Spirit Cave, Thailand

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The Spirit Cave (Thai: ถ้ำผีแมน, tham phi maen) is an archaeological site in Pang Mapha district, Mae Hong Son Province, Northwestern Thailand. It was occupied from about 9000 until 5500 BC by the Hoabinhian.

Location[edit]

Mae Hong Son province with Pang Mapha district in red

The site is located at an elevation of 650 m. above sea level on a hillside overlooking a small stream. The Salween River, one of Southeast Asia's longest rivers, is less than 50 km (31 mi)to the north. It was excavated in the mid 1960s by Chester Gorman. Two other significant sites nearby are the Banyan Valley Cave and the Steep Cliff Cave.

New Stone Age[edit]

The site is dated in the Neolithic or New Stone Age, a period in the development of human technology that is traditionally the last part of the Stone Age. Beginning with the rise of farming, which produced the "Neolithic Revolution" and ending when metal tools became widespread in the Copper Age (chalcolithic) or Bronze Age

Plant domestication[edit]

Map of the Salween watershed

Gorman [1] claimed that Spirit Cave included remains of Prunus (almond), Terminalia, Areca (betel), Vicia (broadbean) or Phaseolus, Pisum (pea) or Raphia Lagenaria (bottle gourd), Trapa (Chinese water chestnut), Piper (pepper), Madhuca (butternut), Canarium, Aleurites (candle nut), and Cucumis (a cucumber type) in layers dating to c. 9800-8500 BP. None of the recovered specimens differed from their wild phenotypes. He suggested that these may have been used as foods, condiments, stimulants, for lighting and that the leguminous plants in particular 'point to a very early use of domesticated plants'.[2] He later wrote [3] that 'Whether they are definitely early cultigens remains to be established... What is important, and what we can say definitely, is that the remains indicate the early, quite sophisticated use of particular species which are still culturally important in Southeast Asia.'

In 1972 W.G. Solheim, as the director of the project of which Spirit Cave was part, published an article in Scientific American discussing the finds from Spirit Cave. While Solheim noted that the specimens may 'merely be wild species gathered from the surrounding countryside', he claimed that the inhabitants at Spirit Cave had 'an advanced knowledge of horticulture'. Solheim's chronological chart suggests that 'incipient agriculture' began at about 20,000 BC in southeast Asia. He also suggests that ceramic technology was invented at 13,000 BC although Spirit Cave does not have ceramics until after 6800 BC.[4]

Although Solheim concludes that his reconstruction is 'largely hypothetical', his overstatement of the results of Gorman's excavation has led to inflated claims of Hoabinhian agriculture. These claims have detracted from the significance of Spirit Cave as a site with well-preserved evidence of human subsistence and palaeoenvironmental conditions during the Hoabinhian.

Lithics[edit]

Gorman discussed cultural levels with respect to lithic artifacts and identified two layers at Spirit Cave.[3] Course-grained quartzite was the most abundant stone found in both layers. The remains included large unifacially worked pebble cores aka sumatraliths, grinding stones and retouched/utilized flakes.[3] Cultural level two consisted of new types of artifacts including flaked and polished quadrangular adzes and small ground/polished slate knives.[3] He used the findings at Spirit Cave to argue the notion that Hoabinhian was a techno-complex due to a response to similar ecological adaptations.[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Gorman C. (1971) The Hoabinhian and After: Subsistence Patterns in Southeast Asia during the Late Pleistocene and Early Recent Periods. World Archaeology 2: 300-20
  2. ^ Gorman C. (1969) Hoabinhian: A pebble tool complex with early plant associations in Southeast Asia. Science 163: 671-3
  3. ^ a b c d e Gorman C. (1971) The Hoabinhian and After: Subsistence Patterns in Southeast Asia during the Late Pleistocene and Early Recent Periods. World Archaeology 2: 311
  4. ^ Solheim, W.G. (1972) An earlier agricultural revolution. Scientific American 226: 34-41

Sources[edit]

  • Charles Higham (2002). Early Cultures of Mainland Southeast Asia. River Books. pp. 46–49. 

Coordinates: 19°34′04″N 98°16′52″E / 19.5678055556°N 98.2810833333°E / 19.5678055556; 98.2810833333