The illegal trade in ancient bronze drums

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06 August 2008 (Vietnam Net Bridge) – This piece of alarming news comes from the Dak Lak province, where Dong Son drums have been recently discovered, and how as many of 50 of them have been illegally excavated and smuggled out.

Vietnam Net Bridge, 06 Aug 2007

Many ancient bronze drums being illegally excavated

In the past four months, 50 bronze drums have been unearthed and transported illegally out Krong Nang district in Dak Lak province, said doctor Tran Quy Thinh from the Vietnam Archeological Institute.

Of these, the only one that is yet to be sold is at present being kept by Nguyen Thi Dieu from Xuan Vinh commune. Ms. Dieu has asked Dak Lak Museum for VND100million (US$6,000) for the ancient drum.

The drum, which was discovered in Ms. Dieu’s garden, is a Dong Son Drum Type 1, which dates back 2,200 years. The surface’s diameter is 65 cm, and the diameter of the bottom is 67 cm.

This is considered the most intact of all the ancient bronze drums that have been discovered in the Central Highlands of Dak Lak so far. Archeologists have recently restored another smaller Type 1 bronze drum found in the district of Krong Pack, where other 3,000-year-old artifacts have also been discovered.

More information about Dong Son drums can be found in:
The Bronze Age of Southeast Asia (Cambridge World Archaeology) by C. Higham
Dong Son Drums in Viet Nam
– Bronze Dong Son Drums by Ha Thuc Can

14-year-old finds ancient bronze bell in Vietnam

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10 July 2007 (Vietnam Net Bridge) – A 14-year-old unearths a bronze bell in Quang Nam province in Vietnam. Unfortunately, no other information about the bell was provided, although the Han dynasty lettering on the bell implies a date between 200 BC and 200 AD.

Vietnam Net Bridge, 10 Jul 2007

Ancient bronze bell discovered in Quang Nam

A 14-year-old kid named Duong Quoc Hop from Thang Binh district in the central province of Quang Nam has recently found an ancient bronze bell while looking for metal waste right inside his home’s garden.

The bell was buried at 1.5 m underground in quite original conditions. Its diameter is 0.45 m; height 0.94 m, and weight 100kg. The body of the bell has many sharply-engraved Han letters.

Yesterday afternoon, July 9, a team from Quang Nam Museum and the Department of Culture and Information visited the kid’s house and tried to persuade his family to hand over the bell to them for investigation.

Two Chinese arrested in Vietnam with smuggled artifacts

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27 March 2007 (Thanh Nien News) – 4 men are arrested near the Vietnam-China border for smuggling artefacts. The article does not specify the exact kinds of artefacts, although the bronze drum would almost certainly be of the Dong son type.

Two Chinese arrested in Vietnam with smuggled artifacts

Four men have been arrested, including two Chinese nationals, on the Chinese border on suspicion of smuggling antiquities, Vietnamese police said Monday.

They were apprehended last Friday in Mong Cai town with several items in their possession, some of which have been identified as ancient Vietnamese artifacts.

The police seized 36 items, including 1 bronze drum, 59 earrings, 10 statues, and a ceramic jar, according to the Cong An Nhan Dan (People’s Police) newspaper.

“The authorities are studying the items to identify their ages,” Nguyen Huu Khia[/tag], deputy head of the provincial police’s investigation department, said Monday.

Two 2,300-year-old graves unearthed in Vietnam

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15 December 2006 (Thanh Nien News)

Two 2,300-year-old graves unearthed in Vietnam

Two ancient graves, including a burial urn, dating back 2,300 years to the era of the Hung Vuong kings (280-258BCE), were found recently in Phu Tho province.

The urn is 40cm high and 55cm across, and contains three bronze items but no skeleton. From its small size it appears to have been used for burying a child.

The other grave contains a skeleton and two gemstone earrings, which were broken into three and rejoined with a bronze string.

It also has three bronze axes, three lances with nice patterned blades, and a bowl, pot, and vase.

Tiny bronze commands a giant price

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03 November 2006 (Sydney Morning Herald) – A feature on the Artsmart column about the National Gallery of Australia’s $4 million acquisition of The Bronze Weaver, a statuette dating from abut 600 AD. There is also an interesting mention on the provenance of the statuette.

Tiny bronze commands a giant price

The National Gallery of Australia made headlines last week – and astonished tribal art fans – by outlaying a seemingly unprecedented $4 million for an Indonesian artifact.

The gallery’s purchase is a small Indonesian bronze figure of a weaver suckling a baby. Dubbed The Bronze Weaver, it dates from circa 600 AD.

While San Francisco authority Thomas Murray is guarded about the provenance of The Bronze Weaver, an object he evidently knows well, it appears the bronze hasn’t spent all its life in the hands of Westerners and was owned and treasured by a family on Flores as late as the 1970s.

How such a precious item could have emerged soon afterwards in the collection of a European connoisseur – whence it was bought by the National Gallery of Australia – is something of a mystery.

It’s likely the Indonesian cultural authorities will be upset the figure didn’t end up in one of their state collections.

The Bronze Weaver was apparently examined and photographed by a Harvard associate professor of art and anthropology, Marie Jeanne Adams, who in a paper published in 1977 describes it as a “previously unreported figure of exceptional artistic and historical interest” that was revered by the family that owned it.

The paper includes a photo of The Bronze Weaver being cradled by a woman on Flores, probably its owner.

Related Books:
The Bronze Age of Southeast Asia (Cambridge World Archaeology) by C. Higham
The bronze-iron age of Indonesia (Verhandelingen van het Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land-en Volkenkunde) by H. R. van Heekeren

Gallery unveils the $4million Indonesian bronze statuette

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26 October 2006 (Sydney Morning Herald) – The National Gallery of Australia reveals its latest item in its collection, a 6th century bronze statuette of Indonesian origin. The article doesn’t describe the statuette’s provenance, but mentions that it was from the Javanese bronze age. This would put it around the time of the Srivijaya empire, although there is mention of an independent Bronze Age. Will have to go read that up.

Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Oct 2006

Gallery unveils the $4million woman

The diminutive sculpture depicts a woman nursing an infant while weaving on a foot-braced body tension loom.

Part of the myth surrounding the sculpture is the uncertainty about its age. It was believed to be too young to come from the Dong Son bronze-age culture that was centred on North Vietnam and ended in AD200, and it may have been from the Javanese Bronze Age, which peaked between the eighth and 14th centuries.

The gallery decided to have the clay core of the sculpture tested by thermo-luminescence.

The surprise result was that it was made between AD556 and 596.

Maxwell says archaeologists suggested there was an independent island bronze age in Indonesia about that time and there are several pieces in the National Gallery in Jakarta that are possibly from that period.

Related Books:
The Bronze Age of Southeast Asia (Cambridge World Archaeology) by C. Higham
The bronze-iron age of Indonesia (Verhandelingen van het Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land-en Volkenkunde) by H. R. van Heekeren