Ban Chiang

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Ban Chiang Archaeological Site
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Wat Pho Si Nai - UNESCO World Heritage Site plaque.JPG
LocationUdon Thani, Thailand
CriteriaCultural: iii
Inscription1992 (16th Session)
Area30 ha
Buffer zone760 ha
Coordinates17°24′25″N 103°14′29″E / 17.4069°N 103.2414°E / 17.4069; 103.2414Coordinates: 17°24′25″N 103°14′29″E / 17.4069°N 103.2414°E / 17.4069; 103.2414
Ban Chiang is located in Thailand
Ban Chiang
Location of Ban Chiang in Thailand

Ban Chiang (Thai: บ้านเชียง, pronounced [bâːn tɕʰīa̯ŋ]) is an archeological site 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.

Ban Chiang pottery in the Museum für Indische Kunst, Berlin-Dahlem


Villagers had uncovered some of the pottery in prior years without insight into their 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 Wilhelm G. 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 at 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 small and medium-sized pottery jars. 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. 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[1] 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.[2]


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. Pots and sherds from the site are now found in museums across the world, including the Museum für Indische Kunst in Berlin and the British Museum in London.[3]

This site has often been called "the cemetery site," but recent research has suggested that the deceased were actually buried next to or beneath dwellings. This practice is called residential burial.[4]

Dating the artifacts[edit]

The first datings of the artifacts using the thermoluminescence technique resulted in a range from 4420 BCE to 3400 BCE, which would have made the site the earliest Bronze Age culture in the world. However, with the 1974–1975 excavation, sufficient material became available for radiocarbon dating, which resulted in more recent dates. The earliest grave was about 2100 BCE, the latest about 200 CE. Bronze making began circa 2000 BCE, as evidenced by crucibles and bronze fragments.[5] Bronze objects include bracelets, rings, anklets, wires and rods, spearheads, axes and adzes, hooks, blades, and little bells.

A date of 2100 BCE was obtained from rice phytoliths from inside a grave vessel of the lowest grave. A dating program for this site 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 suggested that the initial settlement of Ban Chiang took place by about 1500 BCE, with the transition to the Bronze Age about 1000 BCE.[6][7]

A diorama of an ancient Ban Chiang lady painting pots, Ban Chiang National Museum
Wat Pho Si Nai is about a kilometer 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. The site that pots were buried with people during funeral rites.

Museum and World Heritage Status[edit]

The Ban Chiang museum is located by the protected excavation site and provides general information for the public about the site and its importance for human history. Staff there act both to inform visiting members of the public about the site, as well as the monitoring of the condition of the site and providing resources for academics.[8]

The site itself was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992[8] under criteria iii, which describes a site that "bear[s] a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or has disappeared."[9]

Included in the museum's collection is the traveling exhibit curated by Dr. Joyce White, titled Ban Chiang, Discovery of a Lost Bronze Age, which toured the U.S. and international sites following Penn Museum excavations and became part of the Ban Chiang Museum permanent exhibit in 1987.[10] The museum also includes "displays and information that highlights the three main periods and six sub-periods" as well as the site's general and excavation history.[11] The site and museum have been well-reviewed by several travel publications, including CNN,[11] TripAdvisor,[12] and the official tourism site of Thailand.[13]

US legal case[edit]

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 be illegally in several California museums,[which?] including the Bowers Museum, and other locations.[14] The plot involved smuggling the items out of Thailand into the US, and then donating them to museums in order to claim large tax write-offs. There were said to be more items in 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 as a private collector. Some of the cases have been resolved and some of the museums have returned artifacts to Thailand.[15][16]

See also[edit]


Black ceramic jar, Ban Chiang culture, Thailand, 1200-800 BCE.

The excavation at Ban Chiang in 1974/75 was followed by an article by Chester Gorman and Pisit Charoenwongsa, claiming evidence for the earliest dates in the world for bronze casting and iron working. This led to at times acrimonious debate between those who accepted these dates and those who did not. Subsequent excavations, including that at Ban Non Wat, have now shown that the proposed early dates for Ban Chiang are unlikely. However, the early claims are still repeated in the secondary literature.[17]

After Dr. Gorman's death in 1981, Dr. Joyce White continued research and publications as Director of the Ban Chiang Project at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.[18] Dr. White's research endeavors have included analysis and publication of Penn's excavations at Ban Chiang in Thailand in the mid-1970s; ecological field research at Ban Chiang in 1978–1981 including investigations of how local people identified and used plants; lake coring and ecological mapping for palaeoenvironmental research in several parts of Thailand during the 1990s; and, since 2001, survey and excavation in northern Laos, especially in Luang Prabang Province.


  1. ^ Southeast Asia: A Past Regained, Time-Life Books, Alexandria, Virginia 1995, pp.25–32
  2. ^ White, J.C. (1986). "A Revision of the Chronology of Ban Chiang and Its Implications for the Prehistory of Northeast Thailand" (PDF). Department of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania. Archived from the original on 14 July 2017. Retrieved 2 May 2017.
  3. ^ British Museum Collection
  4. ^ White, Joyce; Eyre, Chureekamol (2011). "Residential Burial and the Metal Age of Thailand". Residential Burial: A Multiregional Exploration. pp. 59–78.
  5. ^ "White, J.C. 2008 Dating Early Bronze at Ban Chiang, Thailand. In From Homo erectus to the Living Traditions. Pautreau, J.-P.; Coupey, A.-S.; Zeitoun, V.; Rambault, E., editors. European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeologists, Chiang Mai, pp. 91-104" (PDF).
  6. ^ White 1986: WHITE J.C. (1986) - A Revision of the Chronology of Ban Chiang and Its Implications for the Prehistory of Northeast Thailand. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
  7. ^ Dating early bronze at Ban Chiang, Thailand (PDF Download Available). Available from: [accessed May 2, 2017]
  8. ^ a b Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "Ban Chiang Archaeological Site". Retrieved 2016-09-20.
  9. ^ Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "The Criteria for Selection". Retrieved 2016-09-20.
  10. ^ "Ban Chiang Background". ISEAA. Retrieved September 20, 2016.
  11. ^ a b "Ban Chiang: Thailand's most underrated UNESCO World Heritage Site | CNN Travel". Retrieved 2016-10-03.
  12. ^ "Ban Chiang, Udon Thani – TripAdvisor". Retrieved 2016-10-03.
  13. ^ "Attractions : Ban Chiang Archaeological Site". Retrieved 2016-10-03.
  14. ^ Metcalfe, Tom (2016-04-20). "The legacy of Ban Chiang: Archaeologist Joyce White talks about Thailand's most famous archaeological site". The Isaan Record. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  15. ^ Vitale, Katherine D. (April 1, 2009). "The war on antiquities: United States law and foreign cultural property". Notre Dame Law Review. The Free Library. Retrieved April 18, 2011.
  16. ^ Felch, Jason (June 10, 2014). "Victory for Thailand in US". The Art Newspaper. Allemandi Publishing. Retrieved March 8, 2015.
  17. ^ Gorman, C.F.; Charoenwongsa, P. (1976). "Ban Chiang: A Mosaic of Impressions from the First Two Years". Expedition. 8 (4): 14–26.
  18. ^ "Joyce White Honored at Opening of Ban Chiang National Museum". Institute for Southeast Asian Archeology. Retrieved 10 November 2015.

Further reading[edit]

  • Higham, Charles, Prehistoric Thailand, ISBN 974-8225-30-5, pp 84–88
  • Higham C.F.W. and T.F.G. Higham 2009. A new chronological framework for prehistoric Southeast Asia, based on a Bayesian model from Ban Non Wat. Antiquity 82:1-20.
  • Higham C.F.W. 2011. The Bronze Age of Southeast Asia: new insight on social change from Ban Non Wat. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 21(3): 365-89
  • Higham C.F.W., R. Ciarla, T.F.G. Higham, A. Kijngam and F. Rispoli 2011. The establishment of the Bronze Age in Southeast Asia. Journal of World Prehistory, 24 (4),227-274:
  • Higham C.F.W., T.F.G. Higham and A. Kijngam 2011. Cutting a Gordian Knot: The Bronze Age of Southeast Asia, timing, origins and impact. Antiquity 85:583-98.
  • White, J.C. and Hamilton, E. G. 2009. The Transmission of Early Bronze Technology to Thailand: New Perspectives World Prehistory (2009) Vol. 22. Pp 357–397
  • White, J. C. (1995). Incorporating Heterarchy into Theory on Socio‐political Development: The Case from Southeast Asia. Archeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association, 6(1), 101-123.
  • Pietrusewsky, Michael; Douglas, Michele T. (Michele Toomay) (Fall 2001). "Intensification of Agriculture at Ban Chiang: Is There Evidence from the Skeletons?" (PDF). Asian Perspectives. Project MUSE: University of Hawai'i Press. 40 (2): 157–178. doi:10.1353/asi.2001.0023. eISSN 1535-8283. ISSN 0066-8435. Retrieved 21 September 2011.

External links[edit]