Discovery of Ban Chiang

Painting of the village of Ban Chiang in 1966 showing pot rims emerging from the road. By Ardeth Abrams.
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Painting of the village of Ban Chiang in 1966 showing pot rims emerging from the road. By Ardeth Abrams.
Painting of the village of Ban Chiang in 1966 showing pot rims emerging from the road. By Ardeth Abrams.

“Oops, I tripped!”  And so begins the story of how one of the most important archaeological discoveries in Southeast Asia came about. 

Stephen Young was walking through the village of Ban Chiang in northeast Thailand in 1966 and tripped on a kapok tree root, fell headlong, and launched one of the major archaeological discoveries of the 20th century.

Finding himself on the ground, he noticed a ceramic ring protruding from the soil, which turned out to be the rim of a partially buried clay pot. He then noticed that he was in fact surrounded by these “circles” in the earth. The pots, slowly being exposed by erosion, were buff in color with striking designs in red. Young noticed that the sherds were not glazed, and so must have been very old. A lost ancient culture was being revealed.

After Stephen Young’s discovery in 1966, archaeologists from the Fine Arts Department of Thailand and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology teamed-up to begin excavations at Ban Chiang.  Two major excavations took place in 1974 and 1975 under the direction of Dr. Chester F. Gorman of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and Pisit Charoenwongsa of the Fine Arts Department of Thailand.  After the untimely death of Dr. Gorman in 1981, Dr. Joyce C. White of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology became the project director.  Dr. White continues to be responsible for the analysis and publication of the Ban Chiang excavations.