Map of the Middle Mekong Basin and the three tributaries (Ou, Seuang, and Khan rivers) in Luang Prabang province being surveyed for archaeological sites.

Why was MMAP looking in Luang Prabang province and not somewhere else?

Luang Prabang province lies in the heart of the middle Mekong River basin, in northern Laos. China is to the north, Vietnam to the north and east, and Thailand to the south and west. As an area at the core of Southeast Asia, yet one that is virtually an archaeological terra incognita, northern Laos can provide some missing puzzle-pieces in several theories on how settled societies developed in the region.

Clues to “migratory” vs. “independent/indigenous” theories of agricultural development?
Some archaeologists argue that the Mekong River could have provided a path for migrating rice cultivators from the Yangtze River basin in southern China, who then introduced this type of agriculture to the middle Mekong area.

If this concept is correct, then it means that downstream peoples in mainland Southeast Asia began to live in agricultural settlements later than people in China, and did not do so until influenced by outsiders. But data from northern Vietnam indicate that at least some Southeast Asian agricultural communities might have developed independently.

Because of its geographic location, northern Laos–and particularly Luang Prabang province–is likely to hold answers to the debate over these alternative possibilities.


Ceramic pot from Ban Chiang, Thailand.

Links to the Ban Chiang cultural tradition in Thailand?
MMAP hopes to find out if agricultural development upstream in Laos might have been related to that of the Ban Chiang cultural tradition sites downstream. Ban Chiang cultural tradition sites also lie in the middle Mekong basin, but on the opposite bank of the river in northeast Thailand. These sites have been studied for more than four decades. The Ban Chiang tradition has the oldest agricultural societies found in the middle Mekong so far, although the date and source for its beginnings are controversial.