Review: Champa and the Archaeology of My Son (Vietnam)

Champa and the Archaeology of My Son (Vietnam)
Edited by Andrew Hardy, Mauro Cucarzi and Patrizia Zolese
NUS Press, ISBN: 978-9971-69-451-7
Available at Amazon.com

Archaeology in Vietnam is quite vibrant – just take a look at this site and see how much archaeology news comes out of Vietnam. Besides the news, however, it’s quite hard to find any literature about the archaeology of Vietnam in English because most of the literature is in Vietnamese. Which is why Champa and the Archaeology of My Son (Vietnam) is quite refreshing. This volume, hopefully the first of many, presents the results of a joint Italian and Vietnamese team working at My Son and about Champa in general.

If you asked anybody a hundred years ago what the most famous archaeological ruins in Southeast Asia was, you’d be told that it was the sanctuary of My Son, in the central Quang Nam province of Vietnam. The My Son Sanctuary is a complex of brick tower structures dating to the 7th – 11th centuries. The temples are linked to the Cham, an Austronesian ethnic group centred around the southern part of Vietnam and parts of Cambodia. My Son’s preeminence changed quickly with the “discovery” of Angkor, when the research efforts of the EFEO in particular were channeled towards Cambodia in the early part of the 20th century. Fading into obscurity, My Son was to suffer further indignity by bombing by American forces during the American War, in an attempt to flush out combatants who had entrenched themselves in the ruins. Despite its tragic history, the temple complex was recognized as a World Heritage Site in 1999 – in no small part due to the effort of the Polish team who worked to restore the site a decade earlier.

The book is divided into three rough sections; an extended introduction provides the background and history of archaeological research in Champa, starting with the French excavations of the early 20th century, the Polish-Vietnamese restoration of My Son after the American war, and the current Italian-Vietnamese endeavour to document and preserve the site. The second section (Part 1) covers the history of Champa and the anthropology of the Cham people, while the final section (Part 2) specifically addresses the new discoveries of the last 10 years, such as the study of construction techniques employed used for the temples, and also a thermo-luminescence dating of the brick material.

I particularly enjoyed Rie Nakamura’s contribution about the cosmology and ethnicity of the Ninh Thuan Province’s Cham people. Champa and the Archaeology of My Son (Vietnam) makes a valuable contribution to knowledge and understanding about the Cham and archaeology of Vietnam.

Related Posts

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *