The legacy of the Ban Chiang discovery

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Burials at Ban Chiang. Source: The Isaan Record 20160420

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the Ban Chiang culture in Thailand’s Udon Thani province. This article from the Isaan Record features and interview with Dr Joyce White and her involvement with the site.

Burials at Ban Chiang. Source: The Isaan Record 20160420

Burials at Ban Chiang. Source: The Isaan Record 20160420

The legacy of Ban Chiang: Archaeologist Joyce White talks about Thailand’s most famous archaeological site
The Isaan Record, 20 April 2016

Fifty years ago in August, in the village of Ban Chiang near Udon Thani, a visiting American student named Stephen Young tripped over an exposed tree root and fell atop the rim of a clay pot partly buried in the village path. His tumble set into motion two joint Thai-American archaeological expeditions to Ban Chiang in the 1970s that exposed the extent of prehistoric burial sites beneath the village, sites filled with thousands of pieces of pottery and metalwork buried as grave goods by Neolithic and Bronze Age peoples at different times between 4200 and 1800 years ago. The Ban Chiang finds revealed unexpected technological and artistic development among the peoples of the region and challenged prevailing ideas about the prehistory of Southeast Asia.

American archaeologist Dr. Joyce White is the Director of the Ban Chiang project at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, USA, where she has studied the finds from Ban Chiang since 1976. She is an expert witness for the US Department of Justice in an ongoing antiquities trafficking case that in 2014 resulted in the return of many smuggled Ban Chiang items to Thailand.

Full story here.

US antiquities dealers jailed for tax fraud involving Southeast Asian loot

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This story is related to the repatriation of Ban Chiang artefacts to Thailand early this year. The antiquities dealer who was involved in the sale of the artefacts was sentenced to prison for an elaborate tax fraud scheme. Part of the sentencing agreement is the return of artefacts to their country of origin, including Thailand and Cambodia.

Calling Indiana Jones: Looted artifacts, tax scheme send ex-antiquities dealer to prison
My News LA, 14 December 2015

Operation Antiquity: Prison for Antiquities Dealer Behind Looting and Tax Fraud Scheme
Chasing Aphrodite, 15 December 2015

An ex-antiquities dealer who ran a complex Los Angeles-based tax fraud scheme involving looted artifacts was sentenced Monday to a year and a half in federal prison for making false declarations in customs documents in order to bring stolen archeological resources into the United States.

Jonathan Markell, 70, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson to 18 months behind bars followed by a year of supervised release.

An undercover federal agent and an expert in Southeast Asian antiquities both testified about the extent of the smuggling scheme, which, according to prosecutors, duped Bowers Museum in Santa Ana and other institutions.

Also Monday, Markell and his 68-year-old wife, Cari — who operated the now-defunct Silk Roads Gallery in the 100 block of North La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles for 10 years — were sentenced to probation for operating a related tax evasion scheme in which the couple “packaged” and sold smuggled artifacts to give clients tax write-offs when the items were donated to local museums.

A $1,500 “package” typically included antiquities from Ban Chiang, Thailand, along with false sales invoices to reflect an earlier sales date, and a fraudulently inflated $5,000 appraisal that contained a bogus expert’s signature, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Johns.

Full stories here and here.

Visit the Ban Don Thong Chai Archaeological Site

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Ban Don Thong Chai Archaeological Site. Source: Bangkok Post 20150326

The newly-opened Ban Don Thong Chai Archaeological Site is an open air museum and situated relatively close to the famous Ban Chiang archaeological site.

Ban Don Thong Chai Archaeological Site. Source: Bangkok Post 20150326

Ban Don Thong Chai Archaeological Site. Source: Bangkok Post 20150326

Digging ancient history
Bangkok Post, 26 March 2015

At first glance, Wat Chai Mongkol in Sakon Nakhon looks like a typical Buddhist temple. But it houses a recently-discovered archaeological site dating back 1,800-4,500 years.

Called the “Ban Don Thong Chai Archaeological Site”, the museum has been open to the public since the beginning of the year. The site is about 19 rai with the entrance behind a prayer hall of Wat Chai Mongkol.

Visitors are initially greeted with a blueprint of the temple’s grounds with markings of the 40 pit sites. Brief information is included about the ancient people who lived in this area, outlining three major periods which can be segmented the same way as Ban Chiang.

