Carbon 14 dating of a cave at Laang Spean in northwest Cambodia reveals people who made pots were living in Cambodia as early as 4200 B.C.E. (Before the Common Era). Further archaeological evidence indicates that other parts of the region now called Cambodia were inhabited from around 1000-2000 B.C.E. by a Neolithic culture. Skulls and human bones found at Samrong Sen date from 1500 B.C.E. These people may have migrated from South Eastern China to the Indochinese Peninsula, although some scholars maintain they may have come from India. Scholars trace the first cultivation of rice and the first bronze making in Southeast Asia to these people. By the first century CE, the inhabitants had developed relatively stable, organized societies and spoke languages very much related to the Cambodian or Khmer of the present day. The culture and technical skills of these people of the first century in the Common Era far surpassed the primitive stage. The most advanced groups lived along the coast and in the lower Mekong River valley and delta regions in houses constructed on stilts where they cultivated rice, fished and kept domesticated animals. Recent research has unlocked the discovery of artificial circular earthworks dating to Cambodia's Neolithic era.1 The Khmer people were one of the first inhabitants of South East Asia. They were also among the first in South East Asia to adopt religious ideas and political institutions from India and to establish centralized kingdoms surrounding large territories. The earliest known kingdom in the area, Funan, flourished from around the first to the sixth century AD. This was succeeded by Chenla, which controlled large parts of modern Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand.
Funan Empire: 68-550
The Funanese Empire rose to eminence from its affluent and powerful home city of Oc Eo (in nowadays Vietnam), known in the Roman Empire as Kattigara, meaning the Renowned City. Contacts with the distant Roman Empire are evidenced by the fact that Roman coins have been found at archeological sites dating from the second and third centuries. However, most of the foreign trade of the Funan Empire was carried on much closer to home with India, especially the Bengal area of India. Trade with India commenced well before 500 B.C.E (before the widespread use of Sanskrit as a language in India). With the Indian trade came the Indianization of the culture of Funan and the religion of Hinduism. Funan and its succeeding societies which occupied this section of Southeast Asia would remain Hindu in religion for about 900 years. Some cultural features would last much longer. To this day the modern Cambodians eat with spoons and their fingers in the Indian manner rather than chop sticks like many other Chinese-influenced cultures of southeast Asia.
The Khmers, vassals of Funan had reached the Mekong River from the northern Menam River via the Mun River Valley. Chenla, their first independent state developed out of Funanese influence.
Khmer Empire: 802-1431
The golden age of Khmer civilization, however, was the period from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries, when the kingdom of Kambuja, which gave Kampuchea, or Cambodia, its name, ruled large territories from its capital in the region of Angkor in western Cambodia.
Dark Ages: 1618-1863
The fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries were a period of continued decline and territorial loss. Cambodia enjoyed a brief period of prosperity during the sixteenth century because its kings, who built their capitals in the region southeast of the Tonle Sap along the Mekong River, promoted trade with other parts of Asia. This was the period when Spanish and Portuguese adventurers and missionaries first visited the country. However, the Thai conquest of the new capital at Lovek in 1594 marked a downturn in the country's fortunes and Cambodia. Becoming a pawn in power struggles between its two increasingly powerful neighbors, Siam and Vietnam. Cambodia remained a protectorate of Siam. Vietnam's settlement of the Mekong Delta led to its annexation of that area at the end of the seventeenth century. Vietnam employed a strategy similar to those of North American pilgrims and pioneers: settle and claim. Such foreign encroachments continued through the first half of the nineteenth century. A successful invasion by Vietnam further limited Thai protectorship in Cambodia and established the kingdom under full Vietnamese suzerainty.
French colonial period: 1863-1953
In 1863, King Norodom signed an agreement with the French to establish a protectorate over his kingdom. The state gradually came under French colonial domination.
Indochina - 1886
First administration of Sihanouk: 1955-1970
As a result of the Geneva Conference on Indochina, Cambodia was able to bring about the withdrawal of the Viet Minh troops from its territory and to withstand any residual impingement upon its sovereignty by external powers.
The Khmer Republic and the War: 1970-1975In March 1970, while Prince Sihanouk was absent, General Lon Nol deposed Prince Sihanouk in a coup d'état in the early hours of March 18, 1970. It has been alleged that this coup was not planned by the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Still while abroad, Prince Sihanouk had been warned by both the leaders in Soviet Union and in Peking, that he should return home, immediately without delay. As early as March 12, 1970, the C.I.A. Station Chief told Washington that based on communications from Sirik Matak, Lon Nol's cousin, that "the (Cambodian) army was ready for a coup." Nonetheless, Lon Nol assumed the power after the military coup and immediately allied Cambodia with the United States. Immediately, Son Ngoc Thanh, an opponent of Pol Pot, announced his support for the new government. On October 9, the Cambodian monarchy was abolished, and the country was renamed the Khmer Republic.
