Background

Location of Ban Chiang and other sites in Thailand.
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Location of Ban Chiang and other sites in Thailand.
Location of Ban Chiang and other sites in Thailand.

The Bronze Age village and mortuary site of Ban Chiang is in the northeastern province of Udon Thani. Because of decades of war and political unrest, scientific archaeology came late to Southeast Asia. Thus the discovery and excavation of the Northeast Thai site of Ban Chiang in 1974-1975 was a major milestone in our understanding of the prehistory of the region. In December 1992 the UNESCO World Heritage Committee named Ban Chiang a World Heritage Site based on the criterion that it “bears unique or at least exceptional testimony to a civilization that has disappeared.”

Why is Ban Chiang so important?

The late director of the Ban Chiang Project, Dr. Chester Gorman (right) and co-director Pisit Charoenwongsa (left) enjoying cigars (date of photograph unknown).
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The late director of the Ban Chiang Project, Dr. Chester Gorman (right) and co-director Pisit Charoenwongsa (left) enjoying cigars (date of photograph unknown).
The late director of the Ban Chiang Project, Dr. Chester Gorman (right) and co-director Pisit Charoenwongsa (left) enjoying cigars (date of photograph unknown).

Until the excavation of Ban Chiang and another site, Non Nok Tha, scholars thought that Southeast Asia had always been a passive recipient of cultural ideas from India and China. In particular, they thought that bronze metallurgy, the making of bronze alloy and bronze artifacts, was associated with complex and socially stratified societies, and travelled to Southeast Asia from China no earlier than about 500 B.C. The excavation of Ban Chiang showed that not only bronze artifacts, but also the technology for making the metal and the metal artifacts, appeared as early as c. 2000 B.C., and in the context of village societies with little sign of social hierarchy or warfare. The source of the technology and the role that metal and other material technologies played in these societies are subjects still under investigation.