The Bronze Age Mortuary Vessels of Ban Non Wat

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

THIS ARTICLE ANALYZES THE BRONZE AGE MORTUARY CERAMICS from the site of Ban Non Wat, Thailand, in order better to understand how these vessels relate to chronology and the changes that occur in burials through the time. This investigation employs statistics to analyze the occurrences of particular ceramic forms, including seriation, near neighbor, and correspondence analyses. Furthermore, spatial analyses of both the layout of mortuary vessels and of burials were undertaken, as were numerical comparisons of these features to indicate if certain pot forms are tied to wealth.

Ban Non Wat in Changwat Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, is a prehistoric site that was occupied from the Neolithic to the historic period. Beginning in 2002, it has been excavated as part of the "Origins of Angkor" research program, which has been investigating archaeological sites in the region for more than a decade. Ban Non Wat stands out in terms of the breadth of artifacts uncovered and the area of the site excavated. This article concentrates on the Bronze Age, a still highly contentious period due to the current debate surrounding chronology and social organization (Muhly 1988; O'Reilly 2000, 2003). The large scale of the excavation at Ban Non Wat has allowed us firmer insight with regard to Bronze Age chronology and social complexity.

Ban Non Wat is a "moated" prehistoric site, meaning it is ringed by a series of ditches and banks, creating a number of moats around the location. The moats were most likely used as a method of water control, but have been dated to the Iron Age (McGrath and Boyd 2001), and so are not dealt with in this article.

The site of Ban Non Wat is unique among Southeast Asian excavations in the amount of data recovered. Excavated for over 20 months, Ban Non Wat has provided a breadth of information, which offers the opportunity to gain further insight into the prehistory of the Mun River valley. This excavation has unearthed one of the largest mortuary samples in Southeast Asia, with over 600 burials recorded. For this study, only Bronze Age burials that included ceramics, and were clearly photographed, could be analyzed. This created a sample of 87 burials, over 4000 artifacts, and more than 750 vessels.

Bronze Age burials were interred in rows, with individuals often being buried with ceramics of a distinctive tradition. The combination of a large sample of complete burials associated with a distinctive artifact set, and changes in burial tradition throughout the Bronze Age, provides data that is amenable to analysis. This temporal change is of significant archaeological interest and is archaeologically distinct, as it is book-ended by changes to both the burial and artifactual record. This article presents the analyses of the ceramic vessels associated with the burials, the burials themselves, and other associated artifacts in order to identify changes in the nature of interments as they relate to social organization. The data presented were gathered during the first four of the seven seasons of excavation, using a wide variety of numerical, statistical, spatial, and comparative analyses. The analyses will identify the manner in which individuals were buried and how this relates to other burials within the site, as well as how this information can be used as a relative chronological indicator, as an absolute chronology has only just been undertaken (Higham and Higham 2009).

CERAMIC VESSELS

In this study, the ceramic vessel typology is based on that used by O'Reilly (1999 : 157) for his analysis of the site of Ban Lum Khao, because this allowed for inter-site comparisons. This system is based on discrete vessel characteristics, as proposed by Shepard (1971). O'Reilly's typology allowed for 15 different forms of pots, with numerous sub-forms for minor variations (O'Reilly 1999 : 163-166). Due to the differences between the sites, there were unavoidably a number of forms at Ban Lum Khao that did not occur at Ban Non Wat and vice versa. …