Ban Chiang Current Work


Metals MonographCeramics Analysis21st Century Digital Archive

Elizabeth Hamilton looking at a photomicrograph through a microscope

Our new Metals monograph will apply current archaeological perspectives to interpret metals and metals related evidence from Ban Chiang and related sites.

The discovery of the bronze age culture of Ban Chiang changed views about the technological sophistication of prehistoric Southeast Asia. Before the 1970s, Southeast Asia was considered a technological backwater. The prevailing scholarly opinion held that the earliest metal use in Southeast Asia was no older than ca. 500 B.C.

But the 1974 and 1975 excavations at Ban Chiang—as well as survey and excavations at Non Nok Tha, Ban Phak Top, Ban Tong, and Don Klang—demonstrated that Southeast Asia did have sophisticated metallurgy as early as the first half of the 2nd millennium B.C. This is over a thousand years earlier than was previously suspected. Another surprise was that this timeframe was long before there were traces, in the archaeological record of the area, of any societies more complex than simple egalitarian villages.

Using current archaeological perspectives to interpret the prehistoric bronze technology of Thailand, Drs. Joyce White and Elizabeth Hamilton are now finalizing a monograph that presents metals and related evidence from four sites in northeast Thailand, Ban Chiang, Ban Tong, Ban Phak Top, and Don Klang. The monograph will include a history of viewpoints about the social place of early bronze technology, current evidence for its varied roles in prehistoric societies, a new paradigm for understanding metals in society, and current methodological approaches for the study of prehistoric metals. This is the second volume in the Penn Museum Ban Chiang monograph series.

Collaborating scholars include Dr. Vince Pigott on prehistoric copper mining and smelting, Dr. William Vernon on crucibles, and Dr. Oliver Pryce on copper sourcing.

The monograph is organized in three parts:

  1. A background section on current understanding of metals in prehistoric societies and methods for their study
  2. Presentation of detailed metal evidence from the four sites, including classification, technical analyses, and excavated contexts
  3. Discussion of the larger regional context, including a chapter on copper production evidence by Dr. Vincent Pigott

 

BC Burial 49 in situ fitted copper-based bangles found on the lower leg of a 4-5 year-old child. Early-Middle Period.

BC Burial 49 in situ fitted copper-based bangles found on the lower leg of a 4-5 year-old child. Early-Middle Period.

Bangles from BC Burial 49, cleaned, conserved, and photographed for publication.

Bangles from BC Burial 49, cleaned, conserved, and photographed for publication.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The same bangles documented by an archaeological illustrator for publication.

Metal from the bangle under magnification. The microscopic structure makes it clear that the bangle was cast in its final form, without further hammering.

Metal from the bangle under magnification. The microscopic structure makes it clear that the bangle was cast in its final form, without further hammering.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Search metals and metals-related data and images from Ban Chiang, Ban Tong, Ban Phak Top, and Don Klang:

 

The Ban Chiang Project Metals Database

Bronze spear point BCES 762/2834. Early Period (2100-900 B.C.)

Bronze spear point BCES 762/2834. Early Period (2100-900 B.C.)

This iconic buff pottery painted with swirling designs was only the first of many elegant shapes and styles of pots recovered from the Ban Chiang site.

This iconic Ban Chiang pot is only one of the many elegant shapes and styles of pots recovered from the Ban Chiang excavations.

Modern study of the pottery excavated from Ban Chiang in the 1970s has begun to tell us about the prehistoric social networks and technological communities that produced it.

Surface finds of the famous painted red-on-buff pottery first brought archaeologists’ attention to Ban Chiang in the 1960s. The 1970s Thai Fine Arts Department/Penn Museum excavations unearthed more than 400 prehistoric ceramic vessels, revealing a far wider variety of pottery styles that spanned 2100 B.C. to A.D. 200. Through the millennia, the Ban Chiang ceramics show a strong aesthetic tradition, and many vessels may be considered works of art. Utilitarian vessels also abound, sometimes giving evidence of use such as soot from a cooking fire.

Most of the reconstructible or nearly intact pots were grave goods. The ability to study a large group of nearly complete pots from clear social contexts (human burials at Ban Chiang) is a special opportunity for ceramic archaeologists, who often have only sherds to study from other sites.

In graves of the Early Period (2100-900 B.C.), large pots often held skeletons of infants. Globular, pear-shaped, and open bowl vessels were found in burials of adults and children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many large vessels in the Middle Period (900-300 B.C.) had angles in the bodies (carinations), and these pots were often broken over the bodies interred at Ban Chiang.

Many large vessels in the Middle Period (900-300 B.C.) had angles in the bodies (carinations), and these pots were often broken over the bodies interred at Ban Chiang.

The Late Period pottery (300 B.C.-A.D. 200) often had red painted designs.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Ceramic subregions of prehistoric Thailand. (White and Eyre 2011)

Ceramic subregions of prehistoric Thailand. (White and Eyre 2011)

The study of complete ceramic vessels using modern-day approaches is taking us far beyond classification of the shapes and decorations of pots, to reveal much about ancient social groups and ceramic technologies at Ban Chiang and in the region.

Of outstanding note is that distinctive prehistoric ceramic traditions in Thailand were practiced in limited geographic areas. Pottery styles could be different within 25 kilometers (15 miles) of each other…even within the same time period. Other archaeological evidence—e.g. similarities of shell and metal artifacts—shows that there was interaction among these areas, so it was not a matter of physical or social isolation that led to different traditions. Instead, it is as if distinctive pottery styles were used to signal identity of a village or group of villages.

We are also beginning to compile the pottery data that scientifically demonstrates the existence of discrete pottery-making traditions and communities of practice, even in the same time and place. The studies of operational sequences (chaînes opératoires) and life histories of ceramic vessels provide powerful means to analyze the technical processes and social acts involved in the step-by-step production, use, and eventual disposal of the Ban Chiang pottery.

Analytical techniques like petrography, radiography, and scanning electron microscopy add more to our knowledge about the clay recipes potters chose, as well as the forming, decorative, and firing practices used at Ban Chiang.

Documenting Excavated Pots

Thin Section

Scientific Analyses

Read more about related publications from pilot studies of Ban Chiang ceramics:

Year of Ceramics

The year 2015 marks the start of our 21st Century Digital Archive Initiative for data, images and records from excavations at Ban Chiang and related sites.

In the 21st century, establishing a living digital online archive is becoming the best-practice goal of a modern archaeological program. Such an archive, when carefully developed and curated, can contribute to knowledge in perpetuity: original archaeological field data, photos, and other documentation can be digitized, supplemented with ongoing research data and analyses, then re-studied and re-examined as new questions are asked by future scholars. In the age of international collaborative scholarship, a modern online platform is also a must to make archival content accessible, searchable, and downloadable by all global stakeholders.

Royal Thai Embassy logoThanks to generous support from the Royal Thai Embassy in Washington, D.C., ISEAA has taken initial steps toward our goal of a 21st century Ban Chiang digital archive. In November 2015, we introduced an upgrade/expansion of the online Ban Chiang metals database and related online content. Improvements include database migration to new software, a better user interface, addition of data from recent metals studies, and more photo documentation. Our goal is to provide scholars more comprehensive tools and resources to examine the metal finds from four key archaeological sites in northeast Thailand—Ban Chiang, Ban Tong, Ban Phak Top, and Don Klang.

Interpretation of these sites’ metallurgical data will be presented in the forthcoming monograph in the Penn Museum Thai Archaeology Monograph series: Ban Chiang, a Prehistoric Village Site in Northeast Thailand II: the Metal Remains in Regional Context.

Follow these links to see examples of enhanced Metals and Metals-related data:

 

 

Establishing a full online digital archive for Ban Chiang will be a large scale, multi-year project. Much remains to be done to integrate other resources that are currently offline. However, the Ban Chiang Project has been laying the foundation for a modern digital archive since the late 1970s coding of excavated data began. Starting with the skeletal data in 2002, the Ban Chiang Project was the first archaeological project in Southeast Asia to begin open-access sharing of project data online, as part of our Southeast Asian Scholarly Website. We have since expanded online access to other resources.

Southeast Asian Archaeological Digital Resources

Access all of our current online Southeast Asian Archaeological Digital Resources, including a comprehensive bibliography, skeletal and metals data, and multilingual archaeological vocabulary.