[Talk] Mystery of the Prehistoric Log Coffin Culture in Highland Pang Mapha, Mae Hong Son Province

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Readers in Bangkok may be interested in this talk at the Siam Society on Thursday by Prof. Rasmi Shoocongdej.

Mortuary practice is an important indicator of past ideology and its analysis can be developed by classifying burials into specific types, a method which can limit our understanding of mortuary variability, particularly the horizontal and vertical scales of social organization. Research in Highland Pang Mapha, Mae Hong Son province, on the Thai-Myanmar border, has revealed the unique features of log coffins placed on posts inside caves atop limestone cliffs. The log coffin culture dates to 2,200-1,000 years ago and bears similarities with the hanging coffins of the extant local inhabitants, the Yue, who are associated with the Tai peoples of Yunnan, South China. This talk will present an overview of Log Coffin culture in Thailand in relation to China and Southeast Asia, through a cross-cultural approach. It will also examine the cemetery organization from the Ban Rai Rockshelter and Long Long Rak Cave sites of Highland Pang Mapha, through a temporal and spatial analysis of the archaeological evidence, to assess the stylistic approach and mortuary practice as units of analysis for the symbolic and cultural landscape, cemetery organization and social memory. The resulting analyses will help our understanding of mortuary and social organization of ancient Highland communities and the complex interactions between South China and Southeast Asia.

Source: Mystery of the Prehistoric Log Coffin Culture in Highland Pang Mapha, Mae Hong Son Province. A Talk by Rasmi Shoocongdej

Thai Log Coffin Culture in Archaeology Magazine

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If you get the chance, pick up this month’s issue of Archaeology Magazine which features an article on the Log Coffins of Mae Hong Son Province in Northern Thailand. One of the archaeologists involved in the project, Dr Rasmi Shoocongdej, kindly shares the article with us here. You can also read previous articles about the Highland Archaeology Project at Mae Hong Son here.

Letter from Thailand: Mystery of the Log Coffin Culture
Archaeology, Sep/Oct 2009
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Profile of Dr Rasmi Shoocongdej

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I met Dr Rasmi Shoocongdej at a conference last year when she presented her work on community-driven heritage management and archaeology at her project in Mae Hong Son in northern Thailand; the Bangkok Post carried a feature on the archaeologist from Silpakorn University last week.

Digging up the past
Bangkok Post, 04 September 2008
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Thai community archaeology project boosted thanks to grant

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Pang Ma Pha district, in the Mae Hong Son province of Thailand is benefiting from a grant by the US government to support an archaeological research project focusing on the local caves. The project is run by Dr. Rasmi Shoocongdej from Silpakorn University.

I heard Dr. Shoocongdej presenting her Mae Hong Son work at a conference last year. Unlike most archaeological projects, this one really involved the community in managing the site, to the extent of teaching school kids about the prehistory of the region, as well as training guides within the community to help boost local tourism work. It’s a fine example of community archaeology.

photo credit: Michael Scalet

Preserving the Past
Bangkok Post, 04 March 2008
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Three-day seminar examines state of the nation

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26 March 2007 (The Nation) – A mention about an archaeology paper to be presented at a three-day anthropological seminar in Thailand and the state from 28 to 30 March.

Three-day seminar examines state of the nation

With the Thai state facing various problems such as border lands, stateless people and conflict in the predominantly Muslim deep South, about 300 scholars will share their views on the situation at a three-day anthropological seminar titled “State: From daily life’s point of view” this week.

A discourse on the construction of national history will also be among the topics of discussion at the seminar, to be held from Wednesday to Friday at the Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre.

Pipad, who has been studying the history and archaeology of Mae Hong Son, found that in the process of constructing a national history, Thailand adopts some non-Thai ethnic groups as part of the nation while neglecting others whose histories do not fit in with the national history.

“As a result, these latter groups are finally constructed as the stateless people,” he wrote.

Related Books:
Caves of Northern Thailand by P. Sidisunthorn

10,000-year-old caves discovered


10 December 2006 (The Nation) – A series of caves in North Thailand prove to yield significant archaeological material. The location of the caves remain undisclosed, but are slated for research and eco-tourism in the future.

10,000-year-old caves discovered

Exploration uncovers 176 caves, which can provide answers about life in the North

Scientists have recently made significant cave discoveries in the Pang Mapha district of Mae Hong Son.

They are excited about the geological, ecological and archaeological importance of the finds.

A few of the caves will be opened to tourists but most will be preserved for research.

Silpakorn University archaeologist Dr Rasmi Shookongdej said finds from the caves and their surrounding areas were important. After three years the team still has much to study.

“The traces we found tell us how people in the area used caves in their age, which is more than 10,000 years ago. We found burial sites, skeletons and stone and iron tools,” Rasmi said.

The 176 caves have been divided into three categories – tourists can visit 15, 112 will be saved for research and 49 have yet to be classified.

The 15 tourist caves have been divided again – seven are for adventure tourists, four for general tourism and another four have religious significance.

Of those set aside for research, dozens could be opened to visitors later, Kasem added. But, priority was study.

Related Books:
Caves of Northern Thailand by P. Sidisunthorn, S. Gardner and D. Smart
Patterns of habitation and burial activity in the Ban Rai Rock Shelter, Northwestern Thailand by C. Treerayapiwat

Digging up the past – Developing the Community

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1 June 2006 (Citylife Chiang Mai) – A feature on community-involvement archaeology project in northwest Thailand.

20060601 Citylife Chiang Mai

Digging up the past – Developing the Community
How archaeology makes a difference in Northwest Thailand

The Highland Archaeology Project in Pangmapha (HAPP) is a microcosm of the new directions of contemporary Thai archaeology. One important detail is that the project is run by a woman, Rasmi Shocoongdej, currently Assistant Professor at Silpakorn University.

The main results so far are the recording of nearly 100 sites from the Stone Age and Metal Age scattered across the district, as well as the excavation of two major rockshelter sites with evidence of over 20,000 years of habitation and several human burials.

The aim of the HAPP camp was to cultivate in the children, and hopefully their families, a sense of the value of the remains of the past and the importance of preserving them. By giving them a narrative of their unique local past – a past that they encounter the evidence of everyday – rather than a homogenising national past, they can feel a more positive sense of belonging and connection to [t]heir heritage.

Related Books:
Patterns of habitation and burial activity in the Ban Rai Rock Shelter, Northwestern Thailand by C. Treerayapiwat
Uncovering Southeast Asia’s Past: Selected Papers from the 10th International Conference of the European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeologists by E. A. Bacus and I. Glover