Tracing the development of agriculture across Southeast Asia

When it comes to tracing the movements and migrations of prehistoric communities across Southeast Asia, the Bellwood model stands out as one of the leading theories – humans moved Southwest China, humans moved from Philippines to island Southeast Asia and the pacific islands, and also southward to mainland Southeast Asia. The ANU Reporter presents this report that build on this migration thesis to detect and trace the emergence of agricultural societies dating as far back as 5,000 years in Southeast Asia.

ANU Reporter, Spring 2007

Unearthing ancient Asia
ANU Reporter Spring 2007

The feature focuses on an excavation in Man Bac in Vietnam, during an excavation of a Neolithic cematary. Among the discoveries are the utilitarian use of ivory, child burial and an out-of-place burial in the form of a richly clad foreigner:

Some graves are more richly stocked with extra pottery, beads, stone implements and jade. What this indicates is something of which Oxenham is uncertain.

Even more uncertain is the way in which the skeleton with the richest grave at the Man Bac excavation came to be so revered, given that he is an outsider. He has the physical appearance of the earlier and likely original inhabitants of the region, often referred to as Australomelanesians.

The grave of this man included beads, shells and pots as well as jewellery including a curved, shell necklace and a jade bangle which Oxenham suspects denotes prestige.
Strangely, it is the man’s teeth that provide the strongest clue to his origins, indicating that he most likely came into the community later in life.

Each site looks set to shore up surprises on its own, but the long-term relational findings are the ones that are going to shed light on the Bellwood model of migration. Stay tuned, I say!

Related Books:
Bioarchaeology of Southeast Asia (Cambridge Studies in Biological and Evolutionary Anthropology) by M. Oxenham
Early Civilizations of Southeast Asia by D. J. W. O’Reilly
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds)
Early Cultures of Mainland Southeast Asia
Genetic Linguistic Archaeological Perspectives on Human Diversity in Southeast Asia by J. Li, M. Seielstad, C. Xiao (Eds)
The Bronze Age of Southeast Asia (Cambridge World Archaeology) by C. Higham

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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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