Ban Lum Khao
Ban Lum Khao is a Bronze Age cemetery overlying a thin occupation
layer, which also belongs to the Bronze Age. Our excavations in 1995-96
uncovered 110 burials, laid out in rows and associated with a range of
mortuary offerings which include pottery vessels, freshwater bivalve shellfish,
pig and fish bones and bangles made of marine shell and exotic stone. Although
the remains of crucibles and moulds were found in associated layers, no
grave contained bronze grave goods. The condition of the human bone was
excellent, and the remains of men, women, children and infants were found
laid out in a similar manner to those identified at the nearby cemetery
of Ban Prasat. Five radiocarbon
dates have been obtained from the lowest occupation layer.
Ban Lum Khao is a prehistoric settlement located at the
junction of two small streams, about 3 km west of the well known site of
Ban Prasat (Monkhonkamnuanket 1992). Our excavations of 1995-6 uncovered
an area of 15 by 10 metres, and reached the natural substrate at a depth
of up to 1.7 m. Our intention at this site, was to investigate the Bronze
Age occupation of the upper Mun Valley. The stratigraphic sequence began
with an occupation layer incorporating a series of pits rich in organic
remains including fish, shellfish, mammalian bones, turtles and much pottery.
The second layer incorporated a Bronze Age cemetery, with some graves cut
well into the natural substrate. This was followed with layer 3, a late
Bronze Age occupation.
No in situ charcoal was found in association with
the inhumation graves, but much was encountered in the pits. Burnt bamboo
fibres were also found in layer 1 contexts. The results of the radiocarbon
determinations are set out below. Our excavation of the natural substrate
failed to evidence any charcoal remains at the depths reached by the pits
which supplied charcoal for dating, and we are confident that the dated
material originated with the initial occupation of this part of the site.
The dates indicate initial settlement in the second half of the second
millennium BC. We have not yet begun the detailed examination of the material
culture, but are reasonably confident that the earliest occupants were
familiar with bronze.
included males, females, children and infants laid out in a patterned manner,
as is virtually always the case in Central and Northeastern Thailand. The
infants were interred in lidded burial jars over half a metre in diameter,
often in association with smaller ceramic vessels and ornaments. These
burial jars were, in virtually all cases, found beyond the head of an adult.
The adults were interred with the preferred orientation of the head to
the southeast, the mortuary ritual prescribing the inclusion in the grave
of complete pottery vessels. Many adults were also buried with either shell
or stone bangles, shell disc beads, and large, nacreous freshwater bivalve
shellfish. No bronze artefacts were found with any of the 110 burials uncovered.
The early pits included much cord marked ware, but also examples
of black pottery decorated with incised bands infilled with stamped impressions.
Complete pottery vessels, of which over 400 were recovered
from burials, are currently being reconstructed. The forms include footed
jars with broadly flaring upper bodies in which the body of the pot is
cord-marked, and the upper part, red slipped and burnished. These are identical
with those recovered from Ban Prasat. Forms, however, are many. There are
small footed open bowls, cord-marked vessels with small everted rims, round
based vessels with cord marked and burnished, red slipped decoration, pedestalled
bowls with curvilinear, painted designs and round based bowls with red
slip which has been selectively scraped away to form curvilinear designs.
Late burials also include a developed range of forms, in which the upper
part of the body is cylindrical in form, rather than everted.
Other items of material culture
The bangles found as grave offerings were fashioned from
marine shell, including trochus and conus, and from exotic stone such as
marble. Some of the latter are in the widely-distributed T cross section.
Some people were buried with stone adzes, but most came from non-mortuary
contexts. Nearly all were shouldered, and had been subjected to regular
resharpening such that the shoulders were vestigial. We also found a number
of shouldered bone implements which have the same form as the adzes. Some
burials incorporated cord-marked cylinders of burnt clay which may have
been used for investing moulds prior to bronze casting. These were rich
in rice chaff temper. At least one clay bivalve mould, and a small number
of corroded fragments of bronze, were recovered from layer 2. We also encountered
many clay pellet-bow pellets, some complete and other fragments of clay
bovid figurines, sandstone abraders and bone implements recalling the so-called
shuttles from Khok Phanom Di. There was a vigorous antler industry, to
judge from the many fragments of antler which had been cut to remove tabs.
The faunal remains
The excavation procedure incorporated the flotation of samples
from all contexts, and in the case of the lower pits, the wet sieving and
flotation of the entire contents. This resulted in a very large sample
of microfauna, which includes the remains of freshwater fish, frogs, turtles,
birds and small mammals. Thosarat has noted that many of the fish from
early contexts are very much larger than their modern counterparts. Larger
bones from layer 1 include the wild water buffalo, many middle sized deer
which probably come from Cervus eldi, some large pig bones and a
few bones from the domestic dog. With layer 2, the wild water buffalo bones
became rare, and deer bones were less prevalent. Domestic-sized cattle
and pigs, however, proliferated. Our initial impression on completing the
identification of the larger component of the fauna, is that the inhabitants
entered a hitherto unoccupied territory and exploited the many wild animals
they encountered. This receives support from Mason's preliminary assessment
of the shellfish: the individuals were large, and represent a low-lying,
The closest parallel clearly lies with the cemetery at
Prasat, which exhibits an identical material culture and mortuary ritual.
The same pottery vessels have also been recovered from the lower layers
of Noen U-Loke. It is less easy to find parallels with the layer 1 ceramics,
other than to suggest that from descriptions in the literature, the tradition
could correspond to the Tamyae Phase of Welch and McNeil (1988-9). There
are some parallels in the shell and stone ornaments, clay bivalve mould
casting technology and the clay figurines with Bronze Age sites both on
the Khorat Plateau and in Central Thailand. Some of the pottery and its
decoration also recalls that from the cemetery of Non Nok Tha. The chronological
context in the later second millennium to the early first millennium BC
should occasion no surprised for a Bronze Age cemetery in this part of
By Professor Charles Higham.
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