Nam Bo Archaeology – the archaeology of Southern Vietnam

A few months ago, I received a book by Nguyen Thi Hau and Le Thanh Hai about the archaeology of Southern Vietnam (Nam Bo, of French Cochinchina). The book  is aimed at introducing the reader to the archaeology of the region by describing sites, geography and artefacts found there.


Popular Archaeology – Southern Vietnam: From theory to experimental
Available here (contact site directly)

The book is divided into five parts. The first part introduces the topic at hand and the authors’ background and theoretical direction. Dr. Nguyen Thi Hau’s archaeological work is heavily influenced by developmental anthropology, ethnography and community development, and the book aims to contextualise Southern Vietnam in the archaeological map. In that sense, the book seems to be a collection of essays along a similar theme rather than a complex argument to a point. To qualify, this review is based on the English-language text of the book as I don’t read Vietnamese.

Part 2 talks about fieldwork and other concepts in archaeology, based on Dr. Nguyen’s experience in the field. She includes fieldwork notes from various trips in the field and on various topics, such as a trip to the Guimet Museum or a description an ancient house in Binh Dong Province. These notes cover more contemporary topics, while a separate section talks specifically about the more well-known artefacts from Southe Vietnam, such as the double-headed ling ling-o found in Cần GiÆ¡Ì€ and the pottery from Oc Eo.

Part 3 delves deeper into the archaeological material of Southern Vietnam, themed around ‘time’, ‘space’ and ‘perspectives’. Using sites in this region, this chapter introduces the reader to archaeological concepts of periodisation, categories of archaeological material, and the discussion of archaeology as anthropology and history. Specific topics touched on include the prevalence of jar burials in this region as well as Southeast Asia, descriptions of the Sa Hyunh and Dong Nai culture, and premodern cities in Southern Vietnam.

The archaeological past is tied back to the ethnographic present in part 4 of the book, and in this section the authors discuss the relevance of archaeology to social identity as a region and nation. This part contains reflections on the role of cultural heritage in a large, general sense, and well as reflections of conservation on specific sites such as Oc Eo and the Thang Long Citadel (which is not in the south, but in Hanoi; but has a powerful place in the identity of Vietnam). The book ends with an invitation for further research to be done in the area to help advance the understanding of the archaeology of South Vietnam.

As I mentioned earlier, most of the book is written in Vietnamese, and so I was unable to read much of the book. However, it’s clear from the English text that the book hopes to open up the archaeological past of Southern Vietnam to the general reader. If you’re interested in getting a copy of the book, it may be a little hard to come by outside of Vietnam although the authors tell me that you can contact the people here about buying a copy. (It doesn’t have a store portal where you can buy the book directly, you will have to contact the site owners through the ‘contact’ button).


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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