The archaeologists had reached the site’s natural sandy substrate – the site was finished and their work was done. Then they noticed a surprise pot and then another pot. Then, before them, an entire, highly unusual cemetery unfolded. Site director Charles Higham reveals the latest findings from Ban Non Wat.
THAILAND‘S BRONZE AGE
The aristocrats of Ban Non Wat
ABOVE RIGHT The grave of two aristocratic women. One had been partially disinterred, and then reburied. The other wore a remarkable profusion of marine shell ornaments.
In 1988, Penn University’s James Muhly laid down a challenge to those working on the Bronze Age of Southeast Asia when he wrote that ‘In all other corners of the Bronze Age world …. we find the introduction of bronze technology associated with a complex of social, political and economic developments that mark the rise of the state. Only in Southeast Asia …. do these developments seem to be missing.’ Until our first season at Ban Non Wat in Northeast Thailand, excavations in Southeast Asian sites had uncovered a dozen or so Bronze Age cemeteries, but none suggested the presence of elites. Most of the dead - men,
women and children - were interred with, at best, a handful of ceramic vessels, some shell beads, the occasional marble bangle and very few bronzes. At the site of Ban Lum Khao, we found over 100 graves and not one contained a bronze artefact.
All this changed on the 20 February 2003. We were in our first season at Ban Non Wat, one of the Iron Age sites of the Mun Valley. These settlements cover up to 50 hectares, and are demarcated by as many as five banks that contained wide moats. We had already worked our way through the Iron Age layers, and received our first surprise when we encountered
C U R R E N TW O R L DA R C H A E O L O G Y . Issue 35