Man’s earliest true ancestor appeared on earth more than 2 million years ago, but it was not until 10,000 to 15,000 years ago that his descendants had peopled almost the entire globe. The first man known to have roamed beyond the continent of Africa was Homo erectus, who appeared about 500,000 years ago. During the 200,000 years of his existence, he moved around through Ethiopia, Yemen, Oman, South Persia, Pakistan, Central Bharata (India), Burma to reach Kanchanaburi and migrated to Baan Chiang that slowly spread to different directions. Sometime, somewhere - the migration could go back to the same area and changed to the several other directions later on. Migrations depended on several factors - geography, Climate, environment, food, living conditions, and their intelligence development.
We were determined to explore the work of a renowned archaeologist and scholar, Prof Prakit (Chitr) Buabusaya ศาสตราจารย์ประกิต (จิตร) บัวบุศย์, whose research paper covered the period of research from 2836 to 1977, in which he described as the oldest center of civilization. This extraordinary scholar made a breakthrough regarding the Siamoid Civilization of Esarn, northeast Thailand. It was worth the effort as Prof Prakit Buabusaya unfolded the treasures of the ancient Thai civilization through books, maps, photographs, artifacts, travel accounts and his discoveries. His lectures opened followers’ eyes to the intricacies of ancient Siamese culture which should be respected by historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, artists, culturalists, paleontologists and geologists.
Peoples of Proto Australoid stock with Siamoid civilization seemed to have dark brown skin - India, Sri Lanka, Siam, Southeast Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua, Aborigines in Australia and Islanders in Pacific Ocean. From the region, not known as Siam at that time, people migrated further to China, Tibet, Mongolia, Korea, Japan, Siberia, north/central/south America. On the other hand, Proto Australoid people from Siamoid land migrated back through the same route with new starting journey at the Middle East and further to Europe. However, the original Negroids chose to remain in Africa and migrated further within that continent. The studies and research based on geography, topography, as well as art have found the factors on migration were: (1) condensed population (2) scarcity of food and living conditions, (3) climate change (4) quarrel and fight (5) epidemic disease (6) ambition on better future.
Furthermore, from the studies and research based on ethnology and culture during Siamoid civilization, there were conclusions on these ancestors of Siamese later : (1) Our race is in the group of Proto Australoid stock due to physical anthropology of facial features, anatomical features, skin color, blood group, and other biological evidence. (2) People’s character of our race are polite, gentle, peaceful, kind, that lovely blend of their language, speaking, music and dances (3) Our ancestors has established rice culture of planting and eating 15,000-20,000 years ago. Fossilized rice, carbonated rice, rice pots and utilities (cooking pot, dishes, bowl, spoon, furnace, etc.) were found under the ground all over Siam. At various burial sites, there were always rice pots originating from the animism ceremonies. They believed that the deceased persons would be able to take and use it during their future heavenly existence. (4) Their intelligence development kept going discovered, invented, and produced many items - process of pottery making including raw materials and kilns, they knew how to drink, cook and ferment - water, rice and food supplies chicken and buffalo meat, fish and shrimp, vegetable and fruits including sugarcane, palm and coconut) (5) In terms of metallurgy with high temperature they found how to do the smelting process on various metals - iron, copper, tin uranium, lead silver, and gold. Many metal products were made - knife, spear, axe, hammer, shovel, fishhook, furnace, melting crucible, tray, stamp, smoking pipe, pottery, roller, printing roller, etc. (6) Siamoid fashions depended on fibrous bark, plant fiber, cotton and silk along with decoration : stone beads, shell beads, glass beads, gold beads, stone bracelet, shell bracelet, coins, bronze mirror, stone drum, bronze drum, etc.
Siamoid artifacts found were similar to those ones of other civilizations’ culture in China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Iran, Iraq, Egypt and Sudan, or otherwise. How could the artifacts from those countries be so similar to the Siamoid’s artifacts?
Understanding a country as complex and diverse as Thailand is never easy. It requires knowledge of both the past and the present and an understanding of all the changes and forces that have contributed to the uniqueness of Thailand.
Archaeological data is scarce and sometimes incomplete and any authoritative reconstruction of Thailand’s past will inevitably involve some degree of speculation. Evidence will be interpreted in terms of today’s intellectual makeup, conditioned as it is by the time and by the culture the archaeologist lives in, with factors such social and religious background, age, status etc. all playing a role in the final analysis.
As we have mentioned in the previous articles of this series, Thailand has a rich history dating back to prehistoric times. The oldest communities of which archaeological evidence has been found are known as the Baan Chiang Cultural Tradition, named after the UNESCO site on the Northern Koraj Plateau.
