Profile: Vietnamese Archaeologist Do Dinh Huat

Lara Croft and Indiana Jones have a lot to answer for. It irks me every time someone calls archaeologists “tomb raiders” – makes them seem more like treasure-hunting rogues rather than the scientists they actually are. Sigh. Barring the headline, the profile of Do Dinh Huat seems quite decent enough.

15 October 2007 (Thanh Nien News) – Lara Croft and Indiana Jones have a lot to answer for. It irks me every time someone calls archaeologists “tomb raiders” – makes them seem more like treasure-hunting rogues rather than the scientists they actually are. Sigh. Barring the headline, the profile of Do Dinh Huat seems quite decent enough.

Thanh Nien News, 15 Oct 2007

Vietnam’s tomb raider finds answers underground
by Giao Huong

Over the last 40 years renowned archeologist Do Dinh Truat has presided over some 330 excavations of Vietnam’s ancient tombs, more than any one else in Vietnam.

“Tomb excavation”, says Truat, “let’s one unearth the worlds of the dead, especially those of the upper classes, and find the missing pieces that make up the great puzzle of our history.”


Truat’s first two major journeys into the earth were in Vietnam’s Lang Son and Bac Ninh provinces, where he uncovered ancient Vietnamese fossils and remnants of the great first-century battle between the Chinese General To Dinh and the rebels led by the two Trung sisters, largely weapons and corpses of horses and burned human beings.

These ancient fossils were not only the first such artifacts ever found in Vietnam but also the first concrete evidence of the Trung sisters’ heroic struggle.

Since then, Truat has seen hundreds of tombs excavated, most being the burial spots of Vietnam’s royal families. His finds now dominate the treasures of Vietnamese archeology.

At 75 years of age, Truat remains deeply devoted to excavation and preserving the relics that have yet to be unearthed.

He looks forward to gladly taking part in many more digs, especially those in places where most wouldn’t think to look.

“In Ho Chi Minh City, there are still many compound tombs likely containing embalmed human bodies,” Truat says. One promising site he is keen to explore lies under Tao Dan Park in District 1.

Truat’s greatest concern today is that construction serving rapid urbanization has led to the likelihood of many important archeological sites being landscaped over or having structures built over them, before they can be either identified or explored.

“Modernization is burying ancient tombs under ever more layers of soil,” he laments.

Yet he nonetheless recognizes the great leaps forward national renovation has recently allowed the development of Vietnamese archeology through attendant reforms in government attitudes and policies towards potential national heritage sites – as well as the tourist dollars and research funds they can bring.

“Thanks to increased interest from government, archeological studies in Vietnam have become much more systematic, and our finds much more quickly communicated to the world,” said Truat.

“Yet archeology still faces a shortage of qualified academics and professionals here”, he says. “This is causing bottlenecks in the investigation and preservation of artifacts, especially embalmed bodies.”

And to a man who sees tombs as history’s primary libraries, a lack of interest in archeology shown among Vietnamese youth is also something worth a sigh or two.

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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