Full story here.

More artefacts to return to Thailand

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Source: Bangkok Post 20150307

Thailand announced last week the return of more Ban Chiang artefacts from the US, this time from the Mingei Museum in San Diego.

Source: Bangkok Post 20150307

Source: Bangkok Post 20150307

San Diego museum to return artefacts
Bangkok Post, 07 March 2015

A San Diego museum will be told to return to Thailand ancient artefacts found in a high-profile 2008 US federal investigation into allegations the museum had received looted cultural treasures, authorities said on Friday.

Dozens of pieces of pottery and other items from the prehistoric settlement of Ban Chiang, a Unesco World Heritage Site, were tagged as evidence at the Mingei International Museum during a series of raids that targeted four California museums.

The Mingei artefacts had been left in the museum’s vaults for the last seven years.

“After a careful review of the matter, we are planning on lifting the ‘seizure in place’ order and directing the museum to repatriate the artefacts that we believe were illegally obtained,” said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the US Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles.

Full story here.

Public Lecture: Ban Chiang: a new perspective of Thai prehistory

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Another one for Bangkok readers, a lecture at the National Museum by Charles Higham.

ban chiang flier

Ban Chiang: a new perspective of Thai prehistory
By Charles Higham
Venue: National Museum Auditorium, Bangkok
Date: Thursday February 19th, 2015
Time: 10:00 AM – 12:00 AM
Donation: Member 100 Baht / Guests 200 Baht

Although the Fine Arts/University of Pennsylvania excavations at Ban Chiang took place 40 years ago, the results have never been published. In this lecture, Charles Higham, who excavated at Ban Chiang in 1974-5, presents a new chronology for this site, based on radiocarbon dates taken from the bones of the prehistoric people themselves. This new dating framework necessitates a radical reappraisal of the place of Ban Chiang in the prehistory of Thailand, which comes into sharp focus when compared with new and dramatic archaeological discoveries in the upper Mun Valley that have uncovered princely Bronze Age graves and later, an agricultural revolution that stimulated the rise of early states, including that of Angkor. In this interpretation, Ban Chiang is seen as a provincial backwater, while the Mun Valley was a centre of seminal and rapid cultural changes.


Public lecture: Preserving Heritage through Building Partnerships

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For readers in Bangkok, Dr Joyce White will be giving a talk at Thammasat University at the end of the month.

Thammasat talk

Preserving Heritage through Building Partnerships
Date: 30 January 2015
Venue: Multipurpose Hall 3, 5th Floor, Room 513. Thammasat University, Bangkok
Time: 1 – 4pm
Register via this link:

Ban Chiang artefacts return to Thailand

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Return of Ban Chiang artefacts from the US. Source: The Nation, 20141120

Last week, over 500 artefacts from Thailand were officially handed back to the country from the Bowers Museum in the US. The artefacts were mostly from Ban Chiang, and the looted properties included bronzes and painted pots.

Return of Ban Chiang artefacts from the US. Source: The Nation, 20141120

Return of Ban Chiang artefacts from the US. Source: The Nation, 20141120

US Returns Looted Ancient Artifacts to Thailand
Voice of America, 19 November 2014

US returns more than 500 looted antiquities
Bangkok Post, 20 November 2014

Thai crusade pays off as looted treasures return from US museum
The Nation, 20 November 2014

US hands over 554 ancient artefacts to Thailand
National News Bureau of Thailand, 20 November 2014

U.S. returns stolen ancient artifacts to Thailand
PBS, 23 November 2014
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Ban Chiang artefacts return to Thailand

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Bang Chiang Pots returned to Thailand. Source: Bangkok Post 20140902

Over 500 pieces of ceramics, believed to be looted from the Ban Chiang archaeological site in Thailand have been returned to by the Bowers Museum in California.

Bang Chiang Pots returned to Thailand. Source: Bangkok Post 20140902

Bang Chiang Pots returned to Thailand. Source: Bangkok Post 20140902

‘Ban Chiang’ artefacts arrive from US
Bangkok Post, 02 September 2014

Thailand reclaims smuggled artefacts from California museum
The Hindu, 02 September 2014
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