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  • Ban Wang Hai: Excavations of an Iron-Age Cemetery in Northern Thailand
  • Kate Domett
Ban Wang Hai: Excavations of an Iron-Age Cemetery in Northern Thailand. Jean-Pierre Pautreau, Patricia Mornais, and Tasana Doy-asa. Bangkok: Silkworm Books, 2003. ISBN 974-7551-99-3.

The excavation of Ban Wang Hai, Northern Thailand, began in 1996, as part of a Thai-French collaboration titled "The Thai-French Prehistoric Research Project" that had been initiated in 1985 to study the Paleolithic period through to the Iron Age in the upper northern regions of Thailand. The excavation of Ban Wang Hai in Lamphun Province described in this monograph represents the Iron Age period.

This monograph, previously published in French, provides details of the excavation as well as the analysis of the artifacts and the human remains that followed. Contributions from other specialists, such as metallurgists and jewelry analysts, are inserted as appropriate. There are many good-quality color photographs and drawings that significantly enhance the text, although figures are not always in numerical order. A significant addition, which accounts for half of the monograph, is the translation to Thai. Not only is this appropriate, considering that the work defines Thai prehistory, it also makes this work more accessible to Thai archaeologists.

Details of the history of excavation at the site of Ban Wang Hai and descriptions of the Thai-French team excavations are provided after a brief introduction. Archaeological details of stratigraphy are described along with a brief mention of the palynological analysis undertaken and an even briefer comment on the only archaeometrical date from the site—that of a burnt bone sample with calibrated dates of 429–657 C.E.

The human skeletal remains are discussed in some detail regarding the way in which they were buried and the taphonomic processes that have occurred since, so-called "field anthropology." This, along with other evidence, has led the authors to suggest that some people were interred in coffins. A valuable addition to the discussion of the people would be that of demographics, pathology, and morphology. Only brief comments are provided but acknowledgment is made that this analysis was severely limited by a requirement by the Thai Fine Arts Department that the human remains not be removed from the ground. This is unfortunate as biological anthropology studies can make a significant contribution to the description of prehistoric life as has been shown for such sites as Ban Chiang (M. Pietrusewsky and M. T. Douglas, Ban Chiang, a Prehistoric Village Site in Northeast Thailand. I: The Human Skeletal Remains [Philadelphia: Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania, 2002]) and Khok Phanom Di (N. Tayles, The Excavation of Khok Phanom Di, a Prehistoric Site in Central Thailand. Vol. 5: The People, Research Report 61 [London: Society of Antiquaries of London, 1999]). Some descriptions are presented for dental health and some notes of a few skeletal pathologies are provided, but this type of information limits its comparability with other skeletal collections.

Considerable detail is provided regarding the funerary deposits, all of which were able to be fully excavated. Burial jars from this site are discussed with good photographs provided. The contents of the large burial jars has not been confirmed but burnt bone is a possibility. Burial jars from other sites typically contain human skeletal material either from primary or secondary burial. While burial jars are not uncommon in Southeast Asia, the authors suggest the Ban Wang Hai jars do not have any exact parallels. They also suggest that "In Thai cemeteries, the use of burial jars does not seem to have appeared before the second [End Page 398] quarter of the first millennium" (p. 33), however, previously they discussed the infant burial jars from the "ancient period" of Ban Chiang and fail to mention the extensive use of infant jar burials at the Bronze Age site of Ban Lum Khao (C. F. W. Higham, Early Cultures of Mainland Southeast Asia [Bangkok: River Books, 2002]).

Grave furniture is first described in an interesting overview chapter of the funerary deposits and their significance and then descriptions are detailed in a later chapter. Suggestions are made regarding the status of individuals and the presence and type...


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