Hanoi rejected the new republic's request for the withdrawal of NVA troops. 2,000–4,000 Cambodians who had gone to North Vietnam in 1954 reentered Cambodia, backed by North Vietnamese soldiers. In response, the United States moved to provide material assistance to the new government's armed forces, which were engaged against both CPK insurgents and NVA forces.
On April 1970, US President Nixon announced to the American public that US and South Vietnamese ground forces had entered Cambodia in a campaign aimed at destroying NVA base areas in Cambodia (see Cambodian Incursion). The US had already been bombing Cambodia for well over a year by that point.
Although a considerable quantity of equipment was seized or destroyed by US and South Vietnamese forces, containment of North Vietnamese forces proved elusive. The North Vietnamese moved deeper into Cambodia to avoid US and South Vietnamese raids. NVA units overran many Cambodian army positions while the CPK expanded their small-scale attacks on lines of communication.
The Khmer Republic's leadership was plagued by disunity among its three principal figures: Lon Nol, Sihanouk's cousin Sirik Matak, and National Assembly leader In Tam. Lon Nol remained in power in part because none of the others were prepared to take his place. In 1972, a constitution was adopted, a parliament elected, and Lon Nol became president. But disunity, the problems of transforming a 30,000-man army into a national combat force of more than 200,000 men, and spreading corruption weakened the civilian administration and army.
The Communist insurgency inside Cambodia continued to grow, aided by supplies and military support from North Vietnam. Pol Pot and Ieng Sary asserted their dominance over the Vietnamese-trained communists, many of whom were purged. At the same time, the Communist Party of Kampuchea forces became stronger and more independent of their Vietnamese patrons. By 1973, the CPK were fighting battles against government forces with little or no North Vietnamese troop support, and they controlled nearly 60% of Cambodia's territory and 25% of its population.
The government made three unsuccessful attempts to enter into negotiations with the insurgents, but by 1974, the CPK were operating openly as divisions, and some of the NVA combat forces had moved into South Vietnam. Lon Nol's control was reduced to small enclaves around the cities and main transportation routes. More than 2 million refugees from the war lived in Phnom Penh and other cities.
On New Year's Day 1975, Communist troops launched an offensive which, in 117 days of the hardest fighting of the war, collapsed the Khmer Republic. Simultaneous attacks around the perimeter of Phnom Penh pinned down Republican forces, while other CPK units overran fire bases controlling the vital lower Mekong resupply route. A US-funded airlift of ammunition and rice ended when Congress refused additional aid for Cambodia. The Lon Nol government in Phnom Penh surrendered on April 17, 1975, just five (5) days after the US mission evacuated Cambodia
Democratic Kampuchea (the Khmer Rouge/Red Khmer age): 1975-1979
Immediately after its victory, the CPK ordered the evacuation of all cities and towns, sending the entire urban population into the countryside to work as farmers, as the CPK was trying to reshape society into a model that Pol Pot had conceived.
People's Republic of Kampuchea / State of Cambodia: 1979-1993
On January 10, 1979, after the Vietnamese army and the KUFNS invaded Cambodia, the new People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) was established with Heng Samrin as head of state. Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge forces retreated rapidly to the Thai border. The Khmer Rouge and the PRK began a costly struggle that played into the hands of the larger powers China, the United States and the Soviet Union. A civil war was imposed on impoverished Cambodia that displaced 600,000 Cambodians to refugee camps along the border between Thailand and Cambodia.
Modern Cambodia: 1993-Present
On October 23, 1991, the Paris Conference reconvened to sign a comprehensive settlement giving the UN full authority to supervise a cease-fire, repatriate the displaced Khmer along the border with Thailand, disarm and demobilize the factional armies, and prepare the country for free and fair elections. Prince Sihanouk, President of the Supreme National Council of Cambodia (SNC), and other members of the SNC returned to Phnom Penh in November 1991, to begin the resettlement process in Cambodia. The UN Advance Mission for Cambodia (UNAMIC) was deployed at the same time to maintain liaison among the factions and begin demining operations to expedite the repatriation of approximately 370,000 Cambodians from Thailand.