Personal ornaments in Thai pre-history: Nong Nor, Ban Lum Khao and Noen-U-Loke
Chang, Nigel James
Personal ornaments - jewellery and other items of decoration worn on the body – are common grave goods in prehistoric Thailand. Grave goods are important and accessible aspects of mortuary ritual and mortuary ritual has proven an attractive means by which to interpret prehistoric social organization. Yet little research has been devoted to the study of personal ornaments. This dissertation has two main aims. First, it begins to redress this omission by considering what information is available from personal ornaments and by developing a methodological framework for research. An holistic approach is adopted with the emphasis on acknowledging the wide variety of classes, styles and materials involved. This theoretical background is followed by three site assemblage analyses; Nong Nor, Central Thailand (cemetery: c. 1100-700 BC), Ban Lum Khao, lower Northeast Thailand (cemetery: c. 1000-500 BC) and Noen-U-Loke, lower Northeast Thailand (cemetery: c. 300 BC-AD 600). The personal ornament assemblage from each site is described, followed by a discussion of its implications in terms of developing technologies, exchange patterns and inter-site relationships. In general, the typological scheme adapted and developed here is shown to be useful across Neolithic, Complex Hunter-Gatherer, and Bronze Age sites in Thailand. However, the Iron Age brings a new level of variety in bronze that will require new approaches to its typology and more focused studies of individual artefacts are required in order to advance our knowledge. The second major aim of this dissertation was to apply the personal ornament data to understanding social organization at each of the sites, between the different regions and over time. Assessments of social organization were based on the distribution of personal ornaments within the cemeteries, combined with other data. In Chapter 8 the discussion was broadened to include other sites and information. Models of change in Central Thailand and the upper Mun Valley of lower Northeast Thailand, and a model of the changing exchange patterns underlying the social developments, were constructed. It is argued that, as has been suggested before, sites such as Khok Phanom Di do represent autocthonous populations, with their own personal ornament traditions surviving in the face of a major bifurcative expansion of agriculturalists, ultimately out of the Yangzi Valley. By the Bronze Age, features of both these cultures can be seen in the metal-using communities. However, while there is no longer a distinction between local and incursive populations, regional traditions became more important. At the same time I argue that ethnic and cultural echoes of the original agricultural expansion created a network that allowed the rapid transmission of the idea of metal-working. The distribution of T-sectioned bangles represents this network. Turning to Noen-U-Loke I argue that an important feature of the upper Mun Valley is its isolation from major centres and routes of trade. By the Late Iron Age (AD 1-500) India and China were linked by a 'world trading system', prompting increased social complexity in the Mekong River delta, a nodal point in this trade. However, while at Noen-U-Loke new materials and some artefacts indicate exchange with these new polities, the personal ornaments more clearly reflect a flourishing and independent local tradition. At the same time I argue that Noen-U-Loke was not part of a chiefdom, but rather a complex big-man society. If these characteristics were the result of isolation we may look to communities such as Ban Kan Luang, located downstream at the confluence of the Mun and Chi rivers, for the reason behind that isolation. I contend that these societies not only controlled trade but also conducted their relations in such a way as to retain their powerful position as 'middlemen'. Such hypotheses are, of course, not without important caveats and the final chapter stresses the need for further research, outlining several specific areas of concern, in order to reach more secure conclusions.
Advisor: Higham, Charles
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Anthropology
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis