Sunday, 26 August 2012

Ban Chiang Archaeological World Heritage Site

Lots of signs along the way.
tourist shop opposite the museum.

reproduction pots on sale.
Ban Chiang is an archeological site located in the Udon Thani Province of northern Thailand. The site is of importance as it contains the archaeological remains of the only known south east Asian culture to independently develop an agrarian culture. Prior to the discovery of Ban Chiang it was genuinely assumed that agricultural knowledge was transferred into south east Asia from India and China. This was not the case. Due to this unique role the site played in the region, Ban Chiang is considered to be the most important archaeological site in the Kingdom of Thailand. In 1992, in recognition of its importance in south east Asian cultural development, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The earliest evidence shows that the area was settled by a hunter-gatherer people in the fourth millennium BCE. These people possessed the rudiments of a settled, agricultural society: domesticated animals and a knowledge of agriculture. These people abandoned their earlier lifestyle and became farmers, tilling the soil for their food. Over the next three millennia their technology slowly progressed through a Bronze to an Iron Age, and, along the way these people created an elaborate material culture, distinguished by a range of attractive earthen ware pottery that has become iconic in the region (and reproductions of which can be purchased in tourist shops). By c. 500 BCE wet rice cultivation had become widespread. These new found technologies spread from Ban Chiang to what is now northern Thailand and northern Laos, and perhaps further. In 1992, due to the significance of Ban Chiang in south east Asian cultural history, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

main road museum entrance.

world heritage marker.

museum entrance.

The site was abandoned c. 300 CE, however, in the intervening centuries the site has been settled and re-settled. It is now a modern Thai village, the village of Bang Chiang. The presence of the village has somewhat hampered excavation work, however, the area surrounding the village, plus the major site within the village, a modern Thai Buddhist temple, are available and both have provided a great deal of material.

The site was long known to contain ancient artefacts, however, it was in 1966, due to one of those serendipitous discoveries that occasionally do occur, that the significance of the site was realised. Steve Young, a Harvard anthropology student, who was living in the Bang Chiang village, tripped over a tree root, fell, and saw the exposed tops of pottery jars. This quickly led to an introductory dig, that became an ongoing project, which saw the development of the current site. The dig was given prominence in 1972 when the King of Thailand, Rama IX, visited the village and suggested to the Thai Fine Arts Department (responsible for historical research in the Kingdom), that research be undertaken at Ban Chiang.


entrance lobby.

plan of museum grounds.

In 1975 the original museum building was constructed on the western side of the village (17.407 103.2365). A new and better museum was completed on the same site in 2006, with the original used for admin. The new museum is much larger and well displays the long history of the site and culture. The museum contains a sizeable quantity of artefacts from the various digs, presented in a chronological order, also displays and diorama. If this interests you I strongly suggest a visit to the Udon City museum, in the provincial capital. This museum also has a wide range of artefacts and displays from Ban Chiang.

There is one archaeological site open to the public, this was the first identified. This lies within the grounds of a Buddhist temple on the eastern side of the village, Wat Pho Sri Nai (17.4082 103.2432). This dig is now on display within an enclosed shelter. The temple and museum are separated by a 500m walk through the the village. Between the two is a tourism office where tourist advice, and a full range of tourist trinkets, are available.

diorama of the dig site.

the iconic, original, earthen wear pots.
original site publication on display.

lots of information.

diorama of original dig work office.

info about dating.

closeup of diorama.
The village itself is a quiet, even sleepy affair. As I walked along the small streets I heard locals speaking to each other saying "falang" (foreigner)—few foreign visitors here. I hope that in the future the archaeological site received greater prominence and attracts more tourists. Recommended for anyone of an historical persuasion.

When I visited, a weekday, there were a batch of Thai High School students visiting, but less that a dozen other tourists. Also, as far as I could gather, there are no organised visits or tours of the museum from the provincial capital. While the Ban Chiang is interesting, well presented, and certainly worth a visit, it seems that few go to the trouble to do so.

The easiest way to reach Ban Chiang is to take a bus from Udon Thani city to the neighbouring provincial capital of Sakhon Nakhon, and tell the driver that you wish to alight at Ban Chiang. This trip will cost you 40 baht ($1+), and consume slightly less than an hour of your time. Keep an eye on where you are going, the driver might just forget your drop off, however, do not worry, there is a large blue sign stretched above the road to the site. From the turn off there are tuk tuks waiting to take you to the museum and back, all for the princely sum of 120 bath (~$4—I gave my driver a 20 baht tip). Returning to Udon is easy enough, at the drop off point is a bus stop. Simply wait there for the next bus to come along heading west, flag it down, and hop on. It is a busy route, I had to wait about 2 minutes. Great fun.

One of the original and larger pots.

the temple with the original dig.

info about the dig.

original dig site on display.

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