Back to Lectures

Buddhist Landscapes: Art and Archaeology of the Khorat Plateau, 7th to 11th Centuries

The Khorat Plateau is a landscape of some 155,000 square kilometres of what is now northeast Thailand and central Laos. Despite the rich evidence for the region’s dynamism and development in the metal age, knowledge of subsequent first millennium developments on the Khorat Plateau remains limited. The spread of Buddhism across the region has been overshadowed by the attention given to the Dvāravatī culture of the Chao Phraya Basin to its west and the Zhenla and later Angkor civilisations to its south and southeast.

In this lecture, I discuss my new book which, built on extensive fieldwork and archaeological surveys, reveals the Khorat Plateau as having a distinctive Buddhist culture, including new forms of art and architecture, and a characteristic aesthetic. Moreover, by combining archaeological and art historical analysis with a historical ecology approach, I trace the outlines of Buddhism’s spread into the region, along its major river systems. In this lecture, I will illustrate how I read this history into and against the Khorat landscape, attending to the emergence of monumental architecture such as stūpas and Buddha images carved into the rockfaces of hills and mountainsides, and the importance on the Khorat Plateau of the use of boundary markers, or sīmā. The book provides a new picture of the region in the first and early second millennia, adding to our understanding of the development of Buddhism in Southeast Asia.

About the speaker

Stephen A. Murphy is Pratapaditya Pal Senior Lecturer in Curating and Museology of Asian Art at SOAS, University of London. He specialises in the art and archaeology of Buddhism and Hinduism in first millennium CE Southeast Asia with a focus on Thailand and Laos. He has a particular interest in the 7th to 9th centuries CE as well as maritime connectivity between Southeast Asian cultures, Tang China, and the Indian Ocean world in general. His museological focus engages with issues of restitution and curation of Asian art.

His book Buddhist Landscapes: Art and Archaeology of the Khorat Plateau, 7th to 11th Centuries has just been published with NUS Press (May 2024) and explores the development of this religion in northeast Thailand and Central Laos. He is co-editor, with Nicolas Revire of Before Siam: Essays in Art and Archaeology, published by the Siam Society and River Books in 2014; co-editor with Alan Chong, of The Tang Shipwreck: Art and exchange in the 9th century (2017) published by the Asian Civilisations Museum Singapore, and has contributed papers to leading academic journals such as Antiquity, Asian Perspectives, The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society and The Journal of Southeast Asian Studies amongst others. As of 2024, he is a member of the editorial board of the Journal of the Siam Society.


Thursday, 11 July 2024 at 19:00


Lecture Room, 4/Floor, The Siam Society


Members and Students (to undergraduate level) — Free of charge
Non-Members — THB 300

For more information, please contact

To book your place, please contact Khun Pinthip at 02 661 6470-3 ext 203 or

More upcoming lectures