Cultural Resource Management and Archaeology at Chiang Saen, Northern Thailand

Article excerpt

Introduction

Terms such as "cultural resource management" (CRM) and "archaeological heritage management" have been used in many countries such as the United States, England, Australia and New Zealand for several decades. [1] In Thailand, however, this terminology is somewhat new. The first CRM class in Thailand was introduced by Koranee Sangruchi, who has taught it at Thammasat University in Bangkok for more than three years. Pisit Charoenwongsa, a well-known Thai archaeologist, is another figure who has been active in this field, occasionally publishing papers and articles concerning CRM. [2] If one looks at the nature of CRM work, on the other hand, one will find that Thailand has in fact been engaged in some of the tasks covered by the term since at least the nineteenth century. Preservation and restoration, as well as the mitigation of loss and rescue of archaeological sites from destruction, depletion and deterioration have been practised for many decades. [3]

Since the reign of King Chulalongkorn (1868-1910), if not earlier, the practice of archaeology in Thailand has involved the protection and preservation of what has recently come to be known as "cultural heritage". "Heritage", in terms of archaeological remains, generally refers to monuments and objects built, made and used in ancient times. The purposes of protection and preservation of "cultural heritage" change through time. In 1943, Field-Marshal Pibulsonggram (1897-1964), then Prime Minister, set up a new university, the University of Fine Arts or Silpakorn, in recognition of the need for shaping, propagating and preserving national art and culture. This university began with three faculties: Fine Arts, Sculpture and Performing Arts. To encourage youth to enter the university and learn about their national culture, as well as Thai arts and crafts, university fees were waived.

Cultural resource management in Thailand has focused mainly on the preservation and restoration of archaeological sites and historic towns and on the conservation of ancient objects. Pisit has noted that the bulk of the limited funds made available for archaeology have been allocated for restoration projects, while archaeological research has received only relatively small sums of money [4]. In addition, the administration of archaeological resources is a government monopoly administered by the Office of Archaeology and National Museums (formerly called the Division of Archaeology), under the Fine Arts Department (FAD) of the Ministry of Education. Under the law, the Division of Archaeology is "the key agency working on restoration of ancient monuments and archaeological sites. It is also responsible for the preservation and investigation of archaeological remains for the benefit of the nation, for the sake of the study of the nation's history, and for the perpetuation of the nation's cultural heritage". [5]

Regarding the preservation and restoration projects proposed by the Fine Arts Department during the last decade, there are two different types of projects: Historical Park Projects (HPP) and Preservation and Restoration of Historic Town Projects (PRHTP). To date, there have been ten projects in each category. [6] The Chiang Saen project falls into the latter category.

The two types of projects do not seem to differ from each other in terms of their purposes. That is, the projects are ideally intended to: (1) preserve as much as possible of the original environments of historical and archaeological sites; (2) utilize these historical and archaeological resources to cultivate national pride in the country; and (3) improve the economy at both the national and local levels through cultural tourism. The two types of project can only be distinguished by the fact that each of the ten historical parks is an isolated set of historical or archaeological remains, [7] while the ten PRHTP -- such as Chiang Saen, Chiang Mai, and Songkhla -- are encompassed within active communities. …