MMAP 2005: An Exploratory Survey in Laos

Read the blog: A Day in the Life of an Archaeologist: a Blog from Laos
Watch the YouTube video: A Taste of Luang Prabang
Read the article: MMAP 2005: An Expedition to Laos Through Museum Volunteers’ Eyes

This first field season was supported by grants from the National Geographic Society and the National Science Foundation.

The purpose of the 2005 MMAP Survey was to explore an area of the left (eastern) bank of the Mekong River in Luang Prabang, Laos, in mainland Southeast Asia. MMAP archaeologists hypothesized that this area would have abundant evidence of prehistoric settlements, including stone age, neolithic, and metal age sites. Very little is known about prehistoric sites in this 1500-square-kilometer area, so the main purpose of this phase of research was to locate and record the places with the best potential for future in-depth exploration and excavation.

Research in the neighboring countries of Vietnam, China, and Thailand has started to fill in some of the archaeological puzzle-pieces of prehistory in Southeast Asia. However, very little modern archaeological research has been done in Laos despite its central geographic location. The lack of research is due to the disruption of World War II, ongoing regional conflicts, and the country’s political isolation after the Vietnam War. The MMAP Survey was therefore also an early opportunity for international teamwork in an untouched area.

The MMAP survey group was a collaboration of U.S., Lao, British, Australian, and Thai colleagues. Two separate teams did rapid surveys of three tributaries of the Mekong River in Luang Prabang province over a one-month period. The MMAP teams were especially interested in finding likely sites from the Middle Holocene period (roughly 6000-2000 BC). This period saw a transition from communities based on game hunting and wild-plant gathering to settlements practicing plant cultivation.

The MMAP Survey returned with a rich variety of data. Using mobile GIS (Geographic Information System) technology, along with digital photography, MMAP was able to evaluate data from many sites, and to do it more efficiently than would have been possible with more traditional recording methods.

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