Dating Prehistoric Thailand

June 12, 2009

No, this is the wrong place if you are looking for an old wife;-) After a long break I’m posting again. An article on Alison in Cambodia’s blog got me going again.

Alison reports on the study at Ban Non Wat near Phimai by Charles and Thomas Higham and their attempts to pin down prehistoric dating for the region. Now we have some scientific base to work with. Below is a chart taken from them via Alison’s site.


This chart gets us up to the beginning of the Dvaravati period but of this and what came before so very little is any recorded history. There was no Venerable Bede in Southeast Asia.


A Complete List?

October 20, 2008
Tai Groups of Thailand

Tai Groups of Thailand

Here is a list of groups taken from the three volumes of Ethnic Groups of Thailand by Joachim Schliesinger.

Tai Language Groups
Khorat Thai
Lao Ga
Lao Isan
Lao Krang
Lao Lom, Tai Dan, Tai Loei
Lao Ngaew
Lao Song
Lao Ti
Lao Wieng
Phu Tai
Southern Thai
Tai Bueng
Tai Dam
Tai Gapong
Tai Khoen
Tai Mao
Tai Wang
Tai Ya
Tai Yai
Tai Yong
Tai Yor
Takbai Thai

Non-Tai Groups

Austro-Asiatic Language Family
Kha Hor

Austro-Thai Language Family
Sea Gypsies (Mawken, Moklen, Uraklawoi, Orang Lanta, Orang Sireh

Sino-Tibetan Language Family
Sgaw Karen
Pwo Karen

Burma’s Shan and Kachin States – No Archeology?

August 28, 2008
Shan Landscape

Shan Landscape

North of Thailand is Burma’s Shan State, called the Shan States in plural going a little further back in recent history. North of this is Kachin State. Looking on Wikipedia we find no archeological information in either of these states. It’s interesting as through these, at least the Shan State, would have been the migration routes of the Tai, Bamar and Mon peoples. Further south we can pick up the movement by the cities they built. I do wonder if under the vegetation we have lost cities going back to pre-history. Where’s Indiana Jones when you need him.

Brief Introduction to Tai Kingdoms

August 14, 2008
Sukhothai ruins

Sukhothai ruins

The Tai people were moving southwards into Laos and Thailand from northwest China, probably being squeezed out by the Chinese Han people. They had mastered upland rice agriculture so they started to settle in the northern hill country of both these lands. This was a fairly recent migration and we don’t really pick up their story much until the 11th. Century and the Sukhothai Kingdom.

By the 12th. Century we see the movement of Tais further south and the founding of what would be the Thai kingdom’s capital of Ayutthaya. The ethnic groups which would have been there originally were Mons and Khmers but we can suspect there was quite heavy Tai integration with these peoples.

Ayutthaya was destroyed by the Burmese in 1767 and the capital of Siam moved south, first to Thonburi and later to Bangkok. The southern movement of the Tais into the central plains of Thailand was probably supported by their ability to farm rice in these lowlands. Irrigation and drainage became the tools of the Tais as they bought more land into cultivation and this can be seen at Ayutthaya and even more so in the Bangkok area.

Northeast Thailand

August 5, 2008

Northeast Thailand, Isan, is mostly on the flat part of the Korat Plateau. Two bits of information that came my way last week got me thinking about the area in the times of the Khmer Empire. One was a rough map of known Khmer ruins on the plateau and the other was a UK TV program talking about the distances between early English market towns. These were fairly repeatable with a plus and minus of about 30%.

Is it possible that could work out a distance like this on the Khmer settlements on the plateau? In other words, fill in the gaps between known settlements with new discoveries. It’s an interesting thought. If the distance was about a day’s march that would be a good start. Of course the difference between England and Isan is that the area has been under tropical jungle and then ploughed up for agriculture rather than the fairly constant settlements of the English countryside.



Coins and History

July 10, 2008

While wondering around an old market outside Bangkok we found a seller of religious amulets and old coins. The coins were interesting because he had arranged them in sequence and the earliest, before Dvaravati, were from the Funan Empire. Taking it that they were found in Thailand it does begin to give a sense of who controlled parts of Thailand in the first few centuries AD. We know the Mons were here very early but we do not know for sure the people who were under the influence of Funan back then. In fact the ethnic make up of the Funanese people themselves is in doubt. We can guess they might have been an early Khmer nation. They were centered in present day Vietnam and Cambodia. “Money makes the world go round” maybe, but it certainly hints at influence in these early times.

Preah Vihear Dispute Heats Up

July 8, 2008

As with the previous post politics gets involved with history again. This time, although the question being argued over is sovereignty over the Preah Vihear Khmer temple site, the politics is much to do with an internal factional fight in Thailand.

In the end the sovereignty of the site isn’t going to change any time soon and getting the site listed with UNESCO may help its preservation and increase tourism to the area on both sides of the border.  The problem is that playing the nationality card works well on both sides of the border.

There is a good overview of the problem from the Thai perspective on the SEAArch taken from a Bangkok Post article here.

Ethnicity, Religion and Politics

July 3, 2008

It’s not surprising I guess that ethnic history often gets mixed up with present day politics and religion. A great post about this and how Malays look upon their own history is at a blog called the__earthinc in an article about the ancient Malay kingdom of Srivijaya. Here the present day historical concentration on the Malaccan Empire and almost total ignoring of the earlier, large and longer lasting Srivijaya Empire is explained as the former being Moslem and the latter being Buddhist and Hindu.

The writer puts it this way. “I truly believe that Srivijaya was that brilliant light that stayed bright from nearly a millennium. Malacca was a just spark, though brilliant as it may be.”

Srivijaya was known to exist in the 7th. Century because of Chinese writing at the time. Although centered in Sumatra it covered peninsula Malaysia and probably parts of what is now southern Thailand.

There’s a great map of the Srivijaya Empire in the 10th. Century at Wikipedia here.

Ban Chiang

July 1, 2008

Ban Chiang PotteryI visited the National Science Museum on Sunday and was impressed by the Ban Chiang Pottery. I hope they were not copies. The colours were superb. If you haven’t seen them they are a maroon design on buff background. These are from a bronze age community living in the northeast of Thailand in a period ranging from 2000 BC to 200 AD. I’m not sure where the pottery dates inside in this range.

I don’t think much is known about who the people of Ban Chiang were but we know both the Mons and the Khmers were around sometime in this range. Red does seem to be a popular colour with the Mons but I don’t think there is any indication of Ban Chiang being a Mon settlement.

The Cham

June 12, 2008

Cham Statue Although only about 4,000 Cham live in Thailand they are an interesting people in the history of SE Asia. When you read about the decline of Angkor Kingdom two groups gets the blame. They are the Tais and the Cham. These posed a constant threat on the Khmer Empire, gradually taking over parts of it in both the east and west.

 The Cham are a Malayo-Polynesian people closely related to the Malay race. At one time the Champa Kingdom was powerful and stretched across into Cambodia from Vietnam. The kingdom was at its peak between the 7th. and 15th. Centuries but went into decline after that. Originally a Hindu people, a large part became Moslem and this dates back to the 11th. Century. Because they were a coastal trading people in Vietnam and dealing with Arab merchants is probably why they were some of the earliest adherents to Islam in SE Asia.