[Lecture] A Mauryan–Śunga Period Ringstone: 3rd-1st Century BCE, found in Peninsular Thailand

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Readers in Bangkok may be interested in this lecture at the Siam Society on 24 August 2017 by Anna Bennett.

In October 2014, a finely decorated Śunga ringstone was found by the owner of a sand quarry on the Tha Tapao River on the eastern side of Isthmus region of the Thai peninsula. The ringstone is a characteristic, almost defining object of the Mauryan – Śunga periods of Northern India, where possibly as many as 70 have been recorded from the Punjab, eastwards along the Ganges Valley to Bihar. A few ringstones are held in major museums outside India, including the Victoria & Albert Museum and the British Museum in London, the Asian Art Museum in Berlin, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Los Angeles County Museum. A few are also in private collections. The present example from Peninsular Thailand is the only one known to have been found outside the Indian subcontinent, thus providing yet more clear evidence for ancient contacts and trade between India and Thailand from the early centuries BCE, which long predated the establishment of the later Indian-influenced kingdoms in Southeast Asia. The function of these ringstones has never been clarified, although the author suggests that jewellery moulds remain a likely explanation for the extraordinary level of carved detail. Other suggestions have included that they were ear spools, although this seems improbable, on the practical grounds of their weight. Others have suggested a cult use or use as an apotropaic or physical contraceptive device due to the depiction of the nude mother goddess alternating with the ‘Tree of Life’. This ringstone was found at the same site as at least four very thin and fragmentary gold circular foils, which is the first occurrence of such an association, and lends weight to the hypothesis that the ringstones were perhaps, among other things, moulds for beating thin gold sheet ornaments. One of the gold sheets has an animal decorative motif which is very similar to that on the ringstone itself and the other has a repoussé design of interlinked ‘S’ motifs very similar to the only other known gold sheet, which was found in a burial context in India.

Source: A Mauryan–Śunga Period Ringstone: 3rd-1st Century BCE, found in Peninsular Thailand. A talk by Anna Bennett

[Lecture] Ancient Peninsular Siam and its Neighborhood

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Readers in Bangkok may be interested in this lecture at the Siam Society by my colleague Wannasarn Noonsuk in 10 August 2017. Dr Noonsuk is the Senior Specialist in Visual Arts at SPAFA.

This talk provides observations concerning socio-cultural development in Peninsular Siam and its significance in maritime Southeast Asia since the Iron Age. This area between two oceans was an important link for the East-West maritime trade as well as a production hub of jewelry, tin and forest products since the late centuries BCE. Among several principalities later developed in this isthmian tract, Tambralinga was an outstanding kingdom. Its material remains from the 5th century CE suggest that Hinduism was prominent and offered different artistic idioms from the Dvaravati expression of central Thailand in the same period. In terms of social interaction, the distribution of Bronze drums indicates that the isthmian tract was part of the neighborhood of communities around the Gulf of Siam, which was a busy hub of trade and a large market with common vision. It is likely that the ornaments produced at the sites such as Khao Sam Kaeo and Phukhao Thong were for the growing market in the Gulf and beyond to the east, rather than for India in the West. The Vishnu images from this area may have been the prototypes of those in the Mekong Delta. Perhaps similar to the Funan polity of the 1st- 6th centuries, the Kingdom of Ayutthaya in the 15th century launched military campaigns to the peninsula as an attempt to control the Gulf neighborhood.

Source: Ancient Peninsular Siam and its Neighborhood. A Talk by Wannasarn Noonsuk