Indian Brahman named Kaundinya and a Naga Princess whose father was lord of the lands of Kambuja. The story tells of the Princess sighting Kaundinya’s boat and, upon investigating, is struck by an arrow that causes her to fall in love with him. To cover his dowry, the father drank the water covering the land and gave it to the couple.

Domestication of animals and agriculture began to spring up in Cambodia around 2000 BC and shortly after, the cultivation of rice. Iron tools have been dated to around 600 BC and signs of Indian influence have been found just a few centuries later. By 100 AD, stable communities and cultures had been established with the most advanced of these societies residing along the coast and the Mekong river delta. While still debated, many historians contend that these advanced communities arrived before the present day inhabitants of the area such as the Thai and Laos people. These inhabitants were likely Austroasiatic, were skilled with medals such as bronze, and were excellent navigators.

As trade intensified across the Indian Ocean, the influence of Indian culture increased in Cambodia. Religions such as Hindu and Vedic, political ideologies, literature, and artwork became key aspects of the Cambodia culture. Highly organized and centralized states developed, though caste systems were never implemented. In the lower Mekong River delta, Funan was the earliest of these “Indianized” states. Populations in Cambodia remained centered along waterways such as the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers. This allowed for easy communication between the cities along the rivers. An economy quickly sprung up centered around the cultivation of rice and fishing with a heavy dependence of rice surpluses thanks to an intricate inland irrigation system. Maritime trade centered in the Furnan’s main port, Oc Eo, continued to play an important role and artifacts near the cities include objects of Roman, Persian, Indian, and Greek design. By the end of the fifth century AD, Funan was utilizing Sanskirt language, the Indian legal code, and an alphabet influenced by the Indian writing system. However, as the calendar turned to the 6th century, civil wars began to destabilize Cambodia. As Funan lost power, it was eventually absorbed by Khmer Chenla, a state in northern Cambodia, one hundred years later early in the 7th century.

The Chenla wrote in the Khmer script and were originally a vassal of Funan. Under the leadership of Strutavarman, Chenla broke away from Funan and later invaded the state from northern Cambodia, turning Funan into a vassal of its own. Despite its conquest, Chenla maintained many of the religious and political traditions of Funan which allowed the Indian influence to continue to be magnified through much of Cambodia though Hinduism became the primary religion over other religions that had been introduced such as Buddhism. With Funan under their heals, Chenla began an era of conquest that lasted three centuries. In that time they conquered central and upper Laos, portions of the Mekong delta, and controlled western Cambodia and southern Thailand. Peace was kept with the neighboring country of Champa via arranged marriages.

By the 8th century, factional disputes at the court of Chenla split Cambodia into northern (land) and southern (water) halves. While the northern region remained stable, the southern portion fell into a period of destabilization and unrest thanks to invasions from the Javanese. Finally, the southern half fell under the control of Java and the Sailendra dynasty and, like Funan before it, turned into a vassal as southern Cambodia fell under Javanese control.