From about 4000 B.C., settlers already adapted to living in simple settlements on the Southeast Asian lowlands moved onto the Koraj Plateau and their tradition flourished there for at least 4000 years, into the beginning of the Christian era. From archaeological evidence, we know that they lived in small groups along the tributaries of the Songkhram River which drains the northern part of the plateau. The very location and style of the excavated settlements shows that despite the prominent use of natural resources, a fundamental shift away from the mobile lifestyle of traditional hunter-gatherers occurred. The commitment to building structures, maintaining livestock, making fragile and heavy ceramic pots and crop cultivation, all represent a social and economic strategy to plan for the longer term. Hence the origins of an agricultural lifestyle that is prevalent all over Southeast Asia and beyond, can be found on the Koraj Plateau and Baan Chiang.
Although the immediate precursors to the lowland settlers at Baan Chiang have yet to be identified, the link can be eventually traced to hunter-gatherers using a stone tool technology known as the Hoabinhinan, a term coined by a French archaeologist in Vietnam in the 1920’s. The Hoabinhinan Period is the name given to that part of Southeast Asian prehistory from about 13,000 to 4,000 B.C. Archaeological evidence at sites such as Spirit Cave (Thailand) and Cai Beo (Vietnam) reveal that people lived in caves, at open air sites, or along coastal locations as hunter-gatherers and fishermen.
Before Baan Chiang was excavated, archaeologists around the world would have argued that Southeast Asia had an insignificant impact on the development of human civilization in prehistoric times. The generally accepted view was that “the prehistoric societies of Southeast Asia, including Thailand, were cultural backwaters of China and India.”
Archaeologists have long linked the development of bronze metallurgy (the Bronze Age) with rise of state and urban civilizations. The Bronze Age was also synonymous with kings, standing armies, gargantuan temples and defensive walls, but Baan Chiang tells of a different Bronze Age. At Baan Chiang archaeologists found a fully developed bronze metallurgy, about the same age as the Shang civilization in China, but essentially in a peaceful village context. Archaeologists are still trying to digest the presence of a sophisticated technology in a society with little social hierarchy, and one that seems un-war like no less. Today, because of the research at Baan Chiang, we know Southeast Asia has its own story to tell concerning the development of agriculture, metallurgy, society and art, the stuff that makes the human story so interesting.
The discoveries at Baan Chiang and other archaeological sites in Southeast Asia also provide some answers on one of the great mysteries involving Southeast Asia, Indonesia and the Pacific Islands.
Throughout an area incredibly extending more than half way around the globe, from Madagascar in the western extreme all the way to Hawaii, the Marquesas Islands and Easter Island at the eastern extreme, language is the common denominator. The hundreds of languages in the Austronesian (or Malayo-Polynesian) language family spoken by the inhabitants of this vast area all show the systematic correspondences of vocabulary demonstrating their descent from a common ancestral language spoken by their descendants 6000 or more years ago. Moreover, this language, now extinct, is believed to be linked to the Thai-Kadai family of languages (includes Thai and Lao) in a superfamily of languages known as Austro-Thai. This incredible language distribution represents movements of people over vast distances at sea that took place in prehistory extending back considerably in time. There has been nothing comparable to it in the recorded history of mankind other than the spread around the world from western Europe of the Indo-European languages within the past five hundred years.
The importance of the Austronesian and Austro-Thai languages to the understanding of the early history of Thailand and Southeast Asia is immense. Comparative linguistic research has determined that Austro-Thai contains words for domesticated plants and animals, and that even more startling, these words were borrowed as loan words into the ancient Chinese languages. The ancient peoples who spoke these languages also used words relating to rice cultivation and metal tools. Given the above, it is clear the Austronesian speakers who spread out across the area came from an ancestral homeland where agriculture, domesticated animals and metallurgy were practised. This homeland is believed to be mainland Southeast Asia. It is also reasonable to assume that economic or commercial interests of some kind were the motivating factors responsible for the enormous spread of the Austronesian speaking peoples. These interests would have been fostered by some developing centre of wealth and population on the Asian mainland that provided a growing demand for products from abroad and as such fostered trade based on importing products from overseas and would have provided the impetus needed for overseas exploration and settlement.
The problem with the above theory has always been the lack of archaeological evidence of any developing centres of wealth and population on the Southeast Asian and South Chinese mainland at a sufficiently early date. All that changed with the discoveries at Baan Chiang. The site provides direct evidence of social and cultural developments in Southeast Asia that provides a reasonable explanation for the enormous early dispersal of Austronesian peoples.
As such, Baan Chiang does more for students of early human history than provide evidence of early civilization in Thailand. The discoveries there, provide a new perspective on the development and prehistory of the Indonesian and Pacific Islands and help resolve the enthnological question of the truly amazing spread of the Austronesian language, originating from Austro-Thai.
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