Ban Chiang Archaeological Site

Ban Chiang Archaeological Site

Ban Chiang (Thai: แหล่งโบราณคดี บ้านเชียง) is an archeological site located in Nong Han district, Udon Thani Province, Thailand. It has been on the UNESCO world heritage list since 1992.

Discovered in 1966, the site attracted enormous publicity due to its attractive red painted pottery. Villagers had uncovered some of the pottery in prior years without insight into its age or historical importance. In August 1966 Steve Young, an anthropology and government student at Harvard College, was living in the village conducting interviews for his senior honors thesis. Young, a speaker of Thai, was familiar with the work of William Solheim and his theory of possible ancient origins of civilization in Southeast Asia. One day while walking down a path in Ban Chiang with his assistant, an art teacher in the village school, Young tripped over a root of a Kapok tree and fell on his face in the dirt path. Under him were the exposed tops of pottery jars of small and medium sizes. Young recognized that the firing techniques used to make the pots were very rudimentary but that the designs applied to the surface of the vessels were unique and wonderful. He took samples of pots to Princess Phanthip Chumbote who had the private museum of Suan Pakkad in Bangkok and to Chin Yu Di of the Thai Government’s Fine Arts Department

Later, Elisabeth Lyons, an art historian on the staff of the Ford Foundation, sent sherds from Ban Chiang to the University of Pennsylvania for dating.

During the first formal scientific excavation in 1967, several skeletons, together with bronze grave gifts, were unearthed. Rice fragments have also been found, leading to the belief that the Bronze Age settlers were probably farmers. The site’s oldest graves do not include bronze artifacts and are therefore from a Neolithic culture; the most recent graves date to the Iron Age.

The first datings of the artifacts using the thermoluminescence technique resulted in a range from 4420 BCE to 3400 BC, which would have made the site the earliest Bronze Age culture in the world. However, with the 1974/75 excavation, sufficient material became available for radiocarbon dating, which resulted in more recent dates—the earliest grave was about 2100 BC, the latest about 200 AD. Bronze making began circa 2000 BC, as evidenced by crucibles and bronze fragments. Bronze objects include bracelets, rings, anklets, wires and rods, spearheads, axes and adzes, hooks, blades, and little bells. However, the date of 2100 BC was obtained by Joyce White on the basis of six AMS radiocarbon dating crushed potsherds containing rice chaff temper and one on the basis of rice phytoliths. The potsherds came from mortuary offerings. This method of dating is now known to be unreliable, because the clay from which the pots were made might well itself contain old carbon. Specialists in radiocarbon dating now encourage that the method is not employed. A new dating initiative for this site has now been undertaken by Professor [[Thomas Higham of the AMS dating laboratory at Oxford University, in conjunction with Professor Charles Higham of the University of Otago. This has involved dating the bones from the people who lived at Ban Chiang and the bones of animals interred with them. The resulting determinations have been analysed using the Bayesian statistic OxCal 4.0, and the results reveal that the initial settlement of Ban Chiang took place by Neolithic rice farmers in about 1500 BC, with the transition to the Bronze Age in about 1000 BC. These dates are a mirror image of the results from the 76 determinations obtained from a second and much richer Bronze Age site at Ban Non Wat. The mortuary offerings placed with the dead at Ban Chiang during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages were in fact, few and poor.

Wat Pho Si Nai is about a kilometer away from the Ban Chiang Museum – it is the only original archaeological site in a cluster that has not been built on by the encroachment of the village, and well worth a visit. The site shows how pots were buried with people during funeral rites.
The site made headlines in January 2008 when thousands of artifacts from the Ban Chiang cultural tradition and other prehistoric traditions of Thailand were found to illegally be in several California museums and other locations. The plot involved smuggling the items into the country and then donating them to the museums in order to claim large tax write offs. There were said to be more items in the museums than at the site itself. This was brought to light during high profile raids conducted by the police after a National Park Service agent had posed under cover as a private collector. If the US government wins its case, which is likely to take several years of litigation, the artifacts are to be returned to Thailand.

Outline
Ban Chiang (Thai: แหล่งโบราณคดี บ้านเชียง) is an archeological site located in Nong Han district, Udon Thani Province, Thailand